Exeter City 0 Northampton Town 0 – review, ratings, pictures and highlights

CHAMPIONS: Cobblers will lift the League Two title in their final home game against Luton after confirming themselves as champions at Exeter on Saturday (pictures by Kirsty Edmonds)

CHAMPIONS: Cobblers will lift the League Two title in their final home game against Luton after confirming themselves as champions at Exeter on Saturday (pictures by Kirsty Edmonds)

3
Have your say

It will go down as one of the most extraordinary stories ever told; nine months of captivating drama that has resonated well beyond Sixfields, beyond even Northampton, and will be remembered and relived for years to come, a season for the ages.

Every club has their time in the sun, a season which is looked back upon and retold over and over, and this time it’s been the turn of Northampton Town, who concluded a remarkable campaign at Exeter City on Saturday afternoon.

Everyone associated with the club has been put through every emotion in the book but it’s often said that the bad times just make the good times all the more sweeter, and you could see that in the gleeful, exhilarated faces on the pitch at St James Park, the setting for the final chapter of this crazy, crazy story.

Many of football’s greatest, most heralded teams have triumphed in the face of adversity but few, if any, have ever undertaken such a tumultuous journey, not just surviving but thriving and using the bad times as a catalyst to achieve something truly special, something truly memorable.

Winning the league so emphatically and so early might give the perception that Northampton have simply steamrollered their way to the title, but aside from the occasional thrashing, such as the one at Leyton Orient, it’s not been quite that straightforward.

With 18 of their 26 wins coming by just a single goal, the Cobblers been pushed close by many teams in many games throughout the season, but they’ve always had something extra, that invaluable knack to win games of football and defy the odds.

It’s not something which can be measured in ability or skill or talent and it’s not something that you can bottle up and take with you.

It’s something which ultimately makes the difference between good players and good teams and the best players and the most successful teams.

Northampton have had the class but they’ve also had the desire, the passion and the sheer determination to go with it, something which is a necessity if you have any ambitions of becoming the best.

When Northampton set off for Bristol 252 days ago, not a single supporter could have predicted the roller-coaster of emotions they would experience over the next nine months.

Chris Wilder and Alan Knill share a hug

Chris Wilder and Alan Knill share a hug

There was a sense of optimism and hope that naturally comes with the start of a new season but even the most ardent of fans couldn’t have dreamt of anything close to what has unfolded, especially on those emotional afternoons in Coventry and Newport.

Things weren’t even that great on the pitch during the autumn but it was a wretched home defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge that proved the turning point.

After that result, Northampton were languishing 16th in League Two, eight points behind early pace-setters Leyton Orient.

But, from that moment on, the Cobblers have only been on an upward trajectory, incredibly losing just twice in the next 36 games as they made a mockery of all pre-season predictions.

“Many of football’s greatest, most heralded teams have triumphed in the face of adversity but few, if any, have ever undertaken such a tumultuous journey, not just surviving but thriving and using the bad times as a catalyst to achieve something truly special, something truly memorable.”

James Heneghan

This team never know when a cause is lost, overcoming the odds time and again to snatch valuable draws instead of defeats, their fourth successive one coming at Exeter.

Whilst clinching the title was a possibility on Saturday, it always seemed unlikely given both Accrington Stanley and Oxford United had winnable home matches, not to mention that Northampton’s opponents, Exeter City, were on a fine run of form themselves.

And if the Cobblers didn’t know they were in for a tough game beforehand, they sure did by half-time as Exeter shaded an intriguing opening 45 minutes during which the two goalkeepers starred as Adam Smith and then Bobby Olejnik kept the game scoreless going into half-time.

Whilst the second half followed a similar pattern, much of it was spent frantically checking scores elsewhere as the situation constantly changed with goals flying in at Accrington Stanley and Oxford United.

Northampton were champions, then they were not, then they were.

With nine goals scored in those two matches, it made for a tense afternoon for the boisterous 900-strong away following.

That’s not to say the action at St James Park was worth ignoring as both Exeter and their visitors always carried a goal threat without creating many clear-cut openings.

All the best chances came the way of headers, Jake Taylor and Jayden Stockley both striking the woodwork for City while only a superb stop from Olejnik denied Zander Diamond before John Marquis headed onto the roof of the net when unmarked.

It was with about 15 minutes remaining when it became apparent that a draw might well be enough to clinch the title as Accrington were pegged back to 2-2 by Morecambe.

That game then finished level, six elongated minutes of stoppage time passed without incident at Exeter and then the waiting game began as players and fans lingered around, patiently anticipating the full-time whistle at Oxford.

And then it came, duly greeted by a huge roar and a mass pitch invasion.

There was a nice touch from Exeter, who played ‘we are the champions’ as Northampton’s players and fans celebrated on the pitch before they went through their repertoire of songs that featured John-Joe O’Toole, Chris Wilder and even Kelvin Thomas, the man whose 11th hour intervention saved the club and made all this possible.

If you want to be picky, you could say four straight draws represents Northampton stumbling over the finishing line but that would not do justice to the amount of effort put in beforehand.

In a way, four successive draws highlight another reason why no team has been able to live with Northampton.

Winning games are, of course, essential but the ability to not be beaten and that desire to get something from every game are equally as important and they once again shone through on Saturday.

There are now four games left, four opportunities to savour what has been achieved and it’s important to cherish every moment because seasons like this don’t come along every often – once every 30 years in Northampton’s case.

This is my first season covering a Football League Club. I could cover 40 more and never experience anything like this one.

What an unbelievable nine months.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - One of his finest displays in a stellar season, producing two excellent stops from Stockley and also showing good anticipation to come off his line and head clear... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

Brendan Moloney - Not at his best and had trouble against Nicholls early on. Passing and crossing lacked quality too... 6

Zander Diamond - Missed his side’s best chance but that was largely due to a fine Oblejnik save. Will be pleased to record a clean sheet after conceding twice in four of the previous five games... 7

Rod McDonald - Stockley gave both centre-backs plenty of work, especially from crosses, but Exeter were restricted to mainly half chances as McDonald and co marshalled them well... 7

David Buchanan - Came inside to cover for his team-mates more than once but that did leave space for Exeter to deliver a couple of dangerous balls in which almost resulted in goals... 7

John-Joe O’Toole - His impact on recent games hasn’t been quite as dominant as at his peak this season but kept possession well and was always on hand to help out defensively when need be... 7

Danny Rose - Byrom has his work cut out to get back into the team judging by Rose’s current form and this was another performance which oozed class with his precise passing and well-timed defensive interventions. Could have had an assist too when his delightful cross was headed over... 8

Ricky Holmes - Had everything but the final touch, including a couple of wonderful crosses that could have brought goals, although shooting was, for once, wayward... 7

Nicky Adams - Sent in a peach of a cross in a lively start but his influence gradually waned as the game wore on, eventually resulting in his substitution... 6

Lawson D’Ath - Visibly lacking confidence and couldn’t get himself into Saturday’s game at all.... 6

John Marquis - On his own up front but looked a handful for the Exeter defence by chasing down every long ball and doing well to bring others into play. Missed a golden chance though when putting a free header over... 7

Substitutes

Sam Hoskins - 6

James Collins - 6

Jason Taylor - 6