Below is an imagined encounter between Chris Wilder’s team of 2015/16 and Keith Curle’s current Cobblers lineup
Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town fought an all time classic battle with Keith Curle’s Northampton Town on Saturday at Sixfields.
In strong August sunshine, both sides were into the fray early on with supporters barely making their way from pub gardens to the packed stadium before Vadaine Oliver had bagged the opener for Keith Curle’s away side in black after just 9 minutes.
Chris Wilder’s mood was as dark as the celebrating side’s shirts as Ryan Watson dispossessed Joel Byrom before switching the ball out to the left flank for Nicky Adams to propel a pinpoint cross onto the head of Vadaine Oliver to head past Adam Smith. Wilder’s side in claret had started brightly but were punished for some hesitancy from Ryan Cresswell who allowed Oliver the inches he needed to squeeze his header home.
The Cobblers fans in the away stand were in raptures as Oliver jumped over the hoardings to celebrate with them, chanting “1-0 to Northampton Town. Meanwhile, the shoe army in the North Stand backed Wilder’s men with wry calls of “you’re only here to see the Cobblers”. That seemed to gee up Wilder’s 11 with the passing accuracy of his modified 4-2-3-1 formation beginning to make inroads after initially being overwhelmed by the rounded strength of Curle’s wingback system.
Keith Curle, sporting a snazzy panama hat almost had cause to scrunch it up after smart interplay between Lawson D’ath and John-Joe O’Toole saw the Cobblers luxuriously maned man with the 2 first names fizz a low scorcher just wide of David Cornell’s left hand post with 16 on the clock.
But Wilder’s Town weren’t to be denied an equaliser on the 22 minute mark as D’ath found himself on the end of a smartly worked build-up to volley home. The move came via clever positioning from Zander Diamond who skipped in front of a loose touch from Paul Anderson to release Nicky Adams, who eased past Nicky Adams before squaring a lovely reverse cross for Da’th to volley past Cornell. There was a touch of the shin from D’ath, not that he was complaining as Town hit Cobblers with a counter as swift as the fairground dodgems on the hill behind the stadium.
Keith Curle, patrolling the touchline in his Adidas Sambas was not a happy bunny with his side’s normal defensive discipline falling apart momentarily. Yet, in Charlie Goode, Curle has a centre-back to build a route back into the game and it was Goode who almost gave Curle’s Cobblers the lead just shy of half time with a cross bar clattering header that would have had Adam Smith’s ears ringing.
It really was a case of the invisible hand for Cobblers stopper Smith as Goode wrestled free from Diamond to plant a header that was almost too well placed, caning off the woodwork and away to cap a breathless first half, even Stevens at the referee’s whistle.
Both Wilder and Curle made changes at the break which saw the start of an epic centre midfield square up between combative midfielders Jason Taylor and Alan McCormack, Wilder withdrawing Byrom and Curle Chris Lines. With the two bald midfielders going at it hammer and tongs like an after hours brawl between 2 bouncers it was a case of who could use the ball more intelligently that would break the deadlock and it was Wilder’s side who wrestled an advantage on 54 minutes.
O’Toole began to glide past tackles and found space for a pin point through-ball that Marc Richards ate up like a meal at Bella Pasta after a month of fasting. Richards celebrated in front of the away end which briefly caused trouble between the two sets of supporters at the south stand. “You dirty northern so and so’s” chanted the Cobblers fans to their Northampton counterparts.
The 2 managers, wrapped up in the battle, squared up too and it wouldn’t have taken a lipreader to work out that Wilder was telling Curle to stick his Panama hat where the summer sun doesn’t shine.
Curle shook off the flare up though and responded to an injury to Wilder’s key defender Zander Diamond by bringing on the rapid loanee James Olayinka and the Arsenal loanee immediately gave the away side impetus in the final third. All eyes had been on the experienced Wilder forward Richards but it was the gangly young Ginger assassin Callum Morton that was celebrating the leveller on the hour mark, as he rode a couple of challenges before sweeping home a cute left footed curler that had Smith beaten all ends up.
