Exeter City 0-2 Northampton Town
Saturday, January 10th 2015
It’s all about the timing. As soon as I found out I was becoming a father back in 2010, one of the first things (after panic, nappies and putting Ikea cots together) that came into my mind was the moment when I would walk through a football turnstile for the first time with my child, introducing them to all the wonders that following the Cobblers brings. Wembley, thankfully, seemed too early. Some games were discounted because of the emotions involved (E.g. Dagenham, Oxford). But for some reason, a blank Saturday last weekend coupled with the Cobblers being within a couple of hours away from my exiled location in Exeter it just felt like the right time for an adventure. Faith Brothers would be introduced to Northampton Town Football Club on January 10th 2015 – 4 years, 43 days and 22 hours after coming into the world.
After preparing her for a couple of days in advance, Faith had begun Saturday by excitedly making a flag from an old paintbrush and tissue paper and we were ready to go – an adventure to cold Devon via a couple of trains and endless games of “I Spy.”
There were other reasons for choosing Exeter as the venue for Faith’s first game – Martha lived in the city for six months in our ‘courting’ days and memories of a commute to travel down to see her came flooding back as the train pulled in to Exeter Central. What would usually be a pub stop turned out to be a cup of juice and a bacon sandwich at a local café and we were into St. James’ Park by 2:30 (looking back it was a little too early!). The feeling was a bizarre one but definitely felt like it was the right time in the father-daughter bonding experience to make the step from Sunday morning TV highlights to the big stage of a live League Two battle.
Anyone who’s taken their kids to the football for the first time will tell you that certain things are very different from any match you’ve ever been to before. You start looking for other families to sit near rather than taking up a place next to the loony/drunk fan that’s starting all the songs. Luckily City had a family seating section available for away fans which, despite a few pillars, provided a good vantage point and a friendly atmosphere. You also find yourself much more relaxed because of you have to change your language from “Get into him” to “Uh oh, that was a close one” or “Go OOOOON” to “Ooooh what’s going to happen?!” The whole thing brought me back to my own innocent eyes watching the Cobblers for the first time and was a healthy return to the things that made me fall in love with the game in the first place.
So this is what Faith’s match report would look like:
“We wanted yellows to win. Reds nearly score three times. Yellows score! Yellow score again! I don’t like the sudden loud cheers. Oooh crisps! Want to break my flag now. Yum, sandwich. Something else happened. Bit bored now. Time to go.”
In the interest of people who clicked this blog to read a more ‘grown up’ report, here’s how I saw it:
The Cobblers started shakily and the home side were producing some good chances with through balls over the top of the Town defence. A Lee Collins slip let in Tom Nichols early on but the City striker shot tamely at Matt Duke who palmed the ball wide. The Cobblers were taking time to settle and could have been a couple of goals down by the half way mark of the first 45. Nichols went close again after racing through and lobbing Duke before Aaron Davies almost broke the deadlock with an effort from range that Duke did well to palm over the bar.
Seemingly out of nowhere, though, Town found a breakthrough against the run of play. It was that man Marc Richards once again who set us on the way by stopping low to nod in John-Joe O’Toole’s flick for the opening goal. City keeper James Hamon presented Richards with a golden opportunity to quickly double his tally for the afternoon moments later but Rico uncharacteristically shot wide.
It was left to O’Toole to make it 2-0 as he finally got off the mark for the club. His was an overall performance that was arguably his best since signing in the summer and with a greater focus on acting as a forward target rather than a drifting midfielder he seemed to flourish. Some good work on the right from Lawson D’Ath, a man who has impressed me every time I’ve seen him play, O’Toole latched onto a through ball to beat Hamon to the ball and slid it in to give us an unexpected control of the game.
O’Toole could have had a second early in the second half but headed wide before Alex Nicholls entered the fray to applause from both sets of fans. He had a good chance to halve the deficit but headed straight into Duke’s arms. The Cobblers were holding firm and it was always going to be a different second half as we protected a precious lead.
There was no real intent from Exeter to get back into the game and Town saw the game out very well indeed. If last Saturday’s draw with Southend wasn’t a turning point then this result and gritty performance could well be.
After a winter detox of players leaving the club and loans going back we seem to be in a much more positive position with an unchanged side for the first time this season. The Cobblers were wonderfully balanced with the graft of Jason Taylor in the middle of the park complimented by Joel Byrom’s clever play ahead of him and new winger Rickie Holmes producing some terrific bursts of pace opposite the always hearty and battling D’Ath.
Defensively there were one or two slips but just having solid full backs and a central partnership with decent understanding is a good start. Rico is always going to put in chances for us and may be the difference between a relegation battle and mid-table security. O’Toole is hopefully starting to turn things around and if we can get more from him then the possibility of losing Ivan Toney becomes a little easier to bear.
All in all, then, Faith’s first game won’t be one that she’ll always remember barring my wistful reminisces in years to come but no-one can take away from her the fact that her debut saw us win, keep a clean sheet and go home very happy.
As for the effects, two home games coming up makes this a big, big win and if we can back it up with a couple more positive results then the bleak midwinter blues will be fully swept away. The road to recovery has been found – now it’s all about following it through to the end.