Jordan Turnbull was not the only one to be caught by surprise when his manager first asked him to play in midfield.
The 24-year-old had previously only played in defence, mostly at centre-half with the occasional outing at left-back thrown in, during his five-year senior career, which spans five clubs and two countries.
It was a bit of a surprise when the manager first asked me to play there but I’ve taken to the role, I like to think I’m doing well and I’m enjoying it – I want to build on it more.”
But with Keith Curle short on midfield options and the Cobblers in need of a physical presence in the middle of the park, Turnbull was selected to play the holding role against Richie Wellens’ Swindon Town on Boxing Day.
He enjoyed an excellent afternoon and has subsequently become a frequent member of Town’s midfield, not least this past week when his combative performances have helped Cobblers claim four points from two tough away trips, to Tranmere Rovers and Lincoln City, easing their relegation fears.
“I have played in midfield since I was really young when I was in the academy at Southampton,” said Turnbull. “But I haven’t played there as a professional.
“I’ve always considered myself to be good on the ball and I’m more of a ball-playing centre-half and I think the manager sees that in me.
“It suits me quite well to sit in front of the back three. It was a bit of a surprise when the manager first asked me to play there but I’ve taken to the role, I like to think I’m doing well and I’m enjoying it – I want to build on it more.”
Turnbull’s reading of the game and ability to break up play has made him an effective barrier in front of the back four and while he’s not overly expansive in possession, he can certainly pick a pass.
“I think the manager wants me in there because I’m quite mobile and good on the ball,” he continued.
“He wants me to play as a defensive-minded midfielder, just clearing up in front of three back three and I’d like to think I do that role quite well.
“I like it when I can get on the ball and pass out wide and maybe drive with it sometimes. I think the more I play there, the more I’ll get used to it and the more I’ll grow in that position.”
Raised eyebrows have become the norm for Cobblers fans in recent months such is Curle’s tendency to name experimental line-ups, but this is one gamble that has paid off.
It’s not necessarily the personnel he picks but rather the shape he picks them in that causes a stir, such as selecting Sam Hoskins as a sole striker at Tranmere last Tuesday.
Again, though, it worked. Hoskins scored twice in a 2-1 victory, and with the Cobblers also taking a point off leaders Lincoln on Saturday, albeit having played with an extra man for more than half the game, Curle and his team have enjoyed an excellent, pressure-relieving week.
Given their 4-0 home defeat to Colchester just days earlier, not many could have foreseen such a handy points return from trips to Prenton Park and Sincil Bank.
“I think everyone was very disappointed after the performance and result at home, so to come away with four points from Tuesday night and Saturday is very positive,” added Turnbull.
“We knew going to the team top of the table, away from home, would be difficult. We’ve been there once already this season and that was a very difficult day because we lost in the last few seconds.
“We knew it’d be a battle and we came prepared to battle and to fight for every single ball. The lads dug in and they were excellent.
“Yes, they had a man down for a large period of the game but it was one of those matches where it was a battle and it was whether or not the ball would drop for us.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t get that second goal but we held on at the end because they finished the game on top – it’s a solid point for the boys.”
The concern for the Cobblers is that it should not take such a heavy beating for them to get their act together, but after holding a meeting in the aftermath of the Colchester defeat, they will at least be playing EFL football again next season, barring a major disaster between now and May.
Turnbull continued: “I think throughout the season it’s happened to us quite a lot – we’ve had the odd really bad game and we look back on it with disappointment but we manage to pick ourselves up.
“Hopefully now we can keep going on and push on from this because we want to continue picking up points until the end of the season –we don’t want another one of those blips again.
“Teams will always lose games but I think it was the manner we lost the game against Colchester that made it very disappointing for ourselves, the manager and the fans. Hopefully we’ll cut that out now and finish the season positively.”
After barely featuring under Dean Austin, Turnbull has established himself as a regular for Curle, whether in midfield or defence. All he needs now is a first Cobblers goal.
“Hopefully a shot pops up soon and I get it on target and it goes in,” he added. “I’m still looking for that first goal and whether I’m playing in central midfield or at the back, I think I need to add goals to my game.
“Aaron (Pierre) has been fantastic for us this season. He scored another one for us on Saturday and if other players can chip in with goals, including those at the back and myself, it helps the team and it’d be brilliant for us.”