Exeter City 0-4 Northampton Town: League Two play-off final – as it happened

Daniel Harris on 29 June 2020

Thanks all for your company and comments. Night-night.

Here’s Nick Ames’ match report.

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So there we are: Northampton Town absolutely demolished Exeter City in as good a final performance as you’ll see. They join Swindon Town, Crewe Alexandra and Plymouth Argyle in going up from League 2 to League 1.

“We’re proud, as players and football staff, to represent them,” he says of the fans, and when a fan chucked a season ticket at him after defeat against Morecambe, he called him in and explained that “we’re on a journey”. And what’s he going to do tonight? “Have a hot chocolate, go to sleep, get up, watch the game back because that’s what I do.”

I’m not certain his players will do likewise.

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Keith Curle says belief is the most important thing, and everyone at Northampton has it, confident in what they’re trying to do. He says he’s done it for the players, fans, staff and directors, then thanks his son, daughters and partner, who “make me tick”. Naturally, he then has champagne emptied all over him, then goes on to talk about the work, desire and attention to detail in the group.

I wonder if Northampton will alter their approach next season. Ultimately, long-ball football can work, as we’ve seen, because you reduce pressure on your own defence and force the opposition defence to defend. There’s no reason to think it won’t work a level up, though if Morton isn’t there, it’ll be difficult.

Keith Curle joins his captain to lift the trophy, and rightly so – this is his triumph, and he’s been so close before. He is a very, very happy man.

Northampton Town players lift the trophy and celebrate winning promotion.
Northampton Town players lift the trophy and celebrate winning promotion. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

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The Northampton players collect their own medals, which is a shame – they could have fun presenting them to each other – and snaffle the champagne before it’s time.

“We played out of our skin,” says Callum Morton, who says his team were quietly confident before the game. He reckons he’s developed as a player and always saw himself as a goalscorer, so hopes he’s proved that he is. He’s not sure what he’ll be doing next season – staying another season or going back to West Brom – but he looks like he’s got a lot to offer either club.

The Northampton players are absolutely having it. It’s odd there being no fans, but they’re making the most of the moment nevertheless.

NORTHAMPTON TOWN ARE PROMOTED! Full-time: Exeter City 0-4 Northampton Town

Northampton have been superb, and fully deserve their promotion. You’ve got to feel for Exeter, but ultimately they were outplayed, outfought and out-everything elsed.

90+4 min Talking of Goode, it’s not just his throw-ins that have been effective but how well his team-mates have used them. You can tell that they’ve worked hard and been worked hard.

90+3 min Northampton play it into the corner, presumably for a laugh.

90+2 min Lee Hendrie gives Callum Morton man of the match, which I guess is fair enough because he’s been great, but when the game was in the balance, I’d say that Oliver and Goode were crucial.

90 min There’ll be four added minutes.

IT'S A HIDING! GOAL! Exeter City 0-4 Northampton Town (Williams A 89)

What a substitution! Goode hurls towards the penalty spot and Smith flicks into the space behind the Exeter back line, Williams timing his run to prod home from close range. What a brilliant performance this has been from the Cobblers, the most complete final statement as I’ve seen in ages.

Andy Williams of Northampton Town celebrates scoring the fourth.
Andy Williams of Northampton Town celebrates scoring the fourth. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

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89 min Northampton win a throw, and Goode will have it....

88 min Anderson and Williams A replace Watson and Morton. Morton has been really good.

87 min Have we any Northampton fans reading? I’m sure you’ve got more important things to do than talk to me, but I’m intrigued as to the vibe. On the one hand, you’re not there, on the other hand your team are going up and you’re proximate to a refrigerator.

85 min Morton won’t let anything lie, and he dashes into space behind Martin, forcing the foul; Martin is booked.

84 min Time elapses, as Northampton enjoy the moments.

82 min Exeter replace Sweeney with Dickenson. It’s his big chance!

81 min This has been as good a final performance as you’ll see from Northampton, who’ve been focused, intense and absolutely fundamental from the off.

GOAL! NORTHAMPTON ARE GOING UP TO LEAGUE 1! Exeter City 0-3 Northampton Town (Hoskins 80)

More fine play from Morton, who controls on the chest as the ball drops, then scavenges for it when it looks to be running away, poking for Marshall, who screeches onto the pass then squares for Hoskins to sweep into the far corner.

