Keith Curle at Northampton Town: An analysis of his recruitment and tactical flexibility

James Richards by James Richards / 18 November 2019, 09:56

There are some managers who divide opinion at every club they take charge of regardless of the success they may or may not have.

Keith Curle has certainly fallen into that category in the last few jobs he has walked into, yet it is about time he got the appreciation he deserves.

During a playing career that spanned 24 years, he was a fierce competitor who always gave everything to the cause and this personality is reflected in the sides he has managed.

This season is his first full campaign in charge at Northampton Town and after a slow start, he is slowly getting a tune out of a talented group at the Cobblers.

We take a look at just how he has gone about his business at Sixfields, and why he is building a team gearing up for a successful campaign...

Recruitment spot on

There were some eyebrows raised over the summer when Northampton were doing their business, a lot of which was conducted early in the window – something Curle has often tried to do at his previous clubs – with several stand out signings.

Alan McCormack arrived as a promotion winner with Luton, Nicky Adams also signed having just finished in the top three with Bury while Harry Smith, Charlie Goode, Chris Lines, and Michael Harriman also came through the doors.

This experienced group were also supplemented with the additions of Scott Wharton on loan from Blackburn, Matt Warburton from non-league Stockport and the impressive Ryan Watson from MK Dons.

Some impressive additions but also an entirely new squad to be moulded and made ready for the gruelling 46 game season.

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Versatility pays off

Mysterious Curle, as he was known during his time at Carlisle, has often favoured a system using wing-backs and a back three but at Northampton he has shown a far better tactical flexibility that has made the Cobblers less predictable and harder to play against.

The versatile Sam Hoskins was not a hit with the fans last season despite creating more chances than nearly any other player in League Two and his ability to play as an attacker, winger or wing-back allows Curle to flip between a back four and three at will.

This has seen them cause a number of sides problems, leading to a run of five games without defeat including four victories.

Trust in youth

You could perhaps forgive Curle for not giving young players a prominent role at Sixfields given the strength of his playing squad yet both Shaun McWilliams and Scott Pollock have thrived when given an opportunity.

Curle has been able to supplement his squad while some key men have been recovering from injury and it has given him a welcome selection headache.

Management style

Now 56-years-old, Curle has admitted to mellowing out his management style somewhat.

He still expects his players to be physical, determined and robust, much like he was as a player hence the additions of Vadaine Oliver and Harry Smith, but he has learnt that the hairdryer treatment does not always work best.

This more thoughtful approach will put him in good stead during the inevitable ups and downs of a very tight looking League Two campaign, making sure his players never get too high or low based on a short run of good or bad results.

His time at Carlisle had its detractors and his spell at Sixfields will likely be no different but perhaps given what has transpired, some of those naysayers in Cumbria may be wishing they’d not been quite so quick to judge mysterious Keith.

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