EXPERIENCE was very much the theme at Valley Parade on a day when one of the mascots was 30 and the referee 52.

George Huntley looked suitably embarrassed as he celebrated his combined stag do and birthday in full kit among the entourage of young fans getting to meet the players.

But he still had a happier day than Carl Boyeson, the grand old man of the whistle-blowing circuit, whose infuriating performance suggested his best-before date is long past.

After the Devon debacle, City might have hoped to leave frustrations about iffy officials behind. Fat chance of that at this level.

Bryan Robson was in the home dug-out when Boyeson first refereed the Bantams in a 1-0 win over Coventry in December 2003 – and took just the seven names.

Now in his 20th season on the list, Kidderminster and Boston were among the teams for his earliest league games, this was the Hull man’s 16th Valley Parade visit.

His over-fussy approach and lack of clarity with several decisions succeeded in frustrating both teams and every fan.

It just added to the underwhelmed reaction of the 15,372 witnessing a third straight 1-1 draw in the league – and fifth in a row discounting the result that has been deemed to have never happened in Exeter.

It was a tough watch, although in coming back once more against another of the League Two leading pack, it suggested again that City are becoming tougher to beat.

And that’s where the experience with Derek Adams comes in.

The point lifted City one place to 10th after 17 games – the identical spot to where the Scot sat as Morecambe manager last season.

Eyes are rolled whenever the Shrimps get brought up but they are the most recent blueprint to success for a boss targeting promotion from the fourth tier with a third club.

City, for all the tiresome talk of missed chances, have currently scored three more than Morecambe had managed at this stage – while conceding seven less.

Five home draws already hardly hint at the fortress needed to sustain a promotion push.

This was a forgettable game; thankfully nobody is likely to order a replay on this occasion.

But this is not a memorable division. Nobody stands out – leaders Forest Green looked anything but world-beaters when they sneaked a ref-assisted point from West Yorkshire last month.

This run of games against the top five has proved it’s much of a muchness.

City, despite winning only twice since their August purple patch, remain in the mix like so many others.

“These guys will surely be there or thereabouts at the end,” said Northampton boss Jon Brady, who seemed pleased enough with the stalemate.

Adams is happy to play the long game. He has frequently made it clear that the only time the table matters is on the final afternoon.

Stodgy autumn draws will be long forgotten if he can get City over the line in the same manner he achieved with Morecambe.

The positive spin from the recent results suggests that there is nothing to be scared of and his team can match any of those up there.

Of course, it’s whether they can take that next step and turn draws to wins to prevent a mid-table drift.

And that brings us back to converting the chances that continue to slip away.

There was less evidence of that in this game – City had “good moments”, in the words of Adams, but there was no catalogue of blown opportunities as we have seen so often previously.

They carried far more of a threat than Northampton, whose sole shot on target was their goal, but there was an absence of near-misses or close squeaks.

How City missed the presence of a target man to make the ball stick up front.

The absence of top scorer Andy Cooke for at least another three weeks was compounded by Lee Angol’s ridiculous suspension.

His only appearance on the pitch was for a few pre-match circuits to keep his fitness levels tuned for Tranmere.

It would be a major surprise if he is not straight back in for City’s night on the Wirral.

Theo Robinson was charged with the lone striker role as Adams reverted to 4-2-3-1 and got little joy against his Northampton shadow Fraser Horsfall.

He was not the same physical focal point you’d get with Cook and Angol.

“It’s very important (to have that), especially in this league,” said Adams.

“It’s a big avenue for a lot of teams. When you have a striker who can lay the ball off or spin in behind, it’s advantageous.”

Northampton had that in on-loan Spurs teenager Kion Etete, although he lasted less than a half before conceding to a bloodied mouth after being caught by a flailing elbow from Yann Songo’o.

Brady felt Songo’o, restored to City’s midfield after his spell playing as a third centre half, could have been sent off for that – one of three home players the Cobblers chief reckoned should have had their marching orders.

He was also upset with Finn Cousin-Dawson’s full-blooded lunge on Danny Rose on the halfway line - which Boyeson didn't even deem a foul - and Alex Gilliead’s late clash with keeper Liam Roberts. But perhaps City were due a break from officialdom after the shenanigans of the previous 48 hours.

Boyeson was equally unpopular in home quarters – particularly when he blew to stop play for Etete to get treatment at the precise moment when City were about to shoot at the other end.

No wonder the contest got niggly at times as tempers frayed at the frequent interruptions and inconsistencies.

That spilled into the stands with a bizarre stand-off at one point as some fans in the Kop started trading vocal blows with the North West Kollektive. Strange stuff, indeed.

It might have been different if City had built on a high-tempo opening. Callum Cooke stretched Roberts into an early diving save but they were never able to get beyond a couple of sessions of head tennis in the Northampton box.

The Cobblers pinned their hopes on long balls to get Etete in behind the City backline.

It almost worked once from Aaron McGowan’s hopeful punt but Paudie O’Connor stuck tight to his man and slid in with a vital nick before the striker was clean through.

Northampton did strike first on the hour as, for the second game running, City conceded a goal that began from their own attacking free-kick.

Elliot Watt’s shot was blocked in the box and rebounded out to Mitch Pinnock, who turned the ball round the corner as Cousin-Dawson momentarily lost his footing.

That was all the speedy winger needed as he dashed over halfway. With Liam Ridehalgh suddenly outnumbered four on one as the only defender back, Pinnock went himself and lashed a shot under Richard O’Donnell.

But Northampton have never managed a clean sheet at Valley Parade and any hopes of ending that record were dashed within seven minutes.

Adams had just swapped Robinson for Caolan Lavery immediately before the Cobblers struck – but the Canadian made an instant impact to help City back on terms.

Lavery panicked Fraser Horsfall into an air shot as he tried to clear and hustled towards the box before laying off for Charles Vernam to coolly bag his fourth goal of the campaign.

Abo Eisa’s arrival for his first league minutes further lifted the mood but City could not press on and finished with another draw against an opponent in a position where they want to be.

Whether that’s another good point or not may become clearer in time.