A frustrated Chris Wilder labelled his side’s performance against Exeter City as “bang average” despite the Cobblers winning 3-0.
Northampton deservedly led 2-0 at half-time thanks to Jason Taylor’s stunning volley and a header from Ryan Cresswell, but a sloppy second half performance allowed Exeter chances to get back into the game.
They were unable to capitalise, however, through a combination of poor finishing, some last-ditch Northampton defending and excellent goalkeeping from Adam Smith, and the win was wrapped up by Marc Richards’ late third.
Wilder was visibly exasperated after full-time as he pulled apart his side’s performance.
He said: “I didn’t think it was impressive at all. The difference was down to the two boxes - they had just as much play as us.
“We scored three cracking goals but they’ve not had the bounce of the ball and my goalkeeper has done extremely well. I’m not going to gloss over it - I didn’t think we were very good.
“When you play as well as we did on Tuesday, you’re only going to that half a dozen or so times and we’re always striving to reach those standards but that doesn’t come around every game, but I thought we were well off it today.
“Our energy levels weren’t great and that’s no excuse because Exeter played at Swindon on Tuesday. We just had the bounce of the ball in the penalty area, made some great blocks and the goalkeeper was outstanding so I don’t think it was impressive.
“We have to talk openly and honestly. Tuesday against Blackpool was fantastic, it was first class.
“But this is a tough division and I think with the bounce of the ball and a little bit more luck, Exeter could easily have got a result today.
“It wasn’t a 3-0 at all. That’s not to say that my team can’t grind a result out but if we want to achieve and kick-on this season, we can’t fluctuate from an OK performance on Saturday to an outstanding performance on Tuesday and then to a bang average one today.”
Wilder was particularly frustrated by his side’s sloppy passing. On several occasions, the Cobblers won the ball high up the pitch in promising positions, only to then give it away and allow Exeter to counter.
“We didn’t pass the ball very well, we didn’t make the right decisions, we took chances at the back, we didn’t hold the ball up well and there were too many stray passes,” added Wilder, who also confirmed Zander Diamond was taken off as a precaution after feeling his groin.
“We nicked it back off them three or four times early on and if we had been good in their box we could have put them to bed in the first five or 10 minutes, but that just summed us up with passes going astray.
“We are a neat and tidy side that usually pride ourselves on being good with the ball but I didn’t think we were good with the ball nor were we good without it.
“Its always good to win and it’s always good to score three goals and keep a clean sheet, but we have to make sure we don’t gloss over what I thought a bang average performance.
“We dug in and we broke the play up so many times we should have punished them more, but when we did break it up, we weren’t very good when counter-attacking.
“The game became really stretched and if we are going to drop in deep, we have to drop in as a team. We can’t have Marc Richards and Alfie Potter at the top of the pitch, the two midfield players getting isolated and the back four sat 15 yards outside the box. We have to be compact as a team whether we’re up the pitch or whether we’re playing deep.
“They had decent movement and they have some good players that played on the shoulder so Ryan and Rod McDonald had to be wary of their pace in behind but if we are to play like that then we have to drop a bit deeper and be a bit more compact.
“Then the one that clinched the game came from when we broke it up and that’s what we are looking for, but it’s a new team and we’re still learning.
“It’s a 3-0 win but we will be better and we have to be better if we want to show some consistency.
“The scoreline flatters us. I’ve asked the players what they think and I think we all agreed that we can do a lot better and have to do better if we want to kick-on.
“We want to have high standards. I was made up on Tuesday for my team to play like that and the football we played was outstanding at any level and possibly some of the best football I’ve been involved with at this level and above.
“Sometimes, you have to take it the other way. I could come out and say it was OK but I really didn’t think it was. I’ve told the players that and we need to do better. They know today wasn’t up to the standards we set.”