Northampton promoted to League One after thumping play-off final win over Exeter
Northampton celebrated promotion to Sky Bet League One after inflicting further play-off final heartache on Exeter with a crushing 4-0 victory at an empty Wembley.
Strikes from Ryan Watson, Callum Morton, Sam Hoskins and substitute Andy Williams earned the Cobblers a resounding win in what was thought to be the first competitive behind-closed-doors game held at the national stadium.
Toothless Exeter were second best throughout the contest and endured another miserable trip to the capital, losing this winner-takes-all fixture for the third time in four seasons.
The Grecians, beaten by Blackpool in 2017 and Coventry in 2018, ended the contest with 10 men after Dean Moxey was shown a second-half red card for lunging at Watson with the score 2-0.
Victory for Town ended their two-year exile from the third tier, while earning manager Keith Curle a maiden promotion of a managerial career which began in 2002.
They will join fellow promoted sides Swindon, Crewe and Plymouth in League One next season.
The teams took to an immaculate-looking pitch 331 days after the start of the League Two season and on the day the cancelled Wimbledon tennis championships were scheduled to begin.
After British soprano Faryl Smith contributed to the surreal atmosphere by performing a pre-recorded national anthem on the big screens, the empty 90,000-seater stadium fell completely silent in memory of Theo Foley.
Irishman Foley, who died on Friday aged 83, had connections to both clubs, captaining and managing Northampton after beginning his professional career with Exeter.
Supporters, absent due to coronavirus restrictions, were partly replaced by a host of cardboard cut-outs, with NBA great Shaquille O’Neal and comedian Alan Carr among Northampton’s celebrity backers and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and actor Adrian Edmondson in the Exeter end.
Town began brighter and took an 11th-minute lead with the game’s first attempt at goal.
After Charlie Goode’s long throw was partially cleared to the edge of the box, Watson calmly sidestepped City skipper Jake Taylor before his low left-footed strike took a slight deflection off Aaron Martin and flew into the bottom right corner.
Exeter had finished seven points above their opponents in the curtailed regular season but they were left with an uphill battle following static defending in the 31st minute.
Semi-final hero Morton, who scored twice as the Cobblers overturned a 2-0 aggregate deficit against Cheltenham, was left with a simple, close-range volley after Scott Wharton and Jordan Turnbull helped Goode’s searching free-kick across goal.
Grecians boss Matt Taylor had been assistant to Paul Tisdale during Exeter’s previous two play-off final losses.
He was left with his head in his hands following the second goal and his side would have been even further behind at the end of a below-par first-half display had goalkeeper Jonathan Maxted not kept out quickfire stoppage-time headers from Vadaine Oliver and Goode.
Exeter showed little sign of mounting a comeback and their task became even more difficult just before the hour mark when Moxey was shown a straight red card after foolishly sliding in on Watson from behind.
West Brom loanee Morton then wasted a chance to claim his second when he slotted wide when clean through, before Hoksins put the result beyond doubt by coolly slotting in 10 minutes from time after substitute Mark Marshall burst down the right and centred.
Exeter enjoyed more possession but mustered just one attempt on target in the entire contest and their suffering was complete a minute from time when veteran forward Williams hooked home with his first touch after another Goode long throw.
At the end of the game the Northampton players picked up the medals and champagne themselves for social-distancing reasons.