Northampton Town have secured promotion to League One after blowing away Exeter City in the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley.
First-half goals from Ryan Watson and Callum Morton put Keith Curle’s side in the driving seat at half-time and things went from bad to worse after the break for the Grecians with Dean Moxey shown a straight red card before Sam Hoskins and Andy Williams made it four.
It was a dominant display from the Cobblers, who handed Exeter their third play-off final defeat in four years but secured a first promotion for Curle after 18 years in management.
Heading into the game it looked like it could come down to whether Northampton were able to reach the sort of levels they showed in the play-off semi-final second leg against Cheltenham Town.
We got our answer early on as the Cobblers flew out of the blocks and produced a dominant first-half display.
They made their pressure count in the 11th minute. A long throw was headed out to Ryan Watson at the edge of the box. He shifted it fantastically onto his left before driving his effort through a crowd of players and into the bottom corner via a slight deflection.
They could have had a second moments later were it not for goalkeeper Jonny Maxted, who produced an important double save – first pushing Adams free-kick wide and then tipping over the follow-up effort.
The Exeter keeper nearly turned from hero to villain around the 20-minute mark – coming out to punch the ball but getting minimal contact and catching Vadaine Oliver. Screams of penalty from the Northampton players but referee Michael Salisbury wasn’t interested.
Northampton suffered a setback just before the half-hour mark as Adams, second only to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne when it comes to assists in English football this term, was forced off with a hamstring injury.
Far from feel sorry for themselves, however, the Cobblers doubled the deficit while Adams was still walking down the tunnel. Morton grabbed his eighth goal in 12 games for the club after a deep free-kick was nodded on by first Scott Wharton and then Jordan Turnbull for the 20-year-old to cleverly guide his volley into the back of the net.
With six minutes to go until half time, Northampton nearly grabbed a third as Wharton’s looping header was clawed over by Maxted, who flung himself across his line to gobble up the header from the resulting corner.
If ever there were a team that needed the break it was the Grecians whose half was summed up in added time. Ryan Bowman raced through on goal but lost control of the ball inside the Northampton box before Maxted produced not one but two vital saves to keep it at 2-0.
Exeter looked improved after the break but things went from bad to worse for them just before the hour mark when the experienced Moxey flew in from the wrong side on Watson and was shown a straight red card.
Matt Taylor was forced into a number of changes but a man down, his side were unable to pull themselves back into the game.
The Grecians felt they could’ve had a penalty for Turnbull’s strong challenge on substitute Archie Collins with around 20 minutes to go. The referee didn’t agree and neither did the Northampton defender who had more than a few words to say to the 20-year-old.
10 minutes later, Hoskins grabbed a third the Cobblers. Exeter struggled to clear another long ball forward and Mark Marshall raced into the box before teeing up Hoskins to calmly curl the ball into the back of the net.
Two minutes before the end of allotted time substitute Andy Williams made it four for Curle’s side. The Northampton man had been on the pitch for barely a few minutes before acrobatically converting a long throw.
After nearly two decades in management, a powerful and dominant performance has meant Curle finally has his maiden promotion while for the Grecians it is more Wembley woes.
FULL TIME: Exeter City 0 – 4 Northampton Town