League Two Season Preview: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the League Two Season Preview. Today we take a closer look at Crewe Alexandra, Exeter City, Forest Green Rovers, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City and Macclesfield Town.

Keep checking back on the blog every day this week for more!

Crewe Alexandra

Last season…

With his first summer and pre-season under his belt as Crewe boss, David Artell set about the job of improving on a seventeenth place finish in 2016/17. The season would once again throw up a mixed bag of results but the Alex did manage to recover from a poor first half of the season as runs of poor results in a row led to them sitting just two points above the drop zone after a 4-1 defeat at Notts County in February.

It’s testament to the club, though, that they stuck with Artell – who spent two years at Gresty Road as a player – through it all and there was an upturn in fortunes in the last few months of the campaign. A fantastic 4-1 win at Lincoln was a turning point and took them six points clear of the bottom two with relegation never really a huge worry from then on in.

The Alex finished the season with three straight victories to finish in fifteenth place – only a slight improvement on twelve months previous but enough to give Artell more time to put his mark on the club.


In: Paul Green (Oldham), Shaun Miller (Carlisle), Alex Nicholls (Barnet), Nicky Hunt (Notts County)

Out: Chris Dagnall (Bury)

Promotion Odds…



David Artell has bolstered his attacking options well over the summer with Shaun Miller making his return to Gresty Road, where he scored six goals in fifteen appearances on loan last season and previously came through the Alex youth ranks, and Alex Nicholls signing from relegated Barnet. Losing top scorer Chris Porter to injury mid-way through last season wasn’t ideal but he’s back in contention and will feel like another fine option to have up top.

Right-back Nicky Hunt, signed after he was released by Notts County, knows all about League Two while Paul Green also returns after a loan with the club last season.

With extra fire power you might see Crewe improve slightly on last season but I don’t envisage there being a huge change so I’ll go for a safe mid-table bet for Artell’s men.

Exeter City

Last season…

The 2017/18 campaign will go down in Exeter history because it turned out to be the final season in charge for Paul Tisdale, who left the club after twelve years at the helm. For the second successive season, and following City fans’ voting to serve the manager notice on his contract in November 2016, there would be heartbreak in the League Two playoff final at Wembley.

Tisdale’s men had made a roaring start to the season, winning seven and drawing the other of the first eight games and meant that inconsistent form in the autumn still kept them in and around the top three. Three straight victories in January and an unbeaten April raised hopes of automatic promotion but an Alex Revell hat-trick for Stevenage in the penultimate game ended that, meaning a double legged playoff semi-final against Lincoln City.

After a goalless draw at Sincil Bank, City won the second leg 3-1 but a second visit to Wembley in as many seasons didn’t produce a fairy tale ending for Tisdale as Coventry City saw them off by the same score line.

Matt Taylor took the reins in the summer having previously played over 150 times for the Grecians and most recently been in charge of the City Under23s squad.


In: Jonathan Forte (Notts County), Tristan Abrahams (Norwich), Nicky Law (Bradford), Lee Martin (Gillingham), Jimmy Oates (Hereford)

Out: Jordan Moore-Taylor (MK Dons), Jordan Storey (Preston), Ryan Harley (MK Dons), Robbie Simpson (MK Dons), Lloyd James (Forest Green), Liam McAlinden (Cheltenham)

Promotion Odds…



It’s set to be a pretty uncertain time at St. James’ Park after the Paul Tisdale era came to a close so making Matt Taylor, part of the coaching set up already, the top boss makes absolute sense. Continuity has been made tougher with Tisdale having swooped for three of their key players for his new MK Dons side in Jordan Moore-Taylor, Ryan Harley and Robbie Simpson but Jonathon Forte, Nicky Law and Lee Martin all bring bags of experience to City’s squad.

It could well take time for this new look Grecians side to take shape but I still think they can surprise a few by making a push for the playoffs once again as soon as they’ve got into their groove.

Forest Green Rovers

Last season…

Having achieved a promotion that changed the course of Forest Green Rover’s history, the club from the New Lawn set about the challenge of league football for the first time in their history, led by former Kettering, Peterborough and Swindon boss Mark Cooper.

It was to be a baptism of fire for the league’s newcomers and they struggled to get to grips with things in the early going, losing nine of their first thirteen games and winning just once. A 1-0 victory at Coventry City turned the tide in mid-October and Rovers would go on to three wins in a row to ease the early blues. A terrible Christmas period that saw them lose every game in December kept them right in trouble and they were rock bottom of the league following a 1-0 defeat to Wycombe on New Year’s Day.

