Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale admitted he saw plenty of signs of improvement in his team’s performance at Northampton Town on Saturday.
The Grecians went down to a 1-0 defeat in League Two as an 88th-minute overhead kick from Marc Richards broke what had been a strong defensive performance.
It means Exeter are still without a win in League Two this season, having lost their previous two away games at Plymouth Argyle and Burton Albion and drawn at home to York City and Portsmouth.
With previous away defeats this season having been particularly poor performances from City, Tisdale was full of praise for his side’s efforts at the Sixfields Stadium.
“I think our positional play was excellent,” he said. “I think our players took on board the work we have done. If you compare it to the Plymouth and the Burton Albion matches, I thought we were a stronger, more cohesive unit on Saturday.
“There are plenty of positives to take, but the biggest positive in football is winning games, getting points and getting confidence. We know that, but we have just got to hold firm and keep going.”
City started the match well, with Matt Grimes, who has been called up to England’s Under-20 squad for their match with Romania on Friday evening, at the heart of City’s forward play.
He showed good footwork to evade two challenges and square a ball to Matt Jay on the edge of the box midway through the half, and then played in Arron Davies moments later. However, on both occasions, Jay and Davies lacked conviction and the chances were wasted.
It was a criticism labelled at the whole team after the match by Tisdale, who wanted his side to believe a bit more in their play going forward.
“We didn’t quite believe in our route to goal possibly quite enough, but we had some real good half-opportunities around their box,” said Tisdale. “We should have believed a little bit more in terms of our penetration. I have to say, though, that I thought we did really well, so I’m disappointed for the players and for the supporters because it was a very big effort and we came very close against a very, very strong side.”
In the second half, another City chance was wasted as Liam Sercombe got caught ahead of the ball as David Wheeler tried to find him with a low cross to the back post. However, that was as good as it got for the visitors as they then had to withstand a bombardment of attacks from the Cobblers – led by their impressive substitute Ivan Toney.
Playing a man-marking system, instead of the zonal approach used in previous matches, City dealt with a lot of the Northampton corners. Christy Pym, who has also received a call-up to England’s Under-20 squad, made a couple of smart stops as well.
However, the Grecians could not quite hang on for the final whistle as Ben Tozer’s long throw was flicked on to Richards, who did the rest.
Tisdale said that it was a cruel goal to concede, especially as they had talked about Tozer’s long throws in the lead-up to the match.
“We were very disappointed because it was a late goal and, no matter what the game and what the performance, when you come that close to a point and a result, it is difficult to take,” he said.
“The ball was coming into our box a lot more regularly at the end of the game and I suppose that scenario is more and more possible. But, I thought we held out really well. We had some big performances. I’m very proud of how the players were committed.
“The goal came from a long throw from Ben Tozer, and it was something we expected at some point to come into our box. But, whichever way you look at it, it is a goal that we have conceded and we have lost.”