79 min On Twitter, Jim White of the Telegraph has more Cureton gen: “The only player to have scored in all of the top nine levels of English football. Did an interview with him last season when he achieved that record and photographer got him to shoot at goal. He celebrated when it went in. Top man.”

78 min Northampton are looking a little nervous, so are leaving Smith up and getting everyone else behind the ball. It’s pretty fundamental.

75 min Changes for Northampton: Olayinka replaces McCormack and Smith replaces Oliver, who’s been really good.

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73 min The second half has been a lot more even, and an Exeter goal now would set us right up for an exciting finish.

71 min Martin brings the ball out like Sammer and gets caught, allowing Oliver to slide in Morton! This is the game! Maxted does really well to get out to him, but there’s space for yerman to jimmy around him or square to Hoskins. Instead, he looks to slot underneath him, and the effort bobbles just wide.

70 min Again, Northampton make hay down the right and Marshall stands up a cross for Oliver, who can’t quite apply brow to ball.

68 min A water break.

66 min “Callum Morton is a Torquay fan,” says Chris Lintott. “Or at least he grew up watching his home team. Apparently he nearly came on loan to the Gulls but ended up in Northampton instead. Can’t say I mind now!”

I doubt he’ll thank me for this, but I was once lucky enough to be in the crowd, watching our correspondent play University Challenge (one of my mates was the team captain). I’ll refrain from reporting the score, but Paxman was not amused and Gunnatillake of University College, Oxford was quite something.

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64 min Again, Marshall scoots down the right and again his cross asks a question, Maxted responding with a clearing punch.

64 min Good dashes across the centre-circle to rob Taylor before galloping up the left wing. He’s had a really good game.

64 min Sombre.

62 min Collins has made a difference for Exeter, looking to get on the ball and keep it for his team. He was dropped following the semi-final, but based on what we’ve seen so far, should’ve started. His team have had 74 percent possession these last 10 minutes.

61 min Another change for Exeter, who are desperate now; Sparkes replaces Atangana.

58 min RED CARD FOR EXETER! DEAN MOXEY IS SENT OFF!

He can’t have any complaints – he had a little conflab with McCormack, chucking an arm, then lost the heid completely and scythed through Watson. For a moment it looked like we were getting a proper rumble, but it defused all too quickly.

Dean Moxey sees red.
Dean Moxey sees red. Photograph: Dennis Goodwin/ProSports/Rex/Shutterstock

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58 min Northampton look well-organised and well-drilled fundamental.

58 min Collins slides Law down the line and he finds Williams, whose low cross is hoofed away by Turnbull.

56 min This is a good spell for Exeter, who are having a lot of the ball. But they’re struggling to create and Atangana tries to force it, spraying wide to no one.

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55 min Williams again makes space so Watson slides in nice and late. He’s booked.

53 min Morton sprints onto a long ball, collecting beautifully then holding up well before unloading to Hoskins. He heads towards goal, before falling in a challenge with Atangana; he wants a penalty, but the ref says not. It was close, though.

53 min Sensible from Matt Taylor; it wasn’t working, so he’s given his subs a decent shot at making something happen.

52 min Double change for Exeter, Parkes and Collins replacing Richardson and Fisher.

51 min Williams on the ball again, squaring up Harriman and nipping outside him along the by-line, but his touch is heavy and he can’t catch up with it.

50 min Williams is doing his best to get his mates going, arcing a low right-footer towards the near post, but neither Exeter striker gambles. One of them has got to run across their man there.

48 min Morton holds up well and wins a free-kick, 45 yards out. Northampton have been really good from set pieces, and another, er ... diag is knocked back across by Wharton. When that’s semi-cleared, Watson absolutely punishes a shot that’s blocked at source.

46 min Elsewhere, Palace and Burnley is 0-0, but Dwight McNeill is apparently being himself. He’s a lovely player, and you can follow him here.

46 min Exeter beat Northampton from a goal down earlier in the season – the only time they did that all season – so maybe they’ll bear that in mind as they kick-off the second half.

Back come the teams...

