A sensational first half strike from Jason Taylor set Northampton Town on their way to a 3-0 victory over Exeter City in a compelling Sky Bet League Two encounter at Sixfields.
The Cobblers were quick out of the blocks and had several chances to go ahead before Taylor’s stunning 25-yard volley gave them a deserved lead.
Exeter carved out their own opportunities in a pulsating first half, although Northampton continued to shade the play and they doubled their lead just before half-time through Ryan Cresswell’s header.
The game turned scrappy after half-time and some nervy Northampton defending allowed Exeter chances to get back into the game, but Adam Smith in the home goal was in defiant mood as he made several crucial saves to repel the visitors, and the Cobblers then sealed victory in the 90th minute when a swift counter-attack ended with Marc Richards tapping home Ricky Holmes’ low cross.
The result concludes a perfect opening week to the season for Chris Wilder and his men, with three wins and three clean sheets from three matches.
Going into the game, Wilder made one change from the team that beat Bristol Rovers last weekend with Lawson D’Ath returning from illness to replace John-Joe O’Toole, who was demoted to the bench, while former Cobbler Alex Nicolls started for Exeter.
Both sides settled quickly and they each had early openings with Nicky Adams having a penalty shout waved away before Adam Smith was quick off his line to smother Tom Nichols’ effort after an incisive through ball from Nicholls.
Despite that chance for the visitors, it was Northampton who were doing most of the early running in an all-action start to the game as a lengthy period of pressure ended with Adams dragging a long-range effort wide.
Exeter, too, looked threatening when going forward as Christian Ribeiro’s shot from distance was easy for Smith, though most of the action remained at the other end.
The lively Adams was causing problems as he regularly found pockets of space in front of the Exeter defence and he had the game’s best chance of the opening quarter when space opened up for him to run into, however his low shot was well held by Bobby Olejnik.
Just as the game seemed to have settled down, it then sprung back into life thanks to a moment of individual brilliance.
An innocuous ball into the Exeter penalty area was headed clear to Taylor, who controlled on his knee and then unleashed a stunning 25-yard volley into the top corner, beyond the despairing dive of Olejnik.
It was a quite brilliant way for Taylor to notch his first goal for the club and make the breakthrough in a keenly-contested encounter between two evenly-matches sides.
That goal then sparked a frantic phase of play in which both sides had chances to score in what was becoming a pulsating and end-to-end half of football.
First, City’s Tom Nichols seemed to have got beyond the home defence and through one-on-one with Smith, only for Lelan to chase back and produce a perfectly-timed last-ditch challenge to nick the ball away and prevent a certain goal.
Immediately, Cobblers went up the other end and some nice interplay between D’Ath and Alfie Potter ended with the former hitting a weak shot too near Olejnik, before a superb through ball from Adams found Richards but the striker spooned his effort wide.
A second goal was inevitable and it seemed just a question of which end it would come at.
The answer arrived on 38 minutes when the Cobblers doubled their advantage. They won a free-kick near the left corner flag, from which Adams swung in an inviting for Cresswell to head towards goal. His header was hooked away off the line, but the linesman signalled that the ball had crossed the line and a goal was awarded to put the home side 2-0 ahead at the break.
The second half was only five minutes old when Potter was presented with a glorious chance to put the game to bed. Adams started the move with a perfectly-weighted through ball to D’Ath, whose shot was parried by Olejnik back out to Potter but, with the goal gaping, the winger inexplicably spooned his first-time shot over.
Exeter showed more intent after half-time in search of a way back into the game and Smith had to be alert in the home goal, while the Cobblers looked a threat on the break.
Despite trailing 2-0, the visitors were far from done and that was highlighted midway through the second half when substitute Will Hoskins burst through on goal and fired a low effort goalwards, but Smith was equal to it, using his feet to produce a fine reflex save.
There were several panicky moments for the Cobblers, who were struggling to close the game out as some sloppy play gave the visitors hope, although last-ditch defending blocked two goal-bound shots before Troy Brown powered a header just wide.
Smith was also alert to any danger, and Northampton then made sure of the points in the last minute when a swift counter-attack saw Holmes pull a low cross back from Richards to tap into an empty net, completing a fine win and excellent week for the Cobblers.
Cobblers: Smith, Lelan, Diamond (McDonald 45), Cresswell, Buchanan, Byrom, Taylor, Potter, Adams (Hoskins 80), D’Ath (Holmes 55), Richards (c)
Subs not used: Clarke, O’Toole, Corry, Calvert-Lewin
Exeter: Olejnlk; Davies, Ribelro, Brown, McAllister (Woodman 73), Wheeler, Harley, Oakley (c), Nicholls (Hoskins 58), Nichols, Tillson (Holmes 45)
Subs not used: Butterfield, Morrison, Oyeleke, Hamon
Referee: Ross Joyce
Exeter fans: 316