Northampton Town need a new manager after Keith Curle was dismissed.
1. Cobblers connection
The early to mid-1990s was not a great time for Northampton, but Kevin Wilkin is remembered as someone who gave his all during some challenging periods.
The striker started his professional career with the Cobblers and made 78 appearances over five years.
That will not mean much, of course, if results and performances are poor, but it does mean Wilkin is somebody fans respect and can connect with – and that’s a start.
Brackley Town’s St James’s Park is a 25 minute drive away from the PTS Academy Stadium (Sixfields), meaning Wilkin would not have to relocate to take the job – which would allow him to settle in quickly before a busy run of fixtures.
The Saints boss already has a working relationship with the Cobblers, having been entrusted this season to take highly-rated young winger Morgan Roberts on loan.
2. Record of success
Wilkin has done a fabulous job at Brackley over half a decade.
The NN13 outfit are competing in the National League North with relative big hitters like Kidderminster Harriers, Chester, Boston United, York City and Hereford, who are all well-supported for the level, as well as clubs with generous external backing like AFC Fylde and Spennymoor Town.
Despite this, Brackley have not finished outside the top seven in any of their last four seasons and are on course to challenge once again.
If the worst does happen to Northampton this season, they will likely go into the following campaign with a budget ranking far higher in League Two than Brackley’s does in step two of non-league football.
If Wilkin is delivering top seven finishes every year with his current resources, then with even more to work with, theoretically he would have Northampton among the frontrunners.
Brackley boss Kevin Wilkin pose after winning the FA Vase Final
3. Not on the merry-go-round
Looking to non-league for managerial talent is not something EFL clubs do too often.
In fact, just four bosses have been recruited from step one and below in the last five years with mixed results.
Dino Maamria led Stevenage into Play-Off contention in 2018-19, but Marcus Bignot, Neil Aspin and Mark Molesley have struggled; not helped, they would argue, by ownership issues at Grimsby, Port Vale and Southend respectively.
Appointing managers from non-league has two other drawbacks: the necessity of a compensation fee and possible criticism from sections of supporters, who may perceive such a move to highlight a lack of ambition.
If we look at the alternative candidates for the hotseat at the PTS Academy Stadium (Sixfields), though, most are either unattainable or have seen their stock fall in recent years.
The advantage of delving into the non-league market is that it allows Northampton to appoint somebody who has a recent record of success.
4. Inclusive approach
Northampton may look to re-structure by appointing Jon Brady as a Technical Director, meaning they could look for a Head Coach rather than a manager.
Since being succeeded by Wilkin at Brackley, Brady has spent five years working with the youth teams at Northampton and was Academy Manager up until Keith Curle’s dismissal, after which the 46-year-old had just two hours’ worth of training sessions prior to the 2-0 loss to Burton.
This isn't too shabby in terms of structure actually. #ntfc— Tom Reed NTFC (@tomreedntfc) February 11, 2021
Jon Brady- Technical Director
Kevin Wilkin- Head Coach
Marc Richards- U18 manager/ Forwards coach
Ian Sampson- Academy Manager
There is a feeling that Brady has a key role to play in the long-term progress of the club, which must build clearer pathways from the academy to the first team than has been there in recent years due to the absence of an Under-23s setup.
A manager established higher up the pyramid might seek to control more facets of the running of the club or bring in their own backroom team.
Wilkin might want to bring ever-present assistant Mark Noon with him from Brackley, but he would likely be happy to co-operate with Brady – if he moves upstairs – as well as incorporating Marc Richards as a striker tutor and Ian Sampson, who would likely take charge of the academy.
Kelvin Thomas is a successful businessman but he does not have a footballing background and while the chairman has invested good money in recruitment in summers 2017 and 2019, the current health climate dictates that spending is not a sustainable route forward.
Thomas must compile a long-term plan that will allow the Cobblers to navigate the financial challenges – Brady and Wilkin can be a big part of that.
5. Defensive nous
As illustrated by the tweet below, Brackley have conceded just 202 goals in 211 games under Wilkin’s guidance.
To put that into context, just five teams in Northampton’s division are conceding less than a goal per game and we are just past the midway point of one season, so to extend that record over a full campaign would be impressive.
To do it over five whole seasons, though, is something else.
It shows Wilkin’s teams are extremely well-organized and that the former Wrexham boss can ensure that Northampton’s centre-backs are protected correctly.
Cian Bolger was discarded at Lincoln because he did not fit into Michael Appleton’s ball-playing philosophy, but in the right system his aerial qualities come to the fore.
