With the new league season just days away, host of Express FM’s Football Hour and Pompey Live pundit Jake Smith takes a look at Northampton Town as part of his club-by-club preview.
Intro: The Cobblers, who received their nickname as a nod to the town’s historical shoe-making past, re-entered League One via the League Two Play-Offs in which they won in June. Northampton Town were formed in 1897 when a group of local school teachers sat down with popular local solicitor AJ Darnell at the Princess Royal Inn to form the town’s first professional sports club.
In October of 1902, the club made history and national headlines by becoming the first team to defeat Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Incredibly, this loss for Pompey came at the 66th attempt of an opposition side coming down to PO4 in search of a victory.
Northampton were relegated down to League Two under the management of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2018, having started the campaign with the late Justin Edinburgh at the helm. The club have yo-yoed in the 3rd and 4th tiers, known now as Leagues One and Two, for the last 53 years, last experiencing football in the second tier in 1966/67, when England were reigning champions of the world.
Between 1897 and 1994, Northampton Town played at the County Cricket Ground, home also to the Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, but moved to their current ground Sixfields prior to the ’94-’95 campaign.
Club honours include becoming third-tier champions in 1963, winning the Fourth Division/League Two on two separate occasions in 1986 and 2016, as well as coming runners-up in the 1909 FA Charity Shield.
Northampton Town hold the record for the shortest time to be promoted from the bottom tier to the top tier and relegated back down to the bottom again – they did so in the space of just nine years between 1960 and 1969.
Home Ground: Sixfields Stadium (Also known as the PTS Academy Stadium for sponsorship purposes), Northampton (Northamptonshire), 131 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 7,798
2019/20 Table Position: 7th (Promoted via the League Two Play-Offs) – 58 points after 37 games with an average of 1.57 points per-game.
Overall Head-To-Head Record: Northampton Town Wins: 10 – Draws: 7 – Portsmouth Wins: 19
Previous Meeting With Pompey: Portsmouth 2-1 Northampton Town, 3rd December 2019, EFL Trophy
2020/21 Fixture Dates:
Tuesday 27th October, 2020 – Fratton Park
Saturday 6th March, 2021 – Sixfields Stadium
Manager: 56-year-old former Wimbledon, Manchester City and Wolves centre-back Keith Curle is the man in charge of the Cobblers.
Curle has been in the management game for over 18 years now, first leading Mansfield Town as player-manager between 2002 and 2004, officially retiring as a player a year later in 2005.
During that time, the Bristolian has overseen first-team management of six different clubs; the aforementioned Mansfield, Chester City, Torquay United, Notts County, Carlisle United and now, of course, Northampton Town.
Despite his lengthy career in management in the English game, Keith Curle has just one Football League promotion on his CV – even that only came this year, when he led his current side to League Two Play-Off glory at Wembley Stadium to reach this division.
The style of play Curle likes to apply is unattractive, rushed and often hoof-ball-like, with his sides often deploying frustrating tactics which restrict opposing teams from seeing too much of the ball in their possession.
One To Watch: Newly-signed winger Ricky Korboa played in the tenth-tier of the game before signing for Northampton this summer, but according to our featured supporter Luke Thoday, hasn’t looked out of place thus far against league opposition in friendlies nor against Championship outfit Cardiff City during last weekend’s Carabao Cup fixture, in which the Cobblers won 3-0.
The 23-year-old, who wears the No. 11 at Sixfields, signed for an undisclosed fee on September the 1st from non-league Carshalton Athletic, with whom he spent seven seasons at. He signed a one-year contract with the option to extend it by another year should he and the club agree to do so.
Whilst playing for the Robins, Korboa made 168 appearances and scored 55 goals, as well as making it into the Isthmian League Team of the Season for 2018/19 and winning five of Carshalton’s seven Player of the Year awards that same campaign.
Korboa was also one of the original attendees of Jamie Vardy’s V9 Academy, which was set up with the intention of helping non-league talents earn contracts at professional clubs, in 2017.
Signing of the Summer (So Far): Former French youth international and current senior Congo international Christopher Missilou has been earmarked as one of Keith Curle’s most impressive signings so far this window.
The 28-year-old midfielder has been described by fans as an “engine” in the centre of the park and is expected to control things for the Cobblers this season. The former Auxerre and Stade Brest (both French clubs) man joined Northampton on a one-year deal on July the 27th, having left Oldham Athletic in League Two.
The Congolese midfielder, who made over 70 Football League appearances for the Latics, will be representing his new club with the No. 27 shirt.
Season Expectation: It is always tough, in any division, for a newly-promoted side to retain their league status for a second season and with the volume of big clubs set to take League One by storm in 2020/21, that statement is echoed even louder.
Add that to the fact that Northampton have lost arguably their two better players from last term’s Play-Off winning side – Charlie Goode (sold to Brentford) and Callum Morton (Expiration of loan deal – loaned out now to Lincoln City) – and you expect the Town to be one of those struggling at the foot of the division.
The hope for Cobblers fans this time out is to see their team avoid relegation and to carry on building in future seasons to come, perhaps one day taking a leap and becoming a challenger closer to the top.
