Cobblers gave their faint play-off hopes a shot in the arm when goals from Aaron Pierre and Andy Williams handed them a third straight victory, beating fifth-placed Exeter City 2-1 at the PTS Academy Stadium on Saturday.
Town were the better team throughout the contest and deservedly recorded only a second home win in nine games, a run which dates back to November, as they temporarily jumped up to 13th in Sky Bet League Two, the highest they’ve been all season.
Despite a shortage of opportunities, Town dominated the opening 45 minutes and their superiority was rewarded via Pierre’s seventh goal of the season around the half-hour mark.
Williams, on as a sub in the opening period, made it two shortly after half-time and despite City pulling one back three minutes later, the Cobblers held on with little cause for concern.
The charge for a play-off berth remains unlikely at this stage but, with three straight wins in the bank and a favourable set of fixtures to come, it certainly isn’t out of the question ahead of the final 10 games of the campaign.
For the first time since taking charge of the Cobblers back in October, Keith Curle named an unchanged XI as he stuck with the same team that won at Crewe Alexandra last time out.
Town were the better side for the opening 20 minutes but they failed to make the most of several promising situations in attack, with Exeter comfortably dealing with long throws and a couple of set-pieces.
And it was the visitors who would then go on to create the game’s first clear opportunity when some neat football around the edge of the penalty box ended with Archie Collins seeing an effort blocked by Aaron Pierre.
The danger was not over there though, and only desperate last-ditch defending from Charlie Goode and ‘keeper David Cornell prevented Matt Jay forcing the ball over the line, despite the City man having several stabs at it.
The importance of keeping the visitors at bay during rare passage of Exeter pressure was then made clear when Town moved in front just past the half-hour mark.
Their opening goal was the product of persistent work by Daniel Powell who forced City to concede a cheap corner and from Sam Hoskins’ resulting cross, Marvin Sordell’s header hit came back off the crossbar and fell nicely for Pierre to squeeze over the line.
The only downside to the goal was an injury sustained by Sordell, who had to be replaced by Andy Williams with what looked a neck or upper body injury.
Exeter’s insistence on passing the ball out of defence had got them into a few tangles throughout the first-half, and they were fortunate not to be two down at half-time when another mix-up played in Powell, but visiting stopper Christy Pym stood up well to block.
Former Cobbler Hiram Boateng came on in one of two half-time substitutes for Exeter, and they upped the ante in the second-half, finally forcing Cornell into action.
The Cobblers goalkeeper had to be at his very best to thwart Jay when he was down in a flash to parry away the City man’s low drive from inside the penalty box.
And again, like the first-half, a chance gone begging for Exeter at one end was swiftly followed by a goal for the Cobblers at the other. Powell was again involved when, just shy of the hour-mark, his fizzed low cross gave Williams a simple tap-in at the back post.
But any thoughts this would be a straightforward stroll to victory were misplaced and within three minutes City got one goal back, Martin nodding home after Cornell kept out the initial header.
In fairness to Town though, they defended their narrow lead with relative ease in the final half-hour, even going close themselves when Williams was denied a second by an out-stretched Pym
The full-time whistle confirmed victory and it was thoroughly deserved.
Cobblers: Cornell, Goode, Taylor, Pierre (c), Buchanan, Turnbull, Foley, D Powell (J Powell 79), S Hoskins, O’Toole (Elsnik 90), Sordell (A Williams 33)
Subs not used: Coddington, J Williams, Bowditch, Bridge
Exeter: Pym, Woodman, O’Shea, Martin, Law (Bowman 78), Jay, Wilson, Taylor (c), Collins (Boateng 45), Hartridge (Holmes 45), Forte
Subs not used: T Brown, Williams, Hamon, J Brown
Referee: Andy Haines
Exeter fans: 412