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Is entertainment everything or do points win prizes?

Tom Reed on the Keith Curle Cobblers conundrum after ugly Stevenage win

There were muted New Year’s Day celebrations after Northampton snatched a 94th minute winner from Stevenage. If you were living next door to the ground with a view of the pitch you’d have closed the curtains, prepared for immigration to Panama and life foraging mussels alongside regular therapy.

At present, Keith Curle’s football ranges from World War 1 style artillery punts forwards to rushed sprints down the flank and balls pelted into the box. We’re talking Ian Atkins reserve sides circa 1995. Let’s just call the style relentless. 

Cobblers’ relationship with the ball is that of 2 magnets. If Keith Curle wants to bake a cake you get the feeling he throws some flour and eggs into a hessian sack and beats the contents with a baseball bat. Town’s January signings to strengthen the spine in defence, midfield and attack could well be a cannon, a mannequin and Shaquille O’Neiil.

Entertainment versus winning has long been a Cobblers conundrum with more of the floating fans turning up to Sixfields when Town are on an unbeaten run. But you get the feeling that times are changing, with so many other entertainment options, streamed internet football etc it may prove difficult to turn winning football alone into (that old cliche) bums on seats. 

Indeed, Curle’s resistance to short passing could be storing up problems for the future. “That’s not us chaps” was Curle’s reaction after criticising his side for engaging in (to his mind) too many short passes during Cobblers trouncing by Crawley.

Northampton sit dead last in the WhoScored.Com short pass statistics for League 2 with most of the more successful teams in the upper statistical echelons and you wonder if such one dimensional football will sustain Town in the top 7 till the end of the season. 

Curle’s tactics aren’t rocket science, press high up the pitch and cause mayhem with crosses until the dam breaks and you wonder why other managers aren’t so keen on it. It’s the quieter, periods where Town fall back. Stevenage came to play a bit of football and the probing runs and subtle touches of the away side’s Ben Kennedy gave a crumb of comfort for those who don’t go to games for the kick and rush.

That said, Town are still somehow in the top 7 after another injury to the crucial Alan McCormack and a patchy festive period. Stay in the running and the argument becomes moot, fall away from the playoff pack however and the old debates pertaining to continuity to the Wilder era and whether the public will pay £24 to watch such fayre will emerge again.

Poor old Pollock on a hiding to nothing

Putting playing style to one side for a minute, 18 year-old Scott Pollock was on the end of a harsh half-time substitution by Curle v Stevenage. The technical Pollock was struggling to get to grips with a Cobblers game which by and large missed out the centre of the park but did little wrong and could rightfully feel a little stung by his early withdrawal.

If you listen to the progressive Norwich City Sporting Director Stuart Webber, patience with younger players is key to their development and impact as a whole. They will make mistakes but you have to ride it out for the long term gain.

Pollock was never going to hit the ground running after warming the subs bench for so long and you do worry about how he will knit back into the side if selected again after this knock-back. 

Again, when blooding homegrown players it’s not just about what you see in a player but what higher level scouts are looking for in relation to individual technical aspects of their game. Carlisle’s 17 year-old Jarrad Branthwaite is a good example with the Cumbrians reportedly turning down a 500k bid from Everton this week.

Curle may well feel vindicated by the win but the pathway for homegrown players like Pollock and the myriad of youngsters out on loan will remain in focus.

Burton brouhaha all a bit tacky

There was a bit of banter this week after Burton Albion announced that Cobblers had sold more tickets than the Brewers for this Sunday’s FA Cup Round 3 tie. Northampton’s media team were quick to advertise the fact and you can’t blame them really as it was a quick PR win, if a bit tacky. What followed was a bit of social media bite about which side was tin pot and which side is bigger blah blah blah. The truth is that Albion have outperformed Cobblers for years, reaching the Championship and turning a profit under the careful guidance of Ben Robinson MBE. Let’s let the football do the talking and see which club reaches Round 4. 

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