Rob Baxter: 'Saints not a must-win game'
ROB Baxter hoped Exeter Chiefs would come out of their games over the Christmas and New Year period in a position to attack for a top-four place.
However, this weekend they go into the third and final match in that run of games in seventh, having lost one and drawn one.
Despite that, head coach Baxter does not see the visit of Northampton on Saturday as a must-win for his men.
Victory would lift the Sandy Park outfit back into the top half of the Aviva Premiership standings, while a defeat could leave them eighth and as much as eight points off the pace for a semi-final slot.
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But with nine league games to go after Saturday's tussle with the Saints, the former club skipper knows there are still a lot of points to play this campaign.
Baxter said: "I'd like to think we've never looked at any fixture as a must-win and I'd like to keep that the same.
"Seasons are built on overall performances and what you do over a relatively long period of time. That said, there are a group of teams at the top collecting points, we've not collected as many as we'd have liked, but three points from a tough away game and a tough home game is far from being the end of the world.
"We are entering the period where there's going to be a four-week break (for the Heineken and LV= cups) and it would be nice to be looking up into that top group rather than settling into the mid-table group.
"That said, we were in that mid-table group for quite a while last season and that didn't stop us challenging, almost until the last game of the season, for a spot in the top four.
"It's never do-or-die on one game at this stage of the season, there are a lot of points still out there.
"It's a very important game for us and one I know we'll relish and prepare well for.
"We're unbeaten at home, we'd like to keep that going, and Northampton are a team who really do expect to be challenging in that top four. It's another stiff challenge but that's what the Premiership's about."
Having taken at least a point from every league game bar two so far this season, Baxter knows his side are very competitive.
However, he admits they need to turn the narrow losses into wins.
"I've looked back over our scores in the Premiership this season and we're competitive in every one," he said.
"The only game that got away from us a bit was away at Leicester. Outside of that, we've either won it, drawn it or pretty much been within one score.
"That means we're there or thereabouts in every game. What we have to do is keep pushing forward and trying to turn there or thereabouts into more wins than losses."
Baxter will be forced into making at least one change this weekend as former Northampton prop Brett Sturgess is out with a broken arm.
Ben Moon and Carl Rimmer are vying for the loosehead jersey, with Craig Mitchell in contention to return to the squad as cover at tighthead after recovering from a bicep operation.
Veteran Chris Budgen and rookie Luke Cowan-Dickie could also force their way into the reckoning.
One player who cannot feature just yet is winger Watisoni Votu as the Chiefs have not received his international clearance from Fiji.