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Gripped by the Cobblers: Patchy performances but late Swindon win shows talk of Curle sacking is premature

This season's challenge: pure skill versus game management

The heat was on Keith Curle, there’s no doubt about it. Go a few games without a win and talk of the sack begins. That’s just how football is. You could almost hear the sizzle.

It was ironic that former Swindon player Andy Williams scored the winner against the Robins on Tuesday night, turning the gas right down on his manager.

More-so after Williams’ mega miss versus Macclesfield that, like his crooning namesake sang, was wider than a mile. Yet, the man who is so in and out of Curle’s elevens that he may as well be called Mr Hokey Cokey smacked the ball off the County Ground crossbar and into the Swindon net leaving the Robins longing for an early (bird) bath.

The goal was offside by a good 2 yards but that just multiplied the Northampton fans’ enjoyment. The stats were crap too with Cobblers enjoying just 35% of possession and scoring with their only decent chance on goal but who cares? These Tuesday night games are laws unto themselves where nothing counts but the result. Williams could have pulled over his marker and thrown the ball into the net but all that matters on the Wednesday morning is the 3 points. Saltiness from Swindon fans is all the more delicious.

Of course, quite what Curle is going to do now is another matter. He’s already on to plan C in August, with Jordan Turnbull playing in midfield and his reserve forward up top. Saturday sees a trip to Colchester United who destroyed his 3-5-2 setup 4-0 last season so it’ll be interesting to see if he tries to play openly like he did against Macclesfield or just clog the game up as was effective at Swindon. 

Curle started his tenure by saying he wanted to stop the opposition first and foremost. Then he progressed to saying he want his sides to play free-flowing, attacking football. The Swindon game was most definitely a return to the former and you get the feeling that breaking up matches is where the man in the hat is most comfortable.

Trying to nick matches on the back of 35% possession will be excruciating for Cobblers fans, many of whom watched events from their computers last night refreshing the NTFC Twitter feed with trepidation like turning the pages of a horror book. It’s also bloody hard work for his players. 

This is where you may find the disconnect with promotion football for Curle, going up against the best football tacticians and technical teams in open play and winning by skill rather than pure game management.

After the 1-0 Swindon smash and grab the likely result is a 2 goal defeat at Colchester, with Town fans going into the game like they have turned a corner but crying into their post match pints in a dead end pub. That’s Northampton Town for you. 

The heat will almost certainly return for Curle but in reality there is almost no point sacking him unless Cobblers are staring down the barrel of relegation.

Giving Curle the heave ho will come with a significant cost both financially and in terms of team continuity and Cobblers can ill afford that if you look at the last set of accounts. 

Sack Curle and kiss goodbye to assistant Colin West and possibly Simon Tracey, the chief scout and Curle’s longtime friend.

At Peterborough you have Barry Fry to sit between the chairman and the manager. Not so at Cobblers where Curle and his team are pretty much the sum total of first team football expertise. 

Relieve Curle of his duties and you’re back to the manager merry-go-round and who do you replace him with? Another Keith, former Rochdale man Keith Hill, more at ease with a bit of football is out of work but how would you tempt him to the East Midlands? Former Cobblers striker Kevin Wilkin’s name is frequently mentioned with the job but the Cobblers board haven’t taken the plunge with the Brackley man as yet.

So, realistically, bar a disaster, Keith Curle is where Northampton Town are at right now.

It could be worse if you look at Bury or Bolton.

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