Half-time: Exeter City 0-2 Northampton Town

That was an extremely entertaining half (of football). Northampton were excellent and might be further ahead, but Exeter have the firepower to reel them in, if they score next. Join me again in 10 to find out what happens next.

45+3 min Another Marshall cross, and this time, and again, it’s Wharton at the back post; he nods back into the middle for Goode, whose header isn’t far wide.

45+2 min Have a look! Marshall nashes down the right and crosses to the back post where Oliver hangs like an astronaut, heading hard at goal ... but Maxted punches away. That’s very good all round.

Exeter City goalkeeper Jonathan Maxted makes a save from Vadaine Oliver’s header.
Exeter City goalkeeper Jonathan Maxted makes a save from Vadaine Oliver’s header. Photograph: Javier García/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

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45+1 min Fisher feeds a ball down the line and into space, and suddenly Bowman is away! He needs to cut in slightly as he enters the box but he doesn’t quite pick the line and ends up tripping over his own feet when in his own head he was hauling his team back into the game.

45 min There’ll be four added minutes.

44 min Another ball in from Williams – a better one this time – but Arnold is calm and decisive, gliding out to collect before humping a huge one downfield that ultimately earns his side a throw in a decent position. But it’s on Wharton’s side, and he can’t quite replicate Goode’s magic.

42 min Here comes Goode again, this time from further out. So he chucks it at Oliver, who might try and control but instead tries a heel-flick, and Maxted collects.

41 min Again, Exeter get it out to Williams, but his cross is easy for Arnold who comes to collect under very little pressure.

40 min “I totally forgot that Morton is on loan from my Baggies,” says JR, “so I’m rooting for the Cobblers.”

A wise move by the looks of things.

38 min Northampton nearly finish it! Another free-kick goes long, from right to left, and again it’s Wharton up, monstering Bowman to loop goalwards ... forcing Maxted to tip over. The corner comes to nowt.

37 min This time Goode goes towards the near post, and Oliver arrives having escaped his man, nodding down ... but the ball rears up slowly, and Maxted holds above his heed.

36 min Northamptin win another throw down the right, close to the corner flag. Here it comes...

35 min Exeter get Williams the ball in space and he comes inside onto his left foot and tries a curler, but Harriman does brilliantly to get in the road.

34 min Sweeney charges down the right and Hoskins is having none of him, zipping alongside before smoothly sliding in from the side to reclaim possession.

33 min Exeter are in all sorts now. How do they get themselves going with no crowd to help them?

Morton celebrates scoring the second.
Morton celebrates scoring the second. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

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GOAL! Exeter City 0-2 Northampton Town (Morton 31)

Morton does it again! Northampton win a free-kick around halfway that’s punted towards Wharton – who’s lucky to still be on the pitch – on the far side of the box. He wins the header, nodding back into the middle for Turnbull, who flicks across one more, and there’s yerman at the far post! The future’s bright! The future’s orange!

Northampton Town’s Callum Morton scores the second from close range.
Northampton Town’s Callum Morton scores the second from close range. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

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31 min Off goes Adams. He’s replaced by Marshall.

28 min Adams pulls up and goes down. He shakes his head, and there’s no chance he’s staying on I don’t think.

29 min Adams is holding his hamstring, which is not a good sign, but he signals to the bench that he’s ok.

28 min But back come Northampton, moving the ball through midfield with speed and precision before McCormack sticks a pass in behind that’s nowhere near anyone.

27 min Bit of Exeter possession and in the Northampton half too, Williams finding Law down the right; he crosses well, but Turnbull heads away.

25 min In commentary, Lee Hendrie is talking about Callum Morton, who he thinks can play at a higher level, and probably will next season – he’s on loan at Northampton from West Brom. As it happens, his strike partner Oliver has been in the game more so far, but there’s plenty of time for him to resolve that.

23 min The players have a drink, hot toddies all round if they’re lucky.

23 min I’ve watched a lot of football these past few weeks, all of it in front of empty stands and almost all of it lacking intensity and edge. That is not the case here.

21 min “That’ll be Jamie Cureton’s list of teams played for,” says Phil Laing. “Instantly recognisable from his ignominious record of one goal in 19 games for Leyton Orient in 2011-12. Great record elsewhere, couldn’t do it on a wet Tuesday night (or any other day of the week) at Brisbane Road.”