My Predicted Finish: 23rd (R)
Talk of the Teyn – Luke Thoday’s Assessment
Town supporter Luke Thoday gives his thoughts and predictions ahead of Northampton’s return to the third-tier.
Despite losing two key players from last season’s promotion-winning squad, Luke is feeling quietly confident going into the new campaign: “I wouldn’t say a lot needs to change. In fact, I’d say the change has already happened, if not is happening now compared to previous promotions to League One, where we would lose our manager and sell all of our players for almost nothing.
“Following previous promotions, we would try to survive off of big name old-timers.” – he added, before comparing the current ethos to that of the Cobblers’ fiercest rivals, Peterborough United: “We now are seem to be copying the tactic of the P*sh where we invest in youth prospect and upcoming players with something to prove. For me, we are being underrated as an opinion of our club and size as opposed to the squad we have and style of play.”
Luke then went on to describe how he believes the implementation of the salary cap has come at the worst time for his club, who are now unable to benefit from last season’s success: “For us, it’s very unlucky. Our FA Cup run, this season’s season ticket sales and the money made from players of whom we’ve made a revenue of a predicted £8-9million, which for a club like us is a huge success but now we have restrictions to follow that don’t allow us to spend and invest into a squad that could see us compete in League One.
“It is a bit of a shame but I’m not too bothered, as we’re not a club that overspends or throws huge money for players – that’s sensible, especially with the number of clubs that could go under due to similar circumstances.” – The 19-year-old continued.
“Charlie Goode will be a huge miss and I hope people will next season see why we said he was the best defender in League Two and possibly even League One. However, I’d say the biggest loss is Jordan Turnbull – he was as good at defending as Goode and Wharton were and scored some goals for us too, not to mention he could play in central-midfielder and left-back. For me, losing him was a massive blow and we lost him for nothing too.
“Our defence was the key to our promotion last season so seeing all three leave in the space of two weeks hurt, but nothing that Cobblers fans aren’t used to.” – Luke pinpointed.
Speaking highly of manager Keith Curle, Luke praised his ability to recruit players who would otherwise go under the radar in the game, developing them into better players:” The best thing about Keith Curle is his recruitment of players you’ve never heard of and they end up being incredible for us. For example, last season we signed Vadaine Oliver from Morecambe, everyone said he was awful and we’d go down but he was a key man in our promotion team and got a move to Gillingham. Scunthorpe fans told of how Goode was non-league quality at best yet we sold him to a Championship side for a club record fee.
“I believe Keith Curle is a manager who knows how to survive and grind out results. It’s not the prettiest football but if we do go down I know we’ll go down fighting. The players he signs always have the right attitude and mindset to fight for points.” – he added.
“It’s frustrating.” – Luke noted, underlining how stressful it can be to watch his team play under Curle at times. “His style of play is very straight to the point and it rarely allows either team to actually play football. The reason we managed to get to the Play-Offs last year was because of how we bullied teams – we are physical and we don’t want to let teams’ best players dictate play, making passes to cut us open or run through us.”
Looking beyond last season’s drawn-out success, Luke shared his hope for the new campaign, with the possibility of some more positive tactics set to grace Northampton Town: “That being said, in the Play-Offs and especially over the recent friendlies, we’ve seen some nice football being played with the likes of Ryan Watson and Christopher Missilou running the midfield.
“I’m hoping that is the way we’re heading as I am still doubtful long-ball is really an effective tactic in League One.”
Speaking of his expectations of the Cobblers ahead of the new season, the Town supporter quoted: “For me, Northampton is a League One club. Our history would back that up. I think the expectation is to finally solidify ourselves as a third-tier club and work towards competing at the top end of the table. This season, it is to survive or aim for mid-table and start to build.”
23-year-old Ricky Korboa has been highlighted as one to keep an eye out for when Pompey clash with Northampton throughout the season and Luke is one of many Town supporters looking forward to seeing how he performs at the club: “He played in the 10th tier of English football before signing, yet in our friendlies on trial against league opposition, he didn’t look out of place – in fact, he caused endless trouble and was beating players like they were thin air!
“For me, he’s gone under the radar massively and will surprise a few!”
Following the departures of two integral players to last season’s promotion-winning squad, Luke shared his thoughts on how he expects Northampton to prepare for the forthcoming league campaign, in which his side are expected to be fighting for survival: “Recruitment is obviously a massive factor to how well a team is doing but you need a blend of character, quality, testers and experience.
“For me, the best way to learn is from others and that is why a mix is always positive, on top of which I believe one of the best things about being a newly-promoted side is that a lot of pressure is off us.
“We just have to play our game and not be afraid of anyone, no matter how big they are or how many stands their stadium has… As long as the team gives their all, what more can you ask for?” – he concluded.
“It all depends on who we sign up-top and what style we go for.” – Luke said, revealing his prediction for Northampton’s season. “If we play like we did in the Play-Offs and against Leyton Orient in our friendly, I can’t see why we can’t reach 10th or maybe even higher. But, in our current situation and trying not to be too bias, I’d probably say 18th.”
You can follow Luke on Twitter – @LukeThoday
Photo: Northampton Town FC