The great escape was achieved, though, thanks to a real turn in fortunes from February onwards including completing the double over Coventry. Safety was secured thanks to a 0-0 draw at Yeovil that kept both sides in League Two for another season with games to spare.


In: James Montgomery (Gateshead), Carl Winchester (Cheltenham), Tahvon Campbell (West Brom), Isaac Pearce (Fulham), Liam Shephard (Peterborough), Robert Sanchez (Brighton), George Williams (Fulham), Joseph Mills (Perth Glory), Lloyd James (Exeter), Theo Archibald (Brentford), Paul Digby (Mansfield)

Out: Charlie Cooper (Newport)

Promotion Odds…



The world’s first UN Certified Carbon Neutral football club continue their quest to defy the odds as they set about their second season in the Football League. Snapping up Cheltenham captain Carl Winchester was an astute move and Rovers have also added plenty of young and hungry talent from higher in the footballing pyramid including Isaac Pearce from Fulham who is one to keep an eye on.

Having survived the drop well last season, Rovers will be looking to build on that with a tilt at the top half but I think a lower mid-table finish would not be sniffed at here.

Grimsby Town

Last season…

Three managers, a relegation battle and the season long threat of returning to non-league – not the best of campaigns for the Mariners. In the early knockings of the season there were no real signs of the struggles to come and victory at Port Vale at the start of October was their fifth of the season and had them comfortably in mid-table.

Form continued to be enough to keep them from getting drawn into the lower reaches of the league but a catastrophic run from 16 December through to 7 April without a league win meant that Russell Slade was shown the door on 2 February. Paul Wilkinson stepped up to take on the role for a month before reverting back to assistant manager when Michael Jolley was appointed. Jolley couldn’t turn the tide straight away and it took him until the 7 April win over Chesterfield to finally deliver some relief for the long suffering Mariners fans.

A home draw with Barnet and victories over Swindon, Notts County and Forest Green were enough to keep them up and Town will now be hoping for stability under Jolley.


In: Alex Whitmore (Chesterfield), Louis Robles (San Roque De Lepe), Jake Hessenthaler (Gillingham), John Welsh (Preston), Jordan Cook (Luton), Elliott Whitehouse (Lincoln), Harry Davis (St Mirren), Akin Famewo (Luton), Charles Vernam (Derby)

Out: Sam Kelly (Hamilton Academical), Siriki Dembele (Peterborough), Zak Mills (Morecambe)

Promotion Odds…



Michael Jolley has certainly had a good start to life as Mariners boss having reached the target of keeping them in the Football League. Jake Hessanthaler should bring experience and energy to their midfield and defence has been bolstered by the signing of Alex Whitmore from Chesterfield who Jolley worked with in the Burnley Under 23s. Former Cobbler JJ Hooper switched to a wide attacking berth under Jolley and benefited by scoring a hat-trick on the final day of last season so expect to see him move away from his central role again.

I don’t see enough in Grimsby at the moment to see them competing at the top end of the table but if they avoid my prediction of another relegation battle it may give them a platform to build on.

Lincoln City

Last season…

Following a memorable season back in 2016/17, during which the Imps made an astonishing run to the FA Cup Quarter Finals and were promoted back into the Football League, Danny Cowley had a real task on his hands to go anywhere near the same levels of glory. But somehow, he and his trusted and vibrant Lincoln squad managed to find more and more success.

The EFL Trophy was much maligned but City would make the competition their own and eventually gave themselves another big day out, this time at Wembley as they beat League One Shrewsbury Town in the final. The league form didn’t let up either and the Imps finished the season in seventh place to earn a shot at the playoffs.

A double legged semi-final against Exeter was just about a step too far though and after a 0-0 first leg draw they finally bowed out of another excellent season with a 3-1 reverse at St. James’ Park. There’s plenty of ambition being shown by the club and with Cowley at the helm anything is possible. A stern test awaits the Cobblers on the opening day of the season.