Very good! He also once played for Norwich in the Old Farm derby with his hair died bright yellow.

20 min Exeter need to find something here, because Northampton look for more likely to score again than they do to equalise. And, as I type that, another dangerous ball comes into the box, Oliver climbing all over Moxey, who doesn’t enjoy the tussle. But the ref blows for a foul.

19 min The goal concession tweet is my favourite genre of tweet.

17 min Eesh! Wharton challenges Bowman for a high ball, lamping him with a stray elbow. He’s been booked already, and this might be a red coming his way! But the ref just has a word – he’s a very lucky boy.

16 min Northampton are into this! They win another throw down the right and Goode picks out Oliver, who’s up early but heads over the top.

15 min Northampton win a free-kick 25 yards out, left of centre, which Adams will take; of all the players in England, only Kevin de Bruyne has more assists than him this season. But he tries a shot, swerving over the wall and demanding Maxred make a save, then another when Morton swivels into a shot on the follow-up.

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13 min Immediately, Exeter get it forward, but Northampton crowd them out.


GOAL! Exeter City 0-1 Northampton Town (Watson 11)

Goode luzzes it in and the ball is headed clear, but only as far as Watson, on the edge of the box. He controls on his thigh very nicely as he composes, then feints a shot which sends Taylor out for a bag of otter’s noses. Space cleared, he has a shot, and it flicks Martin’s heel on its way past Maxted.

Northampton Town’s Ryan Watson fires in the first goal of the game.
Northampton Town’s Ryan Watson fires in the first goal of the game. Photograph: MIke Egerton/PA
Another angle of Watson’s strike.
Another angle of Watson’s strike. Photograph: Kieran McManus/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

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10 min Northampton win another throw down the right and this time Goode delaps it, challenor’s it into the box, but Martin heads it out and he gets another go.

9 min Both sides have settled really quickly, and Williams, Exeter’s creative force, is looking extremely sharp.

8 min Exeter look a better footballing side to Northampton, who are not shy of booting it as hard as they can.

6 min “Usually I’m pretty good at coming up with a rooting interest even if I have to mostly invent one,” says JR in Illinois, “but I’m struggling here. Sometimes I have to wait until the game gets going and then I can occasionally find a reason. Sometimes it comes down to team nicknames but I like both of these club’s nicknames. Have you got anything that could sway me to one side or another?

Like Mary Waltz I watched the semifinals and she forgot to mention that Exeter were quite fortunate in the second leg when the Colchester keeper Gerken committed a howler that really put his team in a pickle.”

I guess if I’m picking a place, I’m picking Exeter, but Northampton is handier for Ultra Vegas if you’re into that kind of thing.

4 min It’s a decent delivery too, curling towards the far post and inciting the keeper to make a decision, but a leg intercedes and the ball goes clear.

4 min Wharton hacks down Williams and is booked; Williams will sling in a free-kick from just outside the box, right-hand side.

3 min Quiz time: whose (superb) career path is this?

cureton
It’s grim up north. Photograph: Wikipedia

2 min Adams sends in an outswinger, but it’s cleared easily enough.

1 min Immediately, Northampton hump it forward and win a throw deep inside the Exeter half. Goode will look to hurl it long ... no he won’t, he goes short and his team win a corner.

1 min The referee blows his whistle and the players take a knee. Then he blows it again, and off we go.

The teams take a knee.
The teams take a knee. Photograph: Dennis Goodwin/ProSports/Rex/Shutterstock

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A minute’s silence to remember Theo Foley, who played for Exeter and served Arsenal as George Graham’s assistant.

Exeter have more clean sheets than any other team in the division, but Taylor, their captain, might like to rethink his barnet.

And here are Exeter!

Here come the Cobblers! For those of you watching in black and white, they’re are in a kind of blue/black-grey striped top, with claret socks.

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There will be no pre-match presentation of players to VIPs. Swings and roundabouts, eh.

Gosh, Northampton have been around the houses. This, from Wikipedia, lists their kit manufacturers.