Town goalie Smith had gained notoriety for a Thailand home video but ginger Pele Morton put Smith on a night boat to Cairo in the madness.
Sixfields was in thrall to a game on a knife edge, Wilder’s side with their crisp passing and superb movement and Curle’s Cobblers a real threat on the counter and from deadly set pieces.
Yet Wilder always knew he had the shortest big gun in Town smoking on the bench and on 75 minutes Ricky Holmes was prepped for play. The diminutive former Barnet man has the skill of a Brazilian and it took him just 4 minutes to make his mark. Holmes collected the ball on 25 yards with a nonchalant outside of the right boot before cutting onto his southpaw on the left flank and sending a beautiful curler into Cornell’s top right hand corner. In an instant, goals from Cobblers greats Large, Morley, McGleish and Akinfenwa flashed before Shoe Army eyes but this was undoubtedly amongst the best.
Keith Curle rallied for an equaliser but it was Wilder who put the tin hat on famous win via a loanee of his own. Borrowed Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin looks to have a bright future in the game and the languid forward scored Town’s 4th on 81 minutes with a drilled torpedo of a finish that had Cornell flailing. Such a tight fought game could otherwise have finished as a 0-0 but it was fitting that so many goals flew in during a real advertisement for League 2 football.
Not that Keith Curle’s side were done as substitute Scott Pollock brought his side a deserved last minute consolation. “One of our own” Pollock, star of the Northampton youth system, took out Turnbull with a drop of the shoulder before chipping an encroaching Smith to show it wasn’t only Wilder’s side that can play with a bit of finesse.
Wilder and opposition boss Curle shook hands with a show of respect on the touchline at the final whistle with Wilder’s Cobblers looking worthy favourites for the title but Curle’s powerful outfit likely to have a say on the other promotion slots. 4-2 to Northampton Town and what a load of Cobblers indeed.
Chris Wilder: 9. Won’t be happy with conceding 2 but the slick passing he has nurtured at Town paid dividends.
Smith: 7 – Some smart stops, no real chance with the goals conceded
Moloney: 8 – Brilliant ball carrying runs up the pitch.
Buchanan 8- Worked his backside off and provided good support in the final third.
Cresswell 7- Solid defender had a couple of shaky moments but can’t doubt his will for the fight
Diamond 9- Reading of the game second to none and one to depend on.
O’toole- 9- Cobblers “caravan man” might be able to trade up to a Winnebago soon. Too good for League 2.
Byrom 7- Keeps Town passing going and was involved in some key passages
D’ath 8- The slight, underrated Town midfielder shone when it counted.
Adams 8- Just a menace on the wing.
Potter 7 – Key to Cobblers counter attacking and venting pressure.
Richards 8- The striker who’s been there seen it done it and delivered again.
Taylor: 7 backed his teammates up and enabled O’Toole to get forward
Calvert-Lewin: 8 – Took his goal well and brought higher level ability. One to watch.
Holmes- 10- Man of the match in such a short space of time shows how good he is. World class goal.
Curle: 8- Great start for his power play tactics but exposed by the end. Will want revenge in the rematch.
Cornell: 7 – Couple of shaky moments but scoreline no real reflection on him.
Adams: 8- Plenty of good balls in and the assist king got what he is known for.
Hoskins :7 – Mainly a bit part player but provided good defensive cover.
Goode: 8 – Growing into a defensive colossus and kept score down.
Turnbull: 7- Steady eddie but up against it with Wilder’s team’s skill.
Wharton: 7 – Steep learning curve for the young defender but coped well.
Lines: 7 – In and out of the game but kept the ball moving.
Watson: 7 – Showed plenty of technique but perhaps flagged.
Anderson: 7 – Capable midfielder found some good space.
Oliver: 8- Strong target man performance and a well taken goal.
Morton: 8- Next stop is the Grand National for this lad he does not stop running.
Olayinka: 8- Rapid and creative attacking midfielder can see why he is rated at Arsenal.
Pollock: 8- Lovely goal and gave Curle food for thought as to more starts.
McCormack: 8 – Steadied the Town midfield and relished the battle with Taylor