Cobblers boss Keith Curle was delighted to welcome back fit-again duo Dean Bowditch and Matt Crooks for Saturday’s trip to Crawley Town, but he said John-Joe O’Toole was ‘not available to travel’.
O’Toole has been a talismanic figure for the Cobblers in recent years, scoring 30 goals across the past three seasons, but his best form has deserted him for much of the current campaign having netted just twice from 22 appearances.
Curle gave a brief reply when asked why O’Toole did not feature in the squad, let alone the team, for Saturday’s 1-0 victory at the Broadfield Stadium, saying ‘he was not available to travel’ with the squad.
The midfielder’s absence was offset by the return of key man Crooks, who came on for the final half-hour, while Bowditch made his first league appearance in over two months following a calf injury.
“It was good to have Dean Bowditch back involved,” said Curle. “He’s been out for a while so it was important for him to get through 90 minutes.
“It was also a good introduction of Matt Crooks and have him back in the fold. We’re coming into a busy period now and players are getting more game-time, which is pleasing.
I’ve got to pick a team on a Friday and I’m there until six o’clock and if anybody wants to see me and ask why they’re not playing, come and speak to me and I’ll tell them.
“It was a gamble with Crooks to get him back. He still needs a lot of fitness work, mobility work and agility work but he’s back and he’s available.
“Sometimes, just having his presence on the side of the pitch is enough to give us another option.”
The return to fitness of several players has come at a good time for Curle and the Cobblers, who are scheduled to play six games in 18 days during the Christmas and New Year period.
Having a fully-fit squad to pick from will give Curle plenty of selection dilemmas over the coming weeks, but that’s something he welcomes.
“The important thing is we have players coming out of the treatment room and rehabilitation,” he added. “The more fit and available players that we have, the better it is for me to make my decisions.
“There’ll potentially be three, four, five players left out for matches so training will be competitive and intensified because everybody in that changing room wants to be involved in the starting XI and the matchday 18.
“We have players who have all played a part so it’ll be interesting and it’s about the test of character within the changing room and within players individually.
“If someone’s not happy and doesn’t understand where and why, I don’t shy away. I’ve got to pick a team on a Friday and I’m there until six o’clock and if anybody wants to see me and ask why they’re not playing, come and speak to me and I’ll tell them.
“I think the players know that. There’s an honesty about myself and I don’t shy away from challenges or decisions I make. I make them for the good of the team and the club and ultimately I stand on the side of the pitch and it’s my team I’m picking.”