“Northampton’s has been manufactured by Nike since 2016. Previous manufacturers have included Bukta (1975-82), Adidas (1982-83), Umbro (1983-86), Spall (1986-88), MG (1988-89), Scoreline (1989-91), Beaver Sports (1991-92), Ribero (1992-93), Swift (1993-94), Lotto (1995-97), Pro Star (1997-2000), Sport House (2000-03), Xara (2003-05), Salming (2005-06), Vandanel (2006-09), and Errea (2009-16).”

Email! “Due to a number of factors including, but not limited to, the fact that the games were on TV in the early afternoon here in the U.S., my mostly inexplicable fascination with lower league English football, and a decent amount of boredom, I saw much of these semifinals,” says Matt Burtz.

“Exeter seemed solid, well-organised, and mostly in control for both of their legs, while Northampton, after looking quite poor at home in the first leg, seemed to remember that they could still progress with a decisive win in the second leg and completely took it to a bewildered Cheltenham, who were playing with the insouciance of a team that thought they were already at Wembley (and their comical defending reflected it). So while the table may favour Exeter, my money here would be on Northampton, if for no other reason than momentum. Insert cliche about predictions being like opinions and other body parts and whatnot here.”

Yes, due to a single factor including and limited to my wife’s predilection for Real Housewives, I did not watch the semis. But having had a look this afternoon, I’d also edge towards Northampton, for whom Callum Morton looks in very nifty form. My guess is that Curle will have a plan for him.

Curle, meanwhile, says he’s done everything he can, giving his team information and a detailed training session about their fundamentals – a word he keeps using. I’d guess it’s something he drills into his players – that if they stick to what they know – what he tells them – they’ll be alright.

Matt Taylor, Exeter manager, says his team are well prepared. He thinks it’ll come down to how well his team play – how well they defend and attack. Great words.

Jobi McAnuff, player/coach of Leyton Orient, is in the Sky studio. He recently wrote this, which it’s important we all grasp.

Wembley does look pretty strange that empty. The players will need to get used that, and quickly.

Do Exeter have a song to this? Surely they must.

By the looks of things, both sides will play 3-5-2 tonight. They’re pretty evenly matched too, so the question for the managers is whether they rely on their players being better, or seek a way to outsmart their opposite number by doing something a bit different.

Inside the ground, things are already heating up.

exeter fans

And here he is again.

curle walker
There they are, the lads. Photograph: Frank Baron/The Guardian

As mentioned below, Keith Curle is manager of Northampton. Here he is!

Keith Curle
Everything that no one wants to see. Photograph: David Rogers/ALLSPORT

Exeter make one change from that dicey win over Colchester, Atangana replacing Collins in midfield, with Law passed fit. Northampton stay as they were.

Cardboard cut-outs of Exeter fans at Wembley.
Cardboard cut-outs of Exeter fans at Wembley. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

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Teams!

Exeter City: Maxted, Sweeney, A Martin, Moxey, Williams, Atangana, Richardson, Taylor, Law, Bowman, Fisher. Subs: Ward, L Martin, Parkes, Sparkes, Dickenson, Ajose, Collins, Jay, Seymour.

Northampton Town: Arnold, Goode, Turnbull, Wharton, Harriman, McCormack, Watson, Hoskins, Adams, Morton, Oliver. Subs: Cornell, Martin, Lines, Olayinka, Anderson, Warburton, Marshall, Williams, Smith

Referee: Michael Salisbury

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Preamble

It’s lucky that Wembley is rubbish – not words anyone ever supposed to type, but here we are. Inconvenient to get to and from and hard to get in and out of, the surrounding area offers precious little in the way of redemptive booze and food, while the ground itself is soulless, plastic and poorly designed.

As such, fans of Exeter and Northampton needn’t be too upset about what they’re missing, because who needs a day out with their mates more than they’ve ever needed anything? Exactly.

As it goes, the Grecians have made it to this point in two of the last three seasons only to lose to Blackpool and Coventry, so know exactly what they’re missing. They finished – rather “finished” – seven points ahead of the Cobblers and are slight favourites to win tonight after an invigorating late win in their semi in which they threw away a lead then regained it in extra-time.

Northampton, meanwhile, visit HA8 in fine fettle. Just last week they became the first team since 2008 to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit, and Keith Curle, their manager, was manager of Carlisle when they beat Exeter with a last-minute goal, three years ago. Which is to say that it is the absolute height of on.

Kick-off: 7.30pm BST

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