In: Bruno Andrade (Boreham Wood), Grant Smith (Boreham Wood), Michael O’Connor (Notts County), Harry Toffolo (Millwall), John Akinde (Barnet), Scott Wharton (Blackburn), Shay McCartan (Bradford)

Out: Alex Woodyard (Lincoln), Ollie Palmer (Crawley), Sean Long (Cheltenham), Elliott Whitehouse (Grimsby), Paul Farman (Stevenage)

Promotion Odds…



It’s been an outstanding summer of business by the Cobblers’ first opponents of the league season and no deal was celebrated more by Imps fans than the Cowley brothers signing a new contract with the club until 2022. Manager Danny and assistant Nicky have also been busy in the transfer market and there aren’t many at League Two level who wouldn’t want John Akinde lining up for them up front. The former Barnet man will score bags of goals and is a sure fire commodity in the basement division.

Elsewhere, Bruno Andrade, who had an outstanding season for Boreham Wood that led them to the National League Playoff Final in which he scored, joins City along with highly rated full-back Harry Toffolo from Millwall. Shay McCartan will be looking to reproduce his form from his Accrington days in League Two after signing for Lincoln on loan and it already looks like an excellent piece of business.

All of this should lead to a promotion challenge for City this season as their momentum continues to build. Let’s just hope it starts after their first game!

Macclesfield Town

Last season…

Despite having one of the smallest budgets in the National League, Macclesfield Town produced one of the more incredible title winning campaigns in non-league history to return to the Football League absolutely flying under John Askey. Askey was subsequently snapped up by League One Shrewsbury Town in the summer but their momentum shown last season should continue to shine through.

Town also made it to the FA Trophy final and despite losing to York City in the showpiece final they returned to league football to complete a title winning season that will go down in Silkmen folklore.

A 2-0 win over Eastleigh sealed both the title and promotion for Town, a feat made even more impressive given that they only had three players signed up at the start of the previous summer thanks to a mass exodus of their squad. A truly remarkable campaign.


In: Fiacre Kelleher (Oxford), Jamie Grimes (Cheltenham), Ben Stephens (Stratford), Nathan Blissett (Plymouth), Miles Welch-Hayes (Bath), James Pearson (Unattached), Harry Smith (Millwall), Michael Rose (Unattached), Rhys Taylor (AFC Fylde), Callum Maycock (Coventry)

Out: Shwan Jalal (Chesterfield), Mitch Hancox (MK Dons), Kieran Kennedy (Shrewsbury)

Promotion Odds…



It’s undoubtedly going to be tough for the Silkmen on their return to the Football League and the departure of John Askey came at exactly the wrong time, possibly drawing parallels to the Cobblers’ title winning season ending with Chris Wilder being snapped up by Sheffield United. It’s a sign of the great success by Askey’s now former squad who will need to keep the togetherness in place that took them so far last season. Mark Yates will need to bring his Football League experience and nous to the club having replaced Askey.

Defender Kieran Kennedy has followed his former boss to the New Meadow while Mitch Hancox’s move to MK Dons means they’re without a couple of their key men from the title winning side and incomings seem a little hit and miss.

I’m not hugely convinced by the Yates appointment either and feel that it’s going to be a tough relegation battle for Macclesfield in their first season back.

The perfect start

Taylor...first Cobblers goal

Taylor…first Cobblers goal

Northampton Town 3-0 Exeter City

Three win, seven goals, none conceded, six points, cup progress and a big name clash with Newcastle United drawn out of the hat. For the Cobblers in recent years, this represents nothing less than a dream start to the season. After years of false starts, new signings needing ‘time to gel’ and playing catch up with the rest of the division, we’ve finally begun with a flourish and it comes at, ironically, a time when everything off the field is at one of the most uncertain levels.

After a hard fought win at Bristol Rovers and easing past Blackpool this was another stern test and one in which the score line didn’t tell the whole story. Exeter have a fair bit about them this season and will no doubt be amongst the front runners in the playoff race so any time we can take three points and three goals from a side like this is fantastic. What’s so positive this season is that goals are coming from different places already and we’ve got even more energy going forwards than the decent side that finished the last campaign.

What the Cobblers finally seem to have (and I recognise the kiss of death potential here) is stability in a system, players who are making the it work and enough competition to really challenge each position whilst keeping a sense that we’re not overloaded with short term solutions. We’re playing without shackles, particularly at home, and there’s seems to be a real hunger around the squad.

For this one, Exeter will feel unlucky to lose as heavily as they did but the ruthless finishing that we’ve lacked in the past is now there with another three very different goals getting us over the line for a place in the very early leading pack in League Two.