Lloyd Jones, meanwhile, is a centre-back who represented England up to Under-20s level and, though the 6’3” defender’s career has not since gone according to plan, the 25-year-old can get it back on track by thriving in a solid setup.
There may be a modicum of technical potential in Ryan Watson, while Bryn Morris has played a modest part in promotion pushes at this level with Shrewsbury and Portsmouth, but Northampton do not have the midfield quality to dictate games at this level.
Their best chance of beating the drop, therefore, is to maintain their central solidity whilst using the athletic Peter Kioso and the intelligent Joseph Mills as outlets from full-back or wing-back roles to get them up the field.
Wilkin would likely maintain the compact setup that Curle favoured, whilst making subtle tweaks to enhance the quality of football.
Since Kevin Wilkin became the manager of Brackley Town (@BrackleyTownFC) back in September 2015, they have seen a considerable improvement in their defensive stability in the league 👏— Non League Statistics (@NL_Statistics) February 9, 2021
Before: P 211, GA 258 (1.22), CS 33.2%
Since: P 211, GA 202 (0.96), CS 36.5%#wearebrackley pic.twitter.com/8ItebSTXWT
6. Attracts talent
Akeem Hinds was often talked about as an exciting prospect for Rotherham – a club with ambitions of staying in the Championship – and did not look out of place when facing League One opposition for them in in cup competitions.
Hinds had his contract terminated by the Millers in January 2020 before a brief stint with Lincoln, but it’s possible the 21-year-old could have had options in the National League or League Two.
The fact the athletic, attacking left-back was persuaded to join Brackley in November shows Wilkin has the pulling power to attract players.
Mills is out of contract in 2022 and Northampton do not have a go-to understudy to the 31-year-old, but Hinds could solve that problem if Wilkin takes him up the A43.
7. Knows the non-league market
Wilkin’s knowledge of the non-league scene could help Northampton find hidden gems.
Max Watters, released by Doncaster, was without a club as recently as October and Crawley signed the forward, who had had less than prolific non-league loan spells: three months, 15 games and 13 goals later, the Red Devils sold Watters to Cardiff for £1 million.
Crawley only signed Watters off the back of a chance friendly when he was on trial at Maidenhead, so Northampton could find lots of value in the lower markets if they appoint a head coach with extensive knowledge and contacts within those divisions.
Aaron Martin and George Thomson at Harrogate, Scott Quigley at Barrow, Tom Conlon at Port Vale, Jordan Tunnicliffe at Crawley and Dan Scarr at Walsall represent living proof that the talent is there: Northampton just need to find it and Wilkin can help them do that.
Squads with players who have spent much of their careers at Premier League Academies are likely to perform best under head coaches who have lots of experience working with Under-23s at bigger clubs, because their man management style is more likely to translate well.
Similarly, Wilkin’s lower league footballing background might help him connect with Northampton’s players.
14 players in the Cobblers’ 24-man squad (58%) have operated in non-league at some stage of their career to date and nine of the 14 have worked at that level in the last four years.
Wilkin’s management style could strike a chord with players who have experienced those lower levels.
Jack Sowerby, who started out in Lancashire with at Squires Gate, is a spirited midfielder who could relish an earthier man management style, likewise Fraser Horsfall, who needs picking up after a tough time following arrival from Macclesfield.
Ricky Korboa could also come alive once again under Wilkin, having looked lively from several substitute appearances early in the season.
The Carshalton recruit came into the side with a willingness to take on opponents stemming from a sense of having nothing to lose which, even with the inconsistent productivity that was to be expected from a player jumping four divisions, added something to the entertainment value.
9. Gets strikers firing
In two of Brackley’s previous three seasons, they have had a striker who hit the 20 mark: Aaron Williams hit 22 in 2017-18, then Lee Ndlovu, who managed 20 on the dot in 2019-20 before the season was suspended.
Ndlovu, alone, has scored the same number of league goals as Northampton have this season, with Sam Hoskins, Danny Rose and Harry Smith – now on loan at Motherwell – grabbing four apiece.
Rose is the closest thing the Cobblers have to a proven centre-forward and it’s possible that Wilkin, having been a striker himself, combined with “Rico” could help get the former Barnsley front-man firing.
Wilkin will be aware of the talents of England Under-19 international Ryan Edmondson, who made his professional debut for York City against Brackley in 2017.
He might not have a glamorous history, but Wilkin might just be the man to turn Northampton’s fortunes around.