Keith Curle believes the value of keeping a rare clean sheet justified his decision to take a more cautious approach into Saturday’s clash against Crawley Town when he left one up front for much of the game.
Switching from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3, Curle moved Charlie Goode to right-back and played a midfield three of John-Joe O’Toole, Shaun McWilliams and Timi Elsnik, with Joe Powell and Jack Bridge either side of sole striker Sam Hoskins.
After conceding four goals the last time they played at home, against Colchester United two weeks ago, it was clear Town wanted to tighten up at the back and keep just a seventh league clean sheet of the season, and only their second at home for over three months.
In that sense, Curle’s plan worked as the Cobblers largely kept Crawley’s attack quiet, but it made for a scrappy and low-quality affair with few opportunities at either end although John-Joe O’Toole and Timi Elsnik did go close for the home side.
“I think it (clean sheet) was important,” said Curle when asked why he left it until the final five minutes to bring on Junior Morias and Andy Williams. “I still had that feeling in the back of my head of when we got beat 4-0 at home and I wanted to make sure that the minimum we set out with was coming off the pitch with a clean sheet.
“We also had chances in the first-half. It’s not about formations and it’s not about systems, it’s about having a backbone and having the desire and willingness to keep a clean sheet and we did that on Saturday.
It’s not about formations and it’s not about systems, it’s about having a backbone and having the desire and willingness to keep a clean sheet and we did that on Saturday.
“It’s a box ticked. We need to be more creative in midfield, we need to be more clinical in the final third and we have to be more adventurous but the starting point now, as a team, is that they’ve earned the right to keep a clean sheet.”
Curle has mostly played three at the back during his time in charge of the Cobblers but on Saturday he went with a flat back four, the same system he deployed in the second-half of last week’s draw at Lincoln City.
He added: “I had a look at it last week when we played a back four at Lincoln with a defensive full-back playing in front of Charlie Goode.
“Distances become different on the pitch but I thought we looked quite solid at the back, we were able to handle their physicality and we looked a threat in the opposition box.
“Sometimes, by having a defensive mentality in the back four, you can lose fluidity going forward and having people in more advanced areas, but I still thought we had enough opportunities to get the ball into the final third, but we lacked the quality.”
On a day when defenders dominated, Goode and David Buchanan were among Town’s more impressive performers while David Cornell made two important stops in the second-half.
Curle added: “David Buchanan played his slot well and Charlie was very impressive. It was a good performance and he’s bought into the ethos of what we’re trying to do and he deservedly got man of the match.
“It was solid enough from Aaron Pierre and Ash Taylor and they gave us the platform to go and earn the point.”