Exeter draw seals title glory for Cobblers
Cobblers have been crowned Sky Bet League Two champions despite being held to their fourth successive draw at Exeter City on Saturday afternoon.
Much of the second half was spent checking scores elsewhere, as while Cobblers were drawing 0-0 with the Grecians, the focus was on events at Accrington Stanley and Oxford United.
Northampton and Exeter each had chances in an entertaining game but after the game finished level, it became a waiting game and once Accrington’s draw and Oxford’s defeat to Luton was confirmed, the euphoric celebrations duly kicked into life.
Cobblers fans streamed onto the pitch and smothered their title-winning players as they quickly broke into a rendition of ‘champions’ as their side capped off a memorable season in fitting style by finally lifting the league two title with four games to spare.
It’s also apt that the title-winning moment should come on the back of yet another record broken by this relentless Cobblers team, who have now gone 14 away games unbeaten - a run which stretches all the way back to mid-October - to set more history in this extraordinary season.
The game at St James Park was an enjoyable affair as Zander Diamond and Jake Taylor had the best chances for either side, and while no breakthrough was forthcoming, that paled into insignificance when the full-time whistle sounded.
It’s the first time Northampton have won a title since Graham Carr’s side in 1986/87 and it’s just reward for a remarkable transformation in fortunes that’s seen the club go from the brink of extinction to by far and away the division’s best team.
Chris Wilder replaced Sam Hoskins with Lawson D’Ath in the only change from the team which drew 2-2 with Bristol Rovers last week as the Cobblers boss again set up in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Exeter came into this game in good form having not lost in nine but the visitors were quick to test home goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, who got down well to turn behind Ricky Holmes’ 30-yard daisy-cutter after the Northampton man had spun his man inside out, drove forward and let fly from distance.
But that largely came against the grain in an intriguing opening 15 minutes that Exeter shaded, with former Town favourite Alex Nicholls shooting wildly off target after the ball had ricochet into his path.
The Grecians carved out the first game’s clear-cut opening on 16 minutes when Adam Smith reacted brilliantly to tip over a header from Jayden Stockley, who was again left unmarked to head the following corner just wide.
But Northampton were far from being outplayed and it was then Olejnik’s turn to produce a superb save when keeping out Zander Diamond’s header from an inviting Holmes cross.
An opening goal didn’t feel far off as the open, enjoyable nature of the first half continued with Stockley again thwarted by another good stop from Smith.
Smith had to be equally alert to race off his line and head clear a dangerous ball over the top moments later, before Diamond came to the rescue with a crucial block as Exeter finished the first half strongly while Town’s early threat had dwindled.
Despite that, though, the first half ended goalless before moments after the break, Stockley, for the third time, came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock when his well-timed header cannoned off the post, rolled along the line and was followed up by Jake Taylor who hit the side-netting from a tight angle.
It was quickly becoming a game of headers and that continued two minutes later when this time Marquis headed onto the roof of the net following a delicious ball in from Danny Rose.
With goals flying in elsewhere, most notably at Oxford and Accrington, Cobblers’ destiny changed several times during the course of the afternoon before, with 15 minutes remaining, it became apparent that a draw might be enough.
The action at St James Park remained well-balanced and evenly-poised as Taylor for Exeter and then Holmes for Northampton both went for goal without success.
The dangerous Taylor then came as close as anyone to scoring when heading onto the bar from point-blank range before Northampton enjoyed a good spell midway through the second half without creating much in the way of clear-cut chances.
If anything, it was Exeter who continued to carry the greater threat and Diamond had to get his timing right to scoop clear a threatening cross.
But chances were few and far between in a scrappy end to the game and after four minutes of added time, the final whistle went before the wild celebrations could begin when Oxford’s defeat to Luton was confirmed.
Exeter: Olejnik, Woodman, Brown, Moore-Taylor (c), McAllister, Noble, Harley, Nicholls, Watkins (Reid 90), Taylor, Stockley (Wheeler 90)
Subs not used: Ribeiro, Davies, McCready, Tillson, Pym
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan (c), O’Toole, Rose, Holmes, Adams (Hoskins 61), D’Ath (Taylor 90), Marquis (Collins 67)
Subs not used: Clarke, Prosser, Byrom, Potter
Referee: Oliver Langford
Cobblers fans: 876