Superb team performance is catalyst for fine victory
If Exeter City's match with Northampton Town was billed as a clash of two contrasting styles, then how ironic it was that the Grecians should prevail by beating the Cobblers at their own game.
Adrian Boothroyd's side have enjoyed considerable success by imposing their physical attributes on npower League Two this season and, with a number of sizeable characters in their team, they are a formidable threat from long throws and set-plays.
Yet you would not have known that on Saturday as Exeter, who had not beaten Northampton since 1984, scored twice from set-plays of their own before the superb Jake Gosling put the gloss on a fine team performance with a brilliant solo goal; his first for the Grecians.
However, if that goal was spectacular, then the first was of a scrappy nature and came somewhat out of the blue. The opening exchanges were cagey with no quarter given and none gained. But then Gosling won his side a corner in front of the 400-plus travelling Northampton fans.
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Craig Woodman's left-footed in-swinger had pace, but should have been dealt with by goalkeeper Lee Nicholls. However, he rather surprisingly dropped it over his own goal line.
Nicholls' protestations that he was impeded by Jamie Cureton fell on deaf ears, while Exeter's top goalscorer showed what a typical striker he is by claiming the ball had touched him en route to crossing the line!
However, there was no disputing who got the final touch to the second goal. Again, it was Gosling who won the free-kick, but Matt Oakley's delivery was sumptuous. The ball was delivered to the near post where Cureton got across Joe Widdowson and headed emphatically past Nicholls and into the net.
That goal led to Northampton enjoying their best spell of the game, but only after the introduction of Clive Platt, who swelled the number of six-footers in the Cobblers' side. However, they found the Exeter defence in mean mood. Adebayo Akinfenwa was denied by former Cobbler Arron Davies heading off the goal-line and Artur Krysiak pulled off a superb save to deny Kelvin Langmead.
Krysiak has had his critics in the past – none more so than me – but he is without doubt the most improved player in the Grecians' ranks. His performances have got better and better and, on Saturday, he made great saves, commanded his box and showed a safe pair of hands in taking long throws and catches under some pretty intense pressure. It is fantastic to see.
Krysiak was one of a number of players who could have taken the man of the match prize. His coup de grace, though, came in the first half, just after the opening goal.
Scot Bennett inadvertently turned the ball towards his own goal, some six yards out, but the agile Pole got down quickly to keep the ball at bay and Kevin Amankwaah cleaned up, under pressure from Akinfenwa.
It was a crucial save at a crucial time, but this is becoming the norm for Krysiak. Credit to Paul Tisdale for sticking by the former Birmingham City youngster when so many doubted him and credit to Krysiak for the improvements in his game, which have come about through experience and hard work on the training ground with his coach, Mel Gwinnett.
However, City's Pole in goal is not the only one showing signs of progress. With Mark Molesley serving the first game of a three-match ban, Gosling was given the opportunity to shine. And shine he did. Gosling is a different type of player to Molesley, more direct and of the old-fashioned winger variety, but what a prospect he looks.
Northampton tried to rough him up, but it was all water off a duck's back for the 19-year-old, who marked only his second senior start for Exeter with a quite wonderful goal.
Nicholls' kick was superbly cushioned into the path of Gosling by the head of Bennett, allowing the winger to pick the ball up on halfway and embark on a mazy dribble. An earlier run had seen him cynically brought down from behind, but that had no lasting effect, despite the attempts of Ben Tozer to clip his heels.
Gosling cut across the former Plymouth Argyle youngster and shifted the ball on to his favoured left foot before striking it low under Nicholls, who got a touch but could only direct it into the roof of the net.
The goal certainly put smiles on the faces of the home faithful, but none were as broad as that of the goalscorer. It came at a time when Northampton were applying pressure and looking their most dangerous, and furthered Gosling's claim for the man-of-the-match award.
He faced stiff competition, though. Krysiak played his part, Danny Coles and Pat Baldwin were imperious at the back, Oakley was again outstanding and my personal choice, but there were few arguments when the sponsors' choice was read out as Tommy Doherty.
The midfielder was neat and tidy in possession, dogged in the tackle, full of commitment and showed glimpses of genuine quality. It was a performance that reflected the efforts of all his team-mates.