By Nick Powell, Print Sport Editor
Exeter City’s dismal run in League Two Play-Off Finals continued as they were thrashed by Northampton Town in a dire performance at Wembley.
The Grecians made the worst possible start as they fell behind inside ten minutes, with Ryan Watson’s deflected strike beating Jonny Maxted in the bottom corner.
Northampton doubled their lead through Callum Morton on the half hour mark following a brilliantly worked set piece, as Exeter were outplayed in a poor first half for City.
And though Exeter improved after the break, Dean Moxey’s red card ended any hopes of a dramatic fightback, with Sam Hoskins’ and Andy Williams late goals ensuring it was a thumping victory for The Cobblers.
A Familiar Feeling in an unfamiliar atmosphere
Exeter’s defeat means they have been the losing side in three of the last four play-off finals. Perhaps what would be most disappointing for their fans was how early their expectations of ‘third time lucky’ were dashed.
From the opening moments Exeter were giving too many balls away, looking uncomfortable in possession and Northampton had imposed themselves on the game in a way Exeter never did at an eerily quiet Wembley.
The first opportunity of the game led to its opening goal as Charlie Goode sent one of many long throws into the area. Exeter headed away through Nigel Atangana but it fell to Ryan Watson, whose shot deflected off Aaron Martin and into the Exeter goal.
It was unfortunate for Exeter, the perfect deflection to take the ball past Maxted’s outstretched arm, but Martin would be disappointed with the fact he had failed the block the ball with his left foot, and it was his right that provided the telling deviation.
Northampton were galvanised by their opener, and the Grecians barely created an opportunity before the deficit appeared almost insurmountable.
On-loan West Brom striker Callum Morton doubled the lead after a header across goal by Scott Wharton was flicked into the Baggies loanee’s path by Jordan Turnbull. It was a simple finish for Morton and looked far too easy for Northampton, and Exeter were fortunate to head in only two goals down as Maxted, who looked shaky in the first quarter, made some superb saves.
Despite this, Ryan Bowman had a golden opportunity to halve the deficit after being sent through on goal and beating the offside trap with a run similar to his match winning goal against Colchester in the semi-final. After slowing down, and panicking, the striker lost his footing and Exeter headed into the break in desperate trouble, 2-0 down.
Red Card confirms Exeter’s Fate
Mercifully, Northampton came out more slowly after the break, and Exeter began to dominate possession as they went in search of a foothold that could give them a chance of a fightback.
But they failed to create chances and as the game was slipping away, Dean Moxey seemed to lash out after a poor tackle by the Cobblers that went unnoticed by referee Michael Salisbury.
Salisbury has dished out ten red cards this season but the Grecians could have few complaints after Moxey’s rash, irresponsible challenge.
Once both teams returned after the second half drinks break, it was clear City’s day was done. Morton should have made it 3-0 after being sent through on goal with 20 minutes left, before Exeter made a desperate penalty appeal as Archie Collins, a shining light for Exeter, fell to the ground as he was set to shoot.
Following an outstanding run by Mark Marshall, he unselfishly fed Hoskins to seal the victory as the game drifted into the final ten minutes and Exeter’s day would get even worse shortly before injury time as Andy Williams came off the bench to flick home after another long throw from Charlie Goode.
In truth, had Moxey stayed on the field, Exeter would have still really struggled. It was his sending off however that made the defeat so resounding, and ensured the Grecians third consecutive Play-Off Final defeat was surely their worst.
Exeter had been out thought and out fought by a physical, determined and tactically superior Northampton, whose long ball football was never dealt with. And as the final whistle blew Cobblers boss Keith Curle could celebrate a famous victory.
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