A strange sight befell visitors to Sixfields last Friday ahead of the FA Cup tie at Chippenham. No, it wasn’t new Chinese investors looking to turn the land behind the East into a theme park based on the 1980’s cartoon the Shoe People.
Instead, the whole Northampton squad were training on the kiddies’ pitch behind the North stand. This area is usually used by children having a kick-around before matches but Keith Curle had turned it into a dirt bath for a game of extreme head tennis we’ll call mudball.
The rules weren’t like any game of head tennis you’d seen before. There was no net, merely a no man’s land between the two sides with the physio acting as the umpire. Every member of the Cobblers squad took part, with every player, to a man, taking the game more seriously than the Champions League final. Curle was up there heading and volleying in the dirt like his heyday at Wimbledon. God knows what the rules were but every point was met with mass dissent from the players in between flinging mud at each other like the wee un’s that normally play there.
Maybe it was preparation for a heavy pitch at Chippenham with heavy rain forecast in the lead up? What was clear, however, was that the squad were together as a unit. After the abject defeat at Scunthorpe you could believe it if someone had said the players weren’t playing for their gaffer but since, not a word of it, the lads have pulled up their socks and then some.
Sunday’s FA Cup win in Wiltshire was as routine as they come but Town did everything they needed to. On a cold, crisp sunny November day which flew in the face of the earlier forecast, players like Nicky Adams showed how lucky we are to have such talent at our disposal. Adams tore Chippenham apart at times while Alan McCormack patrolled nonchalantly with the skill of someone who knows he can play football. The hosts played the game the right way, never trying to get into a scrap with the Cobblers and will do well in the National League South if they stick to their principles
Town have been handed a decent draw at home to Notts County in Round 2 bringing a feel-good factor as well as chance to bag a big side in round 3. As for Keith Curle, fair play to him. The football isn’t exactly tiki taka and you wouldn’t want the youth sides playing in the same way but it is successful and he deserves our support.
Crewe the big test for Curle’s mayhem men
Saturday’s clash with 4th placed Crewe Alexandra will be as big a test of where Cobblers are as any this season. The tussle with Crewe, managed by former Cobbler David Artell could be a complete contrast to the Chippenham match where Northampton bossed possession. Artell has moulded a smart team of mainly youth team products and Crewe are leading the way in plenty of creative stats in League 2. At 56%, Crewe are top of League 2 for possession and second only to Forest Green in pass success rate with 76.6%. Meanwhile at 63.2% Cobblers have the second lowest pass success rate in the division.
The message from Artell to his Crewe charges will probably be pretty simple. Keep it tight, isolate Adams, wait for Cobblers to punch themselves out and pass it through them. Keith Curle, meanwhile, will be looking to make sure his direct side see enough of the ball to manage the basic play that will come with the chances his side create.
Everything points to a fascinating match and one that will show whether Curle is a manager at home in the top 7.