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Gripped by the Cobblers: Cobblers valiant in Exeter defeat but the top 3 is still a puzzle for Curle

Tom Reed reflects on what might be next for The Cobblers

Cobblers went down 3-2 to Exeter City in an enthralling promotion showdown in Devon last Saturday.

Town looked like they had the game by the scruff of the neck after Charlie Goode opened the scoring with a cute volley but Exeter responded with an almost instant equaliser from the talented Randell Williams, who struck from 20 yards.

This was a test of who was serious about automatic promotion and Exeter did the business after rounding on Town with a 2 goal salvo on the hour mark. Losing to the decent Grecians was no shame, as Cobblers have come a long way in a short space of time under Curle. It was probably a good time to lose, a warning against complacency and that Curle’s 3-5-2 formation isn’t invincible. Cobblers aren’t going to win every game with just an in your face attitude and a solid spine so Curle will need to find some tactical flexibility to keep his side in contention.

Supporters’ trust strengthening old friendships at St James Park

The NTFC Supporters’ Trust were boardroom guests of fan-owned Exeter on Saturday with our trust held in high regard by their Devon counterparts. The Northampton trust were the inspiration behind Exeter going fan-owned after a financial crisis and the two sets of fans retain good links to this day. The Cobblers trust are having their own look into community ownership and will have been impressed by the Exeter setup with the club run on zero debt and having just finished their new stand. Exeter have an impressive training ground and academy with several graduates in their first team on Saturday. The club board is made up of an equal weighting of supporters reps and “pro” directors giving a good balance. There’s not much not to like about Exeter City for sure and it’s good that old friendships from the late Brian Lomax’s day endure.

Homegrown player drop off less than ideal

Keith Curle commented this week on the recent reduced first team opportunities for homegrown players. Shaun McWilliams was the sole homegrown representative v Exeter and was an unused sub whereas Exeter fielded 3 academy graduates with 1 on the bench.

Curle has said that opportunities will come for the likes of Shaun McWilliams, Scott Pollock and Jay Williams not to mention the myriad of youth products out on loan. It seems a tough ask for homegrown players, many of whom have been with the club since they were kids, to dislodge recently signed senior pros, some of whom are a decade older. If it is the case that mainly precocious, all rounder youth players capable of taking a shirt off a senior player get 1st team game time then you may as well wrap up the youth system now. Very few young players bar Ivan Toney or Michael Jacobs have that gift and you can never gauge the X-factor of 1st team minutes with shoe army support until you bite the bullet. Obviously there’s a balance to be struck with Curle’s emphasis on getting promotion but with zero homegrown players in the starting 11 at the moment there seems to be little balance.

People argue that there’s no point in blooding homegrown players “for the sake of it” but appear to have no qualms with promotion for promotion’s sake with several key players well into their 30’s.

Curle dealing with identity crisis but still some way off

A lack of identity has been a recurrent theme regarding the Cobblers with legendary player Ian Sampson vocal on the matter. In truth, a lot of that came from the move to Sixfields with the out of town lego construction not a patch on the Country Ground when it came to a feeling of everything NTFC.

Keith Curle, perhaps a little giddy after a few wins said that the Cobblers now have a “playing identity, one that supporters can relate to and enjoy watching”. Steady on there Keith, A few wins doesn’t make a summer and the jury is still out on Town’s, shall we say, industrial playing style. 

When it works, pumping balls into the box is deadly effective but its sophistication against the more tactically aware teams is open to question as Exeter showed. If Cobblers achieve promotion will Town’s pinball style cut the mustard in League 1? These are all factors that feed into Northampton’s ongoing struggle with identity that Curle, to his credit, is trying hard to wrestle with.

If Carlsberg did crap FA Cup Draws

The tagline of the famous Northampton brewed beer comes to mind with Town’s FA Cup Round 3 draw at Burton Albion. Not that Burton are in anyway unworthy opponents having achieved far more than us in recent years under the careful guidance of Ben Robinson but it was torture to see juicy ties v Man City and Peterborough disappear one by one as the balls were picked out. That leaves a pig of a game on a Sunday against a Burton side that are hard to beat at the Pirelli. Still, it should mean a reunion with John-Joe O’Toole, the midfielder Curle didn’t seem to know what to do with, now rejuvenated a league higher at centre-back by Nigel Clough.

Get your votes in for the NTFC Goal Of The Decade

As the worst ever named decade, the “Twenty-Tens” draws to a close we’ll be voting on the NTFC Goal Of The Decade this week on NQNTFC. 

We’ve seen our fair share of ups and downs as usual but there have been some absolute stonkers scored by the claret and whites over the past 10 years. Ricky Holmes’ wonder volley v Orient will be high on the list but my vote goes to Michael Jacobs’ 2011 humdinger v Shrewsbury. The gifted left-midfielder negotiated a bobbly Sixfields pitch before sending a curler into the top corner from 30 yards. Sheer class.

An outside bet might be Abdul Osman’s penalty at Liverpool from 2010. A mere tap-in but so much more than that!

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