The first was an absolute belter from Jason Taylor. Usually found breaking up attacks, providing the meat in the midfield sandwich and out muscling opposition, Taylor scored his first Cobblers goal, and what a beauty it was. The ball broke to the former Cheltenham man around twenty five yards out and the volley that he produced was heading into the top corner from the moment it left his boot.

That set the tide and soon it was two with Ryan Cresswell popping up with a trademark header before half time to put Town in control. There were some concerns at the break when Zander Diamond was taken off to be replaced by Rod McDonald but after the match it was confirmed that it was as a precaution with so many games coming up and McDonald would go on to play his part in a third straight clean sheet for the Cobblers.

After Alfie Potter missed a sitter following up from Lawson D’Ath’ s shot, Will Hoskins came close to halving the deficit for City but Adam Smith, returning in goal after being rested on Tuesday night, made a top drawer save. Had that gone in, the end result may well have looked different but it was the Cobblers who sealed the points in the final knockings.

Marc Richards, who had seen a couple of good chances go begging at Bristol and in this game, must be hugely relieved to be off the mark as he looks to top his goal scoring efforts from last season. It was a breakaway goal that closed the game out with Ricky Holmes racing down the right and crossing for Richards to calmly slot home.

It meant that the perfect week was completed in style and sends us to Barnet with spirit levels rocketing.

The Cobblers are in the groove.


Travelling to Barnet on Tuesday night provides its own challenge with the Bees having lost both of their opening league games. They’ll be chomping at the bit to get off the mark and Martin Allen will have them hungry to get it right at the third attempt. It’s a shame we can’t bask in the glory of being fourth for a whole week…dare we dream of it getting even better?!

Wycombe, Leyton Orient, Portsmouth and Hartlepool join the Cobblers on six points with League Two boasting more teams with 100% records than the Championship and League One put together. All will be put to the test on Tuesday night with a full set of fixtures scheduled. Wycombe go to Morecambe, Orient are at home to Stevenage, Portsmouth are at Crawley and Hartlepool host Newport County.

4 Years. 43 Days. 22 Hours

faithexeterExeter City 0-2 Northampton Town

League Two

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.

Cresswell signing a signal of intent

ryancresswellFor the second transfer deadline day in a row, Cobblers fans were on the edge of their seats – a strange position given the amount of times we’ve seen the dreaded “No ins or outs on deadline day” message come out in the past. After January’s last ditch signing of Emile Sinclair, we were once again treated to some big news as the window began to close last night.

At around 8:45pm, a tweet was sent out by the club promising a ‘major signing’ to be announced at 9:30pm – giving those of us on Twitter 45 minutes to speculate and predict who this big name was. No-one came close in the end and it was a very nice surprise when the announcement first came through from Fleetwood Town that we had paid a transfer fee (thought to be up to £150,000) for Ryan Cresswell.

For a centre back with multiple promotions, places on Teams of the Season and a reputation as one of the best defenders at this level it represents fantastic business. There’s an argument that we have plenty of cover in that position but when you consider that Lee Collins is likely to be out for a while, Kelvin Langmead is missing and Gregor Robertson and Ben Tozer are covering the full back positions it makes some sense. In addition to that, though, Cresswell is an outstanding signing for League Two and when you get a chance to bring in a leader of this calibre then you just have to go for it.

Credit has to go to David Cardoza again here – when he’s had the decision to make as to whether to put his hand in his pocket for Chris Wilder he’s done it and hopefully his trust is rewarded in the coming months.

The day had already seen one move in and one out of Sixfields with Alex Nicholls making his expected move on loan to Exeter City. I’d expected the deal to be until January, and that could still happen with an extension, but the month long agreement means that Nicholls can hopefully get some fitness and score some goals and then give Chris Wilder a big decision to make. It’s a great deal for all parties and it’s great to see Nicholls back on a football pitch again wherever he is.

Coming in to bolster the middle of the park is Leicester’s Ryan Watson on a loan deal until January. Watson has apparently been chased by Wilder since the Town boss came to the club so he’s got his man to provide more competition in midfield. I’m intrigued to see how Watson fits into the already bursting melting pot in that position and wonder if there’s any other niggling injuries in there that are worse than initially thought.

