Exeter City 0-1 Northampton Town
Tuesday, March 11th 2014
It was no spectacle. There were no periods of intricate passing to inspire the hardy souls on the terraces. There was to be no end to end action fitting of the six pointer that this game clearly was. But all that matters, more than any of all of that by a country mile, is that the Cobblers came away from St. James’ Park with three of the most valuable points of any season.
This could well be the most significant week of the campaign – after three home game yielded seven points but frustratingly didn’t break down any gaps between ourselves and safety there was plenty to do but after a gutsy point at Scunthorpe United came this. It compares to previous relegation battle wins on Tuesday nights in the past such as those at Dagenham and Redbridge and Burton Albion and like Tim Robbins’ character, Andy Dufresne, in The Shawshank Redemption we seem to save our best grafting for the evenings during attempts at escape.
Last night was no difference and the Cobblers had to come through a severe test of their mettle before claiming their prize. Chris Wilder admitted that his side “weren’t at the races” in the first half and we could well have gone into the break chasing the game. David Wheeler wasted the Grecians’ best chance by shooting into the side netting early on but Town held firm despite not creating a lot at the other end and would have been grateful of the half time whistle to regroup.
It would take another Chris Wilder tweak to turn things in our favour. A few minutes after the restart, Ian Morris and Alan Connell replaced Brennan Dickenson and John Marquis. Morris has been another one of those players who has been completely rejuvenated under Wilder and his introduction now seems more of a positive move than it would have been just a few weeks ago.
It was the former Torquay midfielder who would end up shooting fresh life into not only our challenge but to that of his old employers who notched a crucial win themselves over Rochdale last night. Morris got on the end of a Chris Hackett cross to finish well and give his side something to really cling on to. Other results were also starting to turn in our favour which made the final half an hour or so that bit more crucial.
There was that feeling that something could still happen but this is a new and improved Cobblers rear guard that we can trust to defend a lead or, as it was on Saturday, a point. And hold out we did. 150 Cobblers fans celebrated, the players punched the air and, in homes around the country like mine, everyone wished that they could be in that terrace with the hardcore travelling army. The victory, and the gap closing to three points, would have made another big night in Devon much easier to travel home from.
Exeter themselves will now not only be glancing over their shoulder but shuddering in fear. A win last night would have taken them nine clear of the Cobblers but, as it is, they’re now just three away and with Town playing before them this weekend there could be huge pressure on their game at Newport County on Sunday. The Grecians have won just once in 2014 and if they didn’t feel in a relegation battle before they certainly do now!
For Wilder and the Cobblers it’s onwards to yet another crunch game this Saturday when Mansfield Town come to Sixfields for the first of four home games in the next few weeks. The Stags could now be dragged into it once again if we can take all three points that would pull them to within two points with the added bonus of next Tuesday’s game in hand against Rochdale to come.
It’s tantalising to have the chance to go level on points with Exeter on Saturday afternoon and that, as well as pulling in Mansfield again, should be motivation enough. Getting back above that line would be a huge psychological lift and as these sorts of victories keep rolling in the belief just keeps on growing and growing that we’ll make it out.