We were never likely to learn much from Keith Curle’s first game in charge of the Cobblers and so it proved as his new team showed old habits die hard during a frustratingly-familiar 90 minutes under the Tuesday night lights.
Town’s performance in this goalless draw with Bury was neither here nor there. They didn’t play badly but neither did they pull up any trees. Indeed, you could easily be mistaken for thinking Dean Austin was still the man in the dugout.
Essentially, though, this was Austin’s team with Austin’s tactics. It will take more than a tweak in formation, and much longer than 24 hours, for Curle to implement his ideas and methods. He has yet to even take a training session.
Despite having barely met his new players, the 54-year-old wasted no time in making his mark. The switch to 3-5-2 and his decision to drop five players following Saturday’s mauling at Mansfield, including David Buchanan and Kevin van Veen, fitted in line with his reputation of a man who won’t shy away from making brave and bold decisions.
The formation change looked like it might backfire during a nervous start when Nicky Adams, star man in Town’s title success and still a firm favourite around these parts, had all the space in the world to roam free and cause mischief. Two of his ever-dangerous set-pieces saw Adam Thompson rattle the bar and fire over, and he himself volleyed narrowly off target.
But Northampton’s players settled, adjusted to their new shape and grew into the game, so much so they ended the first-half firmly in the ascendancy and should have been at least one goal to the good.
They didn’t create chances necessarily, rather chances were handed to them on a plate. Two short back passes played in Andy Williams and Sam Hoskins but the former hit the post and the latter failed to beat Joe Murphy.
Murphy blocked from Hoskins again not long later while Matt Crooks headed against a defender, prompting loud but unsuccessful appeals for a penalty, and John-Joe O’Toole’s goalbound shot was hacked away off the line.
Having missed those chances, half-time came at the wrong time for the Cobblers who never recaptured their first-half intensity during a far more lacklustre second period when Bury posed the greater threat without ever troubling David Cornell as Jay O’Shea and the impressive Danny Mayor went close from range.
All in all, this was a steady if unspectacular start for Curle. There are only so many conclusions you can draw at this exceptionally early stage of his reign, but a clean sheet, just Northampton’s second of the campaign, was an obvious positive, as was the new system which, on paper, suits the squad at Curle’s disposal.
The football was not of the free-flowing variety but it was never likely to be given the circumstances. That will only come with wins and confidence. For now, it’s about building blocks.
The chief concerns remain in the final third where Town’s lack of composure in front of goal continues to hurt them. Their run of one goal from the past six games – that coming from the penalty spot – is a haunting flashback to last season.
Fixing that will be Curle’s biggest challenge as he looks to steer the Cobblers ship away from choppy waters.
How they rated...
The switch to 3-5-2 and his decision to drop five players following Saturday’s mauling at Mansfield, including David Buchanan and Kevin van Veen, fitted in line with his reputation of a man who won’t shy away from making brave and bold decisions.
David Cornell - Bury certainly weren’t without their chances but they failed to test Town’s goalkeeper with any of them, making a refreshing change from Saturday’s rush of saves. Sharp off his line again and will be delighted to have another clean sheet under his belt... 7
Leon Barnett - Occasionally had a little too much space to cover as the defence took time to adapt to their new system, but did a good job shifting across and negating the threat of Maynard and co... 7
Ash Taylor - Played as the middle man of a back three and had his shaky moments, once or twice fluffing his clearances, but placed himself perfectly to divert Mayor’s goalbound effort behind for a corner late on... 6
Aaron Pierre - Settled quickly into his role as the left-sided centre-back on his return from suspension. Won headers, used his physical attributes to good effect and stuck to the basics... 7
Shay Facey - His return to the team came at wing-back and he appeared to relish the role. Regularly joined attacks, almost scoring at one point, and did an impressive job of nullifying the dangerous Adams once he moved to the left side... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Daniel Powell - Back from injury as he started in the unfamiliar position of wing-back. Was far more influential from the right side having looked lost on the left. Good run and cross teed up Crooks for a chance and was generally lively before fatigue set in... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Sloppy in possession at times and was unable to exert much control on proceedings but his hard graft helped Town gain a foothold in midfield. So close to his first goal of the season when thwarted by a goal-line clearance late in the first-half... 6
Sam Foley - Was sometimes too easily out-muscled when in possession as the excellent Danny Mayor gave Town’s midfield trio a tough evening, but his energy and industry remains a key feature of his side’s play... 6
Matt Crooks - So often the link man for many of Town’s forays into the final third, popping off passes into feet and always looking to release players in behind. Didn’t always come off but shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks as he remains the main source of creativity... 7
Sam Hoskins - Brilliant at finding space and getting on the end of chances, not so brilliant at taking them. Two glorious sights of goal went begging here, one of which was a bad miss while the other owed more to good goalkeeping... 6
Andy Williams - Acted as the focal point of Northampton’s attack and his aerial prowess offered a new dimension as he won headers and flick-ons, giving team-mates the chance to join attacks and play higher up the field. Post denied him his first Cobblers goal... 7
Billy Waters - 6
Dean Bowditch - 6
Kevin van Veen - 6