Exeter City 0 Northampton Town 2 - Jefferson Lake’s view and player ratings

STAR MAN - John-Joe O'Toole celebrates scoring his first goal for the Cobblers (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
STAR MAN - John-Joe O'Toole celebrates scoring his first goal for the Cobblers (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

It would be very easy to present Saturday’s win for the Cobblers at Exeter City as a lesson in the importance of teams taking their goalscoring chances.

But in the critical early stages of the game that is exactly what it was, with the home side missing two very good opportunities to score and seeing a third excellently saved by visiting goalkeeper Matt Duke.

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174145009

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174145009

Northampton know better than most teams the necessity to score during periods of dominance - in the recent away games at Carlisle and Tranmere they had vast amounts of possession in attacking areas but lost both matches because the home side capitalised on the limited chances which fell their way.

The game at Exeter was, after the first 10 minutes or so, much more in the Cobblers’ control and after Marc Richards had put them in front they grew in confidence and got better with every passing minute to turn in a display which ranks among their best this season.

Richards should have scored again minutes later after goalkeeper James Hamon had inexplicably passed him the ball from a goal kick but it did not prove costly as John-Joe O’Toole scored a second and the result was effectively sealed.

Several things were then important in ensuring Exeter did not get a goal and a lifeline in the game - game management, in which extra seconds were taken over each and every set-piece; robust defending and closing down up front, meaning Exeter were forced to play long balls when they are much more suited to patient, short passing; and quality ball retention in the attacking third.

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174131009

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174131009

The first two things are not particularly easy on the eye but the third was, with the interplay between the front four and the two central midfielders, in particular Joel Byrom, producing some of the most aesthetically-pleasing football produced by this team for several years.

Again, all of the new additions played well. Ricky Holmes, like Lawson D’Ath on the opposite wing, was a bundle of energy but also knew when to attack and when to shield his full-back.

Jason Taylor went up a notch from his debut, seizing on the loose ball time after time and competing for challenges with a precision that has been missing at times in the Northampton midfield, in this season and in others.

Brendan Moloney gave a copybook display as an overlapping full-back, providing the cross for Richards’ goal and recovering from a pretty strong challenge to complete the full 90 minutes.

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174117009

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174117009

What is perhaps most notable about the team at the moment is that the 11 all seem to know their jobs - for example, Taylor knows he needs to sit when Byrom takes an extra touch and drives forward; Cresswell knows he can compete for a header because Collins will sweep up behind him. All over the pitch, chemistry is breaking out.

Richards’ contribution once more cannot be overstated - he completes everything with a smoothness and works tremendously hard for the team.

At one point, Holmes had gone on a counter-attack and lost the ball and it was Richards who dropped in to play right-midfield and stem the Exeter tide.

As well as the goals, his work rate is exceptional and he should be the model for the squad’s younger players.

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174104009

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174104009

O’Toole is also working harder than ever before right now and although he is not completing games, he will be a lot happier with his form and it is better for the team to have him going all out for 60 or 80 minutes than for him to coast for 90.

As with the draw against Southend, this is a step in the right direction for the Cobblers and their manager Chris Wilder must now avoid the temptation to alter this starting 11 for the game against Dagenham last weekend.

Finally an understanding is being built among the players and it is no surprise that has come when the same starting line-up has been selected for the first time in successive matches this season.

Player ratings

MATT DUKE

A real mixed bag in the first 10 minutes, with an error and a good save before his afternoon quietened down considerably ...6

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174050009

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174050009

BRENDAN MOLONEY

Improved on his first performance with a very good attacking display on the overlap, finding space and crossing well throughout ...7

RYAN CRESSWELL

Settled down after a shaky start and dominated in the air as Exeter went increasingly for the longer option as the game went on ...6

LEE COLLINS

Dropped a clanger when he misjudged the bounce of a ball early in the game, nearly costing his side a goal, but got better after that ...6

EVAN HORWOOD

Didn’t produce the same amount of attacking play from full-back as Moloney but still made a solid contribution to the team’s clean sheet ...6

LAWSON D’ATH

Lovely pass to O’Toole for his goal and worked tirelessly both in attack and defence. Deserves a decent run in the side now ...7

JASON TAYLOR

Gets to everything first in the midfield battleground and used the ball well in the rare moments when he was in possession ...7

JOEL BYROM

For a spell of around 15 minutes towards the end of the first half he completely dominated the game and played with confidence and assuredness ...8

RICKY HOLMES

Was a vital player on the counter-attack and passed the ball very well, while also working hard to help keep the midfield shape ...7

JOHN-JOE O’TOOLE

Arguably his best performance in a Northampton shirt so far and it is important that he has opened his goalscoring account ...8 STAR MAN

MARC RICHARDS

Another typically high-quality display from the leading scorer, although if you’re being ultra-critical he really should have scored a second goal ...7

Substitutes

EMILE SINCLAIR (for O’Toole, 79)

Added a bit of pace to the forward line and created a late chance after doing well to drag a centre-back out of position ...7

CHRIS HACKETT (for Richards, 88)

Not used: Carter, Tozer, Hornby, Snedker, Warburton

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174212009

Exeter City FC v Northampton Town FC NNL-151001-174212009