Grecians count the cost of poor defending
It seems old habits are dying hard for Exeter City. Another good performance was all well and good at Sixfields on Saturday, but the soft goals that have plagued the season so far were again evident as they slipped to defeat to Northampton Town.
Make no mistake about it, the 3-0 scoreline does not do the Grecians justice. It was just that Northampton took the chances that came their way and Exeter spurned plenty which, on another day, could easily have yielded three npower League Two points, let alone salvaged a draw.
It seems the Devon side are being punished in the most brutal way for any error they make right now. And a failure to take chances at one end is resulting in the opposition countering and scoring at the other.
It happened last week against Port Vale when Steve Tully hit the crossbar with a header which would have made it 1-1. Moments later, Tom Pope was celebrating putting the Valiants 2-0 in front and effectively make it 'game over'.
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At Northampton, John O'Flynn had two good chances to put Exeter in front with the scores locked at 0-0. The first flew narrowly wide of the far post after a wonderful flowing move, while the second was saved by Lee Nicholls. The rebound fell invitingly for Kevin Amankwaah, who failed to take a golden chance and then Jamie Cureton saw a second follow up blocked once again by a Northampton defender.
Excellent defending or poor finishing – call it what you want. But, less than 60 seconds later, Rhys Evans was picking the ball out of the Exeter net after Adebayo Akinfenwa's superb volley from 20 yards, as the Grecians only partially cleared a Chris Hackett cross into their penalty box.
But, while they can feel sorry for themselves to some extent, City are also gifting teams opportunities to score, especially from crosses.
The second goal, which arrived six minutes before half-time, was poor from every aspect. Exeter failed to clear a corner and, from the second phase, Emyr Hughes turned his way past O'Flynn and crossed for Kevin Langmead to head an easy second.
Quite why the powerful number five was left completely unmarked six yards from goal is anyone's guess. But, against a team renowned for their physical presence and aerial ability, it was suicidal.
At that stage, half-time could not come quickly enough for Exeter, but you always felt the third goal would be vital. City boss Paul Tisdale hauled off Amankwaah and replaced him with Alan Gow as he sought a way back into the contest and, inspired by their talismanic Scot, City dominated the second half. They just did not take any of a glut of chances that fell their way.
Cureton connected well – probably too well – with a Steve Tully cross, but his scissor kick went straight into the arms of Nicholls. Cureton could have done no more on that occasion and, had he mis-kicked it, it may well have found the net.
Arron Davies endured a frustrating return to Sixfields. He was booked for a first-half foul and spurned a chance in first-half stoppage time when he connected with a Matt Oakley cross, but, again, it was straight at Nicholls. Then, in the second half, the Welshman drove a shot over the bar from long range before Gow hit the outside of a post after a neat one-two with Cureton.
The Gow-Cureton partnership played such a large part in Exeter's fine start to the season, and seeing them back in unison was at least one positive aspect of the afternoon. As was seeing Liam Sercombe on the field again, bringing some much-missed energy to the midfield.
Gow twice sent Cureton in on goal, but, the first time, the ball clipped the veteran striker's heel before he was floored by Joe Widdowson. It looked a penalty all the way, but nothing was given. Cureton was certainly not shy in sharing his thoughts with the assistant, but it did beggar the question why did he go down when presented with a decent chance to score? He wouldn't.
The second opportunity was the better one, though. Cureton had plenty of time and space, but his shot was saved by Nicholls. True to form, it was again costly as Northampton won a free-kick at the other end. It was played to the back post, where Langmead again won his header and Alex Nicholls was left with a simple finish from close range.
The statistics from the game show just how even the match was in many ways. Possession was pretty much 50-50, both sides had 13 chances; Exeter having nine on target to the Cobblers' ten. Ultimately, though, it was the most important statistic in which the Grecians fell short.