FEATURE: Waters determined to seize his chance after '˜up and down' 18 months
It's a good thing points aren't awarded for aesthetics in football, otherwise the Cobblers would have returned home from Devon last Saturday with nothing to show for their considerable efforts.
Neither Billy Waters’ scruffy 26th-minute finish nor a last-minute own goal from Exeter’s Jayden Stockley will linger long in the memory, at least not for their beauty.
But while neither will feature among the contenders for goal of the season when May rolls around, both were pivotal in earning the Cobblers a hard-fought, if perhaps somewhat fortunate, away point against Exeter.
Given the disappointing manner of their general performance, the lateness of their equalising goal and the quality of the opposition, it was a result that most definitely belonged in the ‘points gained’ category.
“Absolutely,” Waters agreed. “It was a great shift from the boys and it shows a lot of character to come back twice.
“It’s not the first time we’ve done it either so we’re starting to show that you can’t right write us off and we always fancy ourselves to get back into games.”
After Jake Taylor had deservedly fired Exeter ahead, Waters struck against the run of play and while the finish itself owed a little to luck, the ball rebounding off his body and in, he earned it through his excellent approach work.
He explained: “It was really good work from Shaun (McWilliams) to win the flick-on on the edge of the box and I managed to counter, then I heard a shout from Sammy (Hoskins) on the left and gave it to him.
“It was a bit of a blur after that and it was very, very scrappy. I think the defender was leaning back and ended up kicking it against me. It’s probably the scrappiest goal I’ve ever scored but they all count!”
By his own admission, Waters’ 18 months at Northampton have not gone to plan.
Constantly in and out of the side under four different managers, the 24-year-old has struggled for consistency and regular game time. Indeed, Saturday’s goal was just his second in 39 appearances for the Cobblers.
“On a personal note, I’m happy but as a footballer you want to be playing games so it’s about cementing a place in the starting line-up because that’s all I’ve wanted since I came here,” he said.
“It’s been very up and down for me at this club which hasn’t been easy coming from Cheltenham where I played pretty much every game.
“But I know you can’t rest on your laurels and you’ve got to keep proving yourself so hopefully I can do that and show the gaffer my hunger to play week in, week out.”
With Keith Curle’s appointment sparking an upturn in fortunes for the team, Waters is keen to seize his opportunity, especially after what many deemed to be his best performance for the club on Saturday.
“I’d say it was my best game,” he concurred. “I did some sloppy things in the game but that’ll come with hopefully playing more and more.
“I really enjoyed my football out there and I’m playing with a lot of confidence. It was enjoyable just to be able to get at my man and once you get that goal it gives you bags of confidence.
“When you’ve got confidence, there’s nothing better as a player. I felt I had the better of my man a few times so it was about keeping getting on the ball and trying to make things happen.
“I’m really enjoying myself (under Curle). I enjoy coming in every day and training has been good and there’s a really good atmosphere around the place.
“That translates onto the pitch. We’re playing a lot of freedom in terms of we all know our defensive duties but we’ve also got freedom when we have the ball and it’s a happy camp at the moment.”
Town let their recent improved standards drop for much of Saturday’s contest and they were fortunate their curiously out-of-sorts first-half display was not more severely punished.
Behind to goals from Taylor and Stockley, Waters’ messy finish kept the Cobblers in touch at half-time before they improved in the second period, although by no means did they pepper Christy Pym’s goal.
Helped by Exeter’s inexplicable and yet understandable decision to retreat as they protected their precious lead, Town’s pressure grew and eventually they snatched a point through Williams, or at least that’s what he thought until the EFL’s dubious goals committee got involved and ruled it as a Stockley own goal.
“I think maybe at the start of the season if one goal went in, people’s heads would go down and we probably thought that was it,” Waters continued.
“But now I think we’ve built up a resilience to always bounce back and you always fancy us to get a goal or even nick a winner at the end.
“The team’s doing well, we’re performing well and there’s more to come. The gaffer knows that and he said that to us so it’s exciting to see where this squad can go.”
Waters’ optimism for the future is well-founded given Town’s rise from 21st to 14th in eight league games under Curle, of which they’ve lost just one.
And they will fancy their chances of adding another three points to their tally this weekend when they host a Grimsy Town team who are 20th in Sky Bet League Two and have endured a stop-start campaign to date.
“There’s no telling where this squad can go,” said Waters. “We’ve got momentum at the moment and we have to keep that momentum and hopefully the supporters can feel it because we can definitely feel it as players and staff.
“We’re a good team and we can only get better from here on in.”