Exeter City's unbelievable run continues with battling away win at Northampton

Exeter City manager Gary Caldwell hailed yet another unbelievable win for his Grecians side as despite playing for the whole second half with 10 men they claimed victory over Northampton Town. City are now unbeaten in nine games after battling hard for a 2-1 win at Sixfields which puts them back into the top half of League One.

Luke Harris steered the Grecians ahead with the first meaningful action of the clash to make it four for the season for the Fulham loanee. But Ryan Woods saw red for violent conduct after clashing heads with Jon Guthrie on the stroke of half-time.

The Cobblers dominated possession in the second half but created little, but with 20 minutes to go, Guthrie did bring them level when he fired home after a long throw wasn’t dealt with. But Exeter claimed all three points thanks to Will Aimson’s 83rd-minute winner as the skipper arrived late at the back post to bundle the ball home.

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The Grecians are back into the top half of League One and could still finish in the top ten if results go their way. But Caldwell’s men have a top half finish in their own hands if they beat play-off chasing Oxford United on the final day of the season which would stretch the unbeaten run to ten.

“It was another brilliant display of character and team spirit after going down to ten men," said Caldwell. “I thought the way we started the game was excellent. We were surprised by their team, they showed us a lot of respect and changed formation and they locked onto our box and tried to stop us playing.

“But when we adjusted, I thought we caused them a lot of problems and we scored during that period and we could have scored more goals. The game then became a bit loose just before half-time and the sending off changes everything but this team fights and always finds a way and it was another unbelievable win with ten men, and it’s not the first time we have won with 10 men this season, and that’s all about resilience and character to make that happen.”

Following the 4-2 win away to Port Vale last Saturday, Gary Caldwell made four changes to the starting line-up. In came Zak Jules, Dion Rankine, Tom Carroll and Jack Fitzwater – the latter appearing for the first time since October in what has been an injury hit season for the defender.

Cheick Diabate, Ben Purrington and Caleb Watts all dropped to the bench, while Yanic Wildschut was one of a number of players not fit to feature with injury, with Vincent Harper also not in the squad, but Reece Cole was fit enough for a spot on the bench.

In the 20 th minute, with the first shot on goal for either side, City did take the lead. Aimson won the ball back with a good tackle, before Harris and Rankine combined brilliantly down the right hand side. The Chelsea loanee slotted the ball through to the Fulham loanee perfectly, and the teenager fired the finish home low across the goalkeeper and in off the post for a fourth goal of the season and to make it 1-0.

The Grecians were on-top, and Ilmari Niskanen saw an effort come back off the post, but just before half-time, Northampton really should have levelled. There was an almighty goalmouth scramble with Town having at least five shots in a 30 second period, one of which saw Jules and Vil Sinisalo combine to block an effort on the bar, before Harris cleared one off the line, as City finally got the ball away.

But City went into half-time down to ten men after Woods was given a straight red card. The midfielder and Jon Guthrie got into a tussle, with Woods reacting, violently reacting to some provocation but thrusting his chest towards the Cobblers man. Guthrie was booked for the initial foul, but referee Ruebyn Ricardo brandished the red card to Woods. The on-loan Hull City man will miss not only the final game of the season, but the first three games of next season, as it was his second sending off of the campaign.

On the red card, Caldwell said: “I think it’s really soft. There’s a coming together and he goes down very, very easily and the referee couldn’t wait to get his red card out. It was very soft.”

Caldwell made one change at the break, with Diabate replacing Fitzwater, as City moved to a back four as they looked to hold their one goal lead with one man fewer. On 72 minutes, Northampton did draw level, with what was their first real shot in anger. A long throw was launched into the box by Mitch Pinnock, Aimson couldn’t get the ball clear after Sam Sherring flicked it on, and Guthrie poked home from close range to make it 1-1.

Cole, Watts and Harry Kite came on to replace Richards, Harris and Carroll as Caldwell threw on fresh legs to try and hold onto the point. But instead, the Grecians retook the lead inside the final ten minutes. Jules did brilliantly down the left-hand side, he fizzed in a low cross, and captain Aimson late at the far post to tap home from close range to restore City’s lead with what proved to be the winner.

“The winner shows the courage of the team,” Caldwell said. “At times we had to defend deep and soak up pressure, we didn’t give up many chances, concede da really poor goal from our point of view with the long throw, but we still put men forward,

“It was a fantastic dribble, put the ball into the scoring zone, and it doesn’t need to be pretty and Will almost tackled it into the net but shows everything. It is courage, confidence, and the run we are on, we have a chance to win the game. We will create opportunities and we still tried to be a threat in the game.”

Over the last six games, no team in League One has won more points that the Grecians. Indeed, in the last ten, City are third in the form table, as they have dragged themselves from being in a relegation battle to the top half of the table. Cheltenham Town, who lie 21 st , are now a scarcely believable 20 points behind City.

The nine game unbeaten run is the longest since City went nine without defeat in the League Two promotion season in 2022. That season saw Exeter go on a club record unbeaten run of 20 games in all competitions. But the last time the Grecians went ten without defeat in the third tier was back in December 1932 and January 1933 – when it was the Third Division South. Avoid defeat on Saturday at St James Park, and that record is equalled.

“It has been a brilliant second half to the season,” Caldwell said. “We have one game to go, we have to be ready next Saturday for a massive game at home against a team wanting to get into the play-offs.

“We want to try and get to the top ten, but it is in our own hands to finish in the top half, which is fantastic where we were from Christmas and the budget we have. We get the rewards at the end and players can go and thank them, they have seen a lot of victories and we are winning games.”

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