What Chris Wilder has done in this transfer window is provide us with a terrific squad to take us through the next few months. Whereas in the past we’ve had to dip into the loan market if a sudden injury rocks us, this time we seem to have ready-made competition already in the squad to step in.

An excellent Deadline Day all in all – now to translate the excitement and hype to the pitch.

Through a child’s eyes…


Northampton Town 1-0 Exeter City

League Two

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.

Beware the wounded Grecian!

IMG_0588.JPGNorthampton Town v Exeter City
League Two
Saturday, August 29th 2014

Saturday’s game with Exeter City provides a realistic chance for the Cobblers to get back into some sort of stride after a late salvation against ten man Shrewsbury and Tuesday’s cup exit at Bournemouth. City have been under a transfer embargo during the summer which has only just been lifted and are without a win so far so on paper it’s a game we need to be looking for victory to stabilise some of the early promise we’ve shown.

But the Grecians possess one or two fine individual players (including Matt Grimes and Christy Pym who were called up to Aidy Boothroyd’s England Under 20s squad this week) and if they’re on their game and up for the fight of getting that first three points they will cause us problems, particularly if we start the game in a similar manner to the second half of last week’s draw. There’ll be no room for any complacency but the reality is that if we want to be challenging at the top end of the table then home games like this need to be won regularly.

The intriguing news on the team front this week has been Emile Sinclair’s transformation from being listed for loan last week to scoring last Saturday and putting in a good show at Bournemouth to being taken off the loan list following the striker’s rejection of a move to Cheltenham Town. Sinclair, to be fair to him, is battling for his place in the face of Ivan Toney’s emergence, Marc Richards’ decent start to his return and the new competition from the likes of David Moyo and Alex Nicholls – though the latter will be sent on loan himself next week it seems.

I would expect Danny Alfei to return to right back after shaking off his injury with Darren Carter also an option to come back into midfield. Just where Carter fits in is a big question. Joel Byrom was solid on his debut and you can’t see John-Joe O’Toole being dropped.

Exeter are likely to start with an unchanged team with Tisdale’s hand forced by a number of injuries to an already small squad. Jordan Moore-Taylor, Danny Butterfield, Tom Nichols, Jamie Reid and Christian Ribeiro are all missing at the moment so it’s set to be the same eleven that took to the field for the 1-1 draw with York City last weekend.

Despite all of that, we all know the Cobblers well enough to know that nothing’s ever that straight forward…

Second big night in Devon cuts the gap!

Morris...match winner

Morris…match winner

Exeter City 0-1 Northampton Town

League Two

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.

One of those days…

Blyth...another Cobblers goal

Blyth…another Cobblers goal

Northampton Town 1-2 Exeter City

League Two

Saturday, September 14th 2013

There are often at least one or two teams every week that feature strongly on radio phone ins and the like with the phrase “it was just one of those days”. For the Cobblers, one of those days (i.e. a game where you have so many chances only to inevitably lose at the death) came at exactly the wrong time and when we needed it the least.

It beggars belief how we managed to come away from Saturday’s game with no points with Exeter delighted at their smash and grab raid. I hold nothing against the Grecians for their tactics and when it comes down to it, they took their chances and we simply didn’t but it makes it no easier to comprehend how we’re not sitting here on seven points and instead are stuck on four.

Town had come out of the blocks on fire early on with a front two of Clive Platt, rejuvenated after last week’s goal, and Jacob Blyth with Roy O’Donovan switching to the left wing in place of the unfortunate Danny Emerton who dropped to the bench. We really took the game to the visitors and were rewarded after just five minutes when Platt took the ball down well and lobbed it into the path of Blyth. The Leicester loanee raced onto it and coolly slotted in past Artur Krysiak in the City goal.

It was no more than we deserved and the slick passing and movement created plenty more. Chris Hackett was back in the sort of form that saw him light up League Two last season and linked up well with former Exeter man Kevin Amankwaah on the right hand side. It was from an Amankwaah cross that Blyth almost made it two minutes after the goal before Platt scrambled the ball onto the bar in yet another big chance.

It was at this point that I started to think we might regret not taking the big chances and so it was that Exeter equalised from a corner ten minutes from the break when Scot Bennett got on the end of a corner to scrappily level things up completely against the run of play.

A big flash point came just before the break when Blyth was caught in the area by Bennett with a challenge that would have undoubtedly been punished with a free kick anywhere else on the pitch but that was waved on by referee Rob Lewis. Even so, we’d shown enough craft and guile before City’s equaliser to make us believe that this was the day that we would kick on from the slumber at the wrong end of the table.

