Exeter manager Matt Taylor said he was “embarrassed” by his side’s “limp” second-half performance in their 2-0 defeat at Northampton.
The Grecians had won their last three league games and were level on points with League Two leaders Swindon ahead of kick-off, but fell to a deserved defeat at Sixfields.
Northampton, without a win in their previous four games, were given the dream start when Vadaine Oliver thumped into the top corner after just 54 seconds.
Exeter dominated possession thereafter but created precious few opportunities and their fate was sealed by Sam Hoskins’ late penalty.
“It was a shocking start to concede so early but for the rest of the first half we were right in the game even though we didn’t create enough,” said Taylor.
“You’re up against it when you go behind early at a place Northampton so we had to quickly put that to one side and somehow try and get a foothold in the game.
“I felt we did that for the rest of the first half but I’m really disappointed with the second half performance because it was limp.
“I don’t want to say a lack of effort but there was a lack of knowhow and a lack of sharpness in our game and we were second best throughout.
“As much as I’m disappointed with the first goal, I’m embarrassed by the second goal because as poor as we had been, we were still in the game and it only takes one moment.
“There was a long time left in the game at that point but it was just mentally weak from our view to concede that goal. It’s so unbelievably weak in all aspects and in fairness they could probably have had another penalty.
“Both goals had a big impact on us and it probably highlighted our lack of real desire to go a bit further than we needed to in terms of the overall performance.
“As for their first goal, you can say it was a good finish from the lad but again it’s poor defending from us and I’d love to see our forwards get a chance like that in a game.
“We’ve now not kept a clean sheet for seven games so that defence needs to tighten up. Teams can score goals against us but that was too easy.
“To a man Northampton were more willing than us today.”
It was a much-needed win for the Cobblers following their poor run and Keith Curle’s team are now back in the play-off positions.
“That was more like us and credit goes to the players because we had a disappointing week and we set them a challenge,” he said.
“Our performances have been there and we’ve shown glimpses of what we need to do but today we had to have that mentality to go out and focus on the simple things.
“It was about nullifying the opposition and then knowing that with our team we can go and score goals.
“Exeter are a very good team with good players but we had to interrupt their way of playing because we know we can cause them problems going the other way.
“It was a fantastic start to the game and we knew Vadaine would cause them problems if we got on the front foot, but after the goal we had a 10-minute spell where we allowed them to get into their flow.
“It then became important to engage with them and get a yard closer and stop them from playing. We did that and then we were more of a threat as the game went on.
“Recent history for us has shown that 2-0 is not always a comfortable scoreline but we got the second goal and I thought we managed the game very well and looked very solid against a strong team.”