Blackpool, the Las Vegas of the North and the Cobblers are 1-0 down in the 92nd minute. Keith Curle gambles on a Northampton equaliser, sending his wing-backs high up the pitch.
But the Blackpool keeper gets the ball and hurls a pin-point throw into the stride of Jerry Yates on the left wing. The Cobblers defence desperately backpedal as the orange shirted Yates steadies himself on the corner of the box. Yates cuts inside onto his right, leading his three markers a merry dance. Somehow, he then gets it on his left before rounding Mitchell in the Cobblers goal and slotting home.
Yates, a good player at League 1 level but a Poundshop Ricardo Villa in comparison to the great Argentinian that Cobblers made him look like.
A squirt of tangerine juice to the eye.
The ball had barely rippled the net before the “Curle Out” calls had started, not the knee-jerk cries of people wanting change for change’s sake per se but mostly the balanced calls of loyal fans who can foresee what is to come. They’ve lived it several times over.
NTFC have failed to score in 54% of League games this season tweeted Phil Garlick, a longstanding Cobblers fan who muddied his feet with the filth of the Hotel End floor and the clod of the Sixfields hill alike.
It’s quite some stat that for a full-time League 1 club who train all week but then fail to do the fundamental skill of football and that is breaching the net. You wonder if Town could put the high-vis third shirts to good use and put the players on 2-10 shifts at Swan Valley in midweek and see if it makes any difference to their productivity?
Northampton aren’t doing anything particularly well, being the lowest scorers in League 1 but also having the lowest pass completion % in the division according to whoscored.com. Curle seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place between directness and expansion as Cobblers’ set-piece threat from last season has dropped, as has the number of crosses per game.
Cobblers dropped into 21st place and Town fans honed in on that thin red line separating League 1 survival with relegation and survival like the Predator targeting triangle.
Northampton fans are toughened to relegation and any hint of the drop zone means sentiment tends to go out of the window. Of course, it wouldn’t be nice to fire someone in the midst of a pandemic and that will be something to wrestle with. But overarching this, the club comes first. Staying in League 1 is crucial in terms of income and Cobblers could do with being as high up the leagues as possible if any future change in TV deals come into play.
Curle has earned a good crust through football and will continue to do so, be it at Sixfields or elsewhere.
I wrote in December that changing the manager won’t necessarily be a panacea due to several factors related to the structure of the club and the ruthless competition in the lower leagues. Yet, with Cobblers in the drop zone and difficult matches to come (not least Accrington on Saturday) we are fast approaching ‘save our season’ territory.
Cobblers just aren’t comfortable on the ball and that has been exposed in League 1. Rushing the ball forwards and breaking up games gave Town a short-term boost but at some stage they were going to have to get the ball down and play. There was nothing particularly revolutionary about Curle’s tactics so you ask yourself why more teams aren’t doing it? The answer may be that you can’t beat the system and, at some point, will have to face off in terms of skill, something the Cobblers players are finding out the hard way, particularly the back three who looked ill at ease in possession at Bloomfield Road.
Comfort on the ball, in first touch, passing, vision and shooting comes from the right recruitment obviously but ultimately via coaching and the buck stops with Curle on that one.
So, like the allure of the craps table at Caesars Palace at 2am after a skinful of complimentary cocktails, it might be time for the Cobblers board to step up to the table and throw the dice on a new manager.