How wrong we were.

On the hour came another huge opportunity when Joe Widdowson collected the ball on the left hand side and swung in a fine cross that Platt looked every bit like scoring from but he somehow managed to head the ball over the bar and into the North Stand. Platt admitted after the game that he should have scored and he was spot on. It was to be a key turning point.

The inevitable moment looked to have passed with a minute to go when former Cobbler Sam Parkin raced through and rounded Matt Duke but his shot was cleared brilliantly by Lee Collins. Again we were wrong if we thought that we were saved. In stoppage time, substitute David Wheeler collected the ball on the right and put in a pin point cross that was agonisingly headed in by John O’ Flynn, himself having just come off the bench.

That was that and Exeter had claimed a stunning victory and their first ever win at Sixfields in front of a stunned crowd of just over 4,000. It will do nothing to encourage more to come back through the turnstiles but we somehow have to take some positives from the way we played.

The shape of the team looked good, particularly in the first half with Chris Hackett’s return to form adding a dimension to the side so lacking so far. Platt and Blyth up front seemed to have a good understanding and could yet form a good partnership if given time to flourish with the Exeter centre halves standing off them for the long balls up top.

It still niggles that we failed to take the chances, though, and we’re still missing the leadership of Kelvin Langmead at the back. In the middle of the park I still haven’t seen enough from Darren Carter to convince me that he’s the answer whilst Gary Deegan came good only in spells and needs to show his bite and experience throughout rather than just in patches.

To say this was a frustrating afternoon is perhaps the understatement of our season so far. It’s one of those that could well have seen us go in 3-0 up at half-time and maybe with the luck and good form towards the end of last season at Sixfields it could well have happened.

At the end of the day we have no more points than we started with, though, and having ‘one of those days’ just doesn’t seem to cut it when you’re stuck at the wrong end of the table. We need to channel the positives from this match and move forwards to Mansfield next week and yet another attempt at ending this dismal away form.

One day this will all come together…

Northampton Town v Exeter City: Match Preview

sixfieldsNorthampton Town v Exeter City

League Two

Saturday, September 14th 2013

The Cobblers welcome high flying Exeter City to Sixfields tomorrow afternoon looking to build on what was eventually a decent point against Scunthorpe last week. The battle back from a goal down to earn a 1-1 draw wasn’t the greatest comeback in football history but what it did do was restore some stability to a stumbling start.

Had we lost that game it would have been five defeats from six league games but as it was we managed to pull at least something out of the bag and Aidy Boothroyd will be hoping that his side can make it three points in another big game at Sixfields on Saturday.

Former Cobblers loan player Paul Tisdale is seven years into his tenure with the Grecians (and is the second longest serving manager in England) with his spell at the club seeing him lead the club from the Conference to League One and then back to League Two again with last season’s tenth place finish coming after spending a lot of the season in the playoff places or higher.

They’ve made a good start to this season, though, and sit fourth after collecting three wins and two draws from their opening six games. Despite losing last season’s leading scorer Jamie Cureton they appear to be setting their stall out once again to trouble the main contenders for promotion. Having never won at Sixfields since it opened in 1994 they’ll be thinking that there’s no better time than now to do just that but the Cobblers have to start raking in more points to avoid being cast adrift already.


Team News…

The Cobblers are waiting on the fitness of Lee Morris who could be available again after his recent injury but Lewis Hornby suffered a further setback this week when it was revealed that he has had a relapse of a back injury that’s kept him out of all of Town’s games so far this season. Pakistani international defender Kashif Siddiqi signed on a professional deal this week and could go into the squad whilst Jacob Blyth extended his loan deal until November 2nd. Kelvin Langmead and Alex Nicholls are still long term absentees.

Exeter striker John O’Flynn could return for the match after missing out on the last couple of weeks with a hamstring problem and that will be assessed before kick-off. Meanwhile, Jimmy Keohane and David Wheeler will battle for places in the starting line-up after doing well from the bench last weekend.


Nicholls...goal in this fixture last season.

Nicholls…goal in this fixture last season.

Previous Six Meetings…

02/03/13: Exeter 3-0 Cobblers (League Two)

The Cobblers’ away day woes towards the end of last season went on as Lee Nicholls fumbled a corner into his own net before Jamie Cureton and Jake Gosling sealed another dismal outing for Aidy Boothroyd’s men.

