Keith Curle paid tribute to both the shot-stopping ability of Lewis Ward and the pre-match preparation of goalkeeping coach Dan Watson for their part in Tuesday’s spot-kick win over Cambridge United.
Curle revealed afterwards that Cobblers had planned extensively for the possibility of penalties should the game finish level, although it appeared for long periods their hard work would go to waste as George Maris’ goal separated the sides right up until the 90th minute.
One of the things you find with goalkeepers is that they do a lot of work on shot-stopping, reactions from close in and shots from distance, but then it’s that decision-making on the through balls
But Kevin van Veen came off the bench to grab a last-minute equaliser, converting Daniel Powell’s cross, and Watson’s homework paid off in the following shoot-out with Ward getting close to all four Cambridge spot-kicks.
Saves from Ade Azeez and Jevani Brown were enough to ensure his side’s progress to the next round as van Veen, Billy Waters, Sam Foley and Shaun McWilliams all successfully netted their penalties, securing a 4-2 shoot-out victory.
And while fans once again stayed away from the much-maligned competition in their droves - just 648 were in attendance at the Abbey Stadium - Curle and his coaching staff made sure no stone was left unturned.
“We had a quick chat before the penalties about making your mind up, being decisive and delivering,” said Curle afterwards. “It was very simple.
“Don’t change your mind, don’t worry about what the goalkeeper does, put the ball on the spot and know where you want to put it and focus on your run-up and put the ball into the back of the net.
“Lewis made some good saves and we had some good intelligence from Dan Watson, the goalkeeping coach. He was briefed and knew where every single penalty-taker had put them before and where they’ve missed before and where they’re likely to go in the shoot-out.
“Lewis committed to it and made some good saves.”
Ward, playing just his fifth game of the season, needed to redeem himself in the shoot-out after an unconvincing night between the sticks. He was partly at fault for United’s early opener and also had several other shaky moments.
“They had two shots in the first-half and scored one,” added Curle. “It was a little bit of indecision from the goalkeeper but you’re going to get that because he hasn’t had game-time.
“One of the things you find with goalkeepers is that they do a lot of work on shot-stopping, reactions from close in and shots from distance, but then it’s that decision-making on the through balls.”
Cobblers will discover their fate in Saturday’s third-round draw, but despite the exciting prospect of a Wembley final, Curle is keeping himself grounded and taking it one step at a time.
“You don’t look at where you’re going,” he warned. “You look at the next step and wait for the draw.
“It’ll be another opportunity to progress and an opportunity for the players to put in a performance worthy of team selection, and that doesn’t matter if it’s Fulham U21s, Cambridge or Oxford.
“The players have gone out and given committed performances and you earn the results.”