Northampton Town 1-0 Exeter City
Saturday, August 30th 2014
We all remember our first game…it’s a rite of passage for everyone following the beautiful game and though we’ll always joke that we were made to go and that we’ll never forgive those who took us to The County Ground/Sixfields for the first time the truth is that the moment we stepped into a football ground for the first time was a pivotal moment in our childhood. I remember being in awe of the County Ground (yes, that was possible!) and its unique character (and characters that inhabited it), rendered speechless by the atmosphere and feeling a new sense of belonging.
I’m not sure if any of that happened on Saturday afternoon as my nephew, Harry, took his first ever steps inside Sixfields at the tender age of four but it was hard not to see the game through his innocent eyes – before the matches mean anything, before wall charts and rivalries, before favourite players and even before knowing what wins and losses mean. In all honesty, I was slightly envious!
No matter what the situation, nowadays a match day remains a stressful time – even five games into the season when defeats can be put to one side and you can say “it’ll be better once we’ve signed a couple of players.” Before the season started my wife asked when the first game was because she wanted to know “where my head would be” on Saturday afternoons. She had a point and you can sometimes not realise how much you are involved in supporting your team, especially when it’s from afar as is our situation.
Somehow having Harry with us on Saturday made the game that bit more relaxed. Seeing him looking around the stadium with wide eyes made me reminisce about those brief times at the County Ground when Efad Elad’s winding runs brought me back whenever there was a chance. Good times – before this footballing lark started to mean something and Saturdays were never the same again!
A proud Uncle moment indeed then as the Cobblers welcomed Exeter City, a side littered with injuries and off the pitch problems – this was set up for us to provide the little man with a memorable first game. Early on it looked exactly like that’s where it was heading with Chris Hackett being afforded all the time in the world on the right and linking up well with Ben Tozer to create some early chances that saw the restored Emile Sinclair and loan midfielder Joel Byrom have shots blocked.
Exeter weren’t about to lie down, though, and were playing to their strengths. They’ll likely be the smallest team to play at Sixfields this season until the end of season kids’ finals but utilised a slick passing game to try and prize apart the Cobblers defence. There wasn’t a lot for Matt Duke to do but as the half wore on Town became as disjointed as they looked in the second half against Shrewsbury last week.
John-Joe O’Toole remains a headache in midfield. Lining up as a holding man in the middle didn’t bear any fruit and often led to misplaced parts and frustration from both himself and from the stands. It’s not his position or his strength and the fact that he walks around the pitch with a slumped demeanour doesn’t help his public relations with the two sides of Sixfields that desperately want to see the man who scored fifteen times last season for Bristol Rovers appear here. Chris Wilder surely needs a rethink as to whether he plays him further forward or not at all from the start of games with O’Toole replaced with around twenty minutes to go in this one by the much more suited Ricky Ravenhill.
One man who was making more and more of an impression after the break was Kaid Mohammed. With Ivan Toney also now on the pitch, replacing Sinclair early in the second half, Mohammed was working the gaps provided by Toney’s runs and giving us a hugely needed spark from midfield. A Mohammed header led to Toney smacking the bar mid-way through the half as the Cobblers finally came alive.
Exeter were living on the edge and were relying on England under 20’s goalkeeper Christy Pym to keep them in the game. Pym was at his very best to keep out Toney again, Mohammed and Hackett and it looked as though we were about to be frustrated by a terrific young keeper who was giving a fine performance in the visitor’s goal.
But for the third time in four games there was a late, late twist when Ben Tozer’s long throw was flicked on twice and Marc Richards produced a bicycle kick that Toney himself would have been proud of that flew past Pym and into the net to the sound of relief from a home support not used to this kind of battling to the end spirit.
Exeter were beaten despite their very best efforts and the Cobblers reflect on more points salvaged from out of nowhere. That second half showed a new, vibrant side of Town and this is what we need to see more of, especially at home. The wide men Hackett and Mohammed are going to be crucial with central midfield the only real problem area as to how to fit in O’Toole whilst still giving sufficient cover to the back four.
The win leaves the Cobblers in eighth place with eight points and from the games we were dealt that’s not a bad return at all from a pretty hectic August. As things slow down a little for September we can take a breath between games (thankful for a bye in this week’s JPT First Round) and hopefully build as much space as possible between ourselves and that end of the table that “we’ll never go near again…”
Whatever happens, this was an afternoon not about what happened on the pitch but about a new Cobblers fan joining up and sitting through it all brilliantly. Through Harry’s eyes, this was all about seeing a live match and sharing in a pretty cool family moment – if he goes on to catch the Cobblers bug I hope he remembers this big moment but even if he never joins us in the stands again this was still one that will live in the memory of Uncle Dan.