13/10/12: Cobblers 3-0 Exeter (League Two)

The first meeting between the sides in twelve years ended with a comfortable victory for the Cobblers. Bayo Akinfenwa volleyed us in front before Kelvin Langmead got on the end of an Emyr Huws cross to make it two before half-time. Alex Nicholls sealed the victory late in the day to extend Exeter’s poor history at Sixfields.

18/03/00: Cobblers 2-1 Exeter (Division Three)

A big win for Town en route to promotion in 2000. Richard Green put us in front before Carlo Corazzin made it two before the break. Nerves were jangling as Darren Rowbotham halved the deficit mid-way through the second but Town held on for a precious three points.

23/11/99: Exeter 1-2 Cobblers (Division Three)

Jason Rees had Exeter in front after just seven minutes from the spot but goals from Carlo Corazzin and Ian Hendon turned the game around as the Cobblers came home from Devon with all the points.

25/11/97: Cobblers 2-1 Exeter (FA Cup First Round Replay)

The Cobblers progressed to a Second Round tie against Basingstoke  and eventually a Third Round exit at Leicester City thanks to this replay win at Sixfields. Roy Hunter opened the scoring early on but it looked like Billy Clarke’s equaliser would send the tie to extra time until Carl Heggs netted the winner with four minutes to go.

15/11/97: Exeter 1-1 Cobblers (FA Cup First Round)

A few days earlier, Darren Rowbotham had gave City the lead at St. James’ Park but Roy Hunter earned the replay in which the Cobblers would eventually progress.


The man in the middle…

The referee for Exeter’s visit is Robert Lewis. Lewis has shown ten yellow cards in three games so far this season and last took charge of a Cobblers game in the 3-1 win over Fleetwood Town back in January of this year. His last Exeter game was a 2-0 defeat against Port Vale last October.



Exeter are going well and have taken eleven points from a possible eighteen but nine of those points have been gathered at home. On the road they’ve drawn two and lost one and hopefully their shocking record at Sixfields (five Cobblers wins and one draw in six meetings since we moved from the County Ground) goes on tomorrow afternoon…I’ll go for a much needed Cobblers win by the odd goal. 2-1.

Fan Feature: Exeter City

exeterWith Exeter City in town this weekend, the latest Fan Feature comes via Keiran Hutchins who gives us the low down on all things Grecian…

After a disappointing fall away from the playoff places last season, Exeter would have spent the summer planning another go at an attack on the top seven. It was their first season back in League Two following relegation and Paul Tisdale looked to be on the way to taking his side back into the running for an immediate return but his side fell at the last with six defeats in the final seven games. Keiran discusses this and more below. You can follow him on twitter at @ecfc32

A tenth place finish last season…were you expecting more or was that a decent finish?

Honestly I was expecting more, especially as with 10 games left, we looked more than comfortable in the top 3. A horrendous run of form at the end ruined it for us and dreaming what might have been.

Paul Tisdale is the second longest serving manager in England behind Arsene Wenger with more than seven years under his belt…what’s the secret to his longevity in amongst the cut and thrust nature of the game these days?

Honestly I do not know his secret! I believe it’s because he knows how to keep the board happy, and has constantly done well (apart from the relegation)

How are the new signings settling in? Any big moves in January?

The new signings seem to be settling in well. Not sure whether we will bring anyone in January. A RB would be a start though, seeing as you lot stole our RB!

Who’s going to score your goals now that Jamie Cureton has left? How is Sam Parkin looking?

Now Curo’s gone, we’ll be looking at Alan Gow and John O’Flynn, along with midfielders chipping in. Parkin is looking like a shrewd signing by Tisdale this season. Knows what to do with the ball at his feet or in the air.

What are your ambitions for this season?

I’d like us to push for the play-offs, but realistically can see us just missing out, again.

And, finally, a prediction for the game on Saturday?

Cobblers 1-1 Grecians

Big thanks to Keiran for that!


Exeter City Links…

Official Website: http://www.exetercityfc.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/exetercityfc

Twitter: @OfficialECFC https://twitter.com/OfficialECFC

Forum: http://www.exeweb.com/forums/

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exeter_City_F.C.

BBC Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/exeter-city

Local News section: http://www.thisisexeter.co.uk/exetercity