Cobblers’ attempts to pass the ball out of defence caused more than a few jitters in the stands during Saturday’s draw with MK Dons, but manager Keith Curle believes it can be a successful strategy if his players are ‘brave’ enough to make it work.
Town reverted to a direct route when Curle first replaced Dean Austin and looked to get the ball forward quickly, but there’s been a noticeable shift in recent games, especially the last two against Swindon Town and MK Dons when centre-backs have split to receive possession from goalkeeper David Cornell.
If you need to do a trick to get out of trouble in the middle of the pitch, the chances are you haven’t looked well enough and early enough.
It’s a risky strategy, particularly at League Two level, and home fans at the PTS were given a few palpitations on Saturday, none more so than when Shaun McWilliams and Shay Facey got in a tangle and the ball dropped to an unmarked Kieran Agard, who failed to beat Cornell.
But despite the occasional scare, it does not appear Curle is about to abandon the strategy – at least not permanently – with his focus instead on making sure his players have the ability and mentality to pull it off.
“The easiest thing to do is to boot the ball and go and play fight ball,” he said. “For us to progress – and we will progress – we need more game understanding, pass appreciation and bravery to get on the ball to do the right things at the right time
“We work on knowing your next pass in training and setting yourself rather than being reactive to where your touch takes you.
“If you need to do a trick to get out of trouble in the middle of the pitch, the chances are you haven’t looked well enough and early enough.”
Curle believes the Cobblers missed an opportunity to exploit MK Dons’ weaknesses during Saturday’s 2-2 draw, feeling that Paul Tisdale’s men were especially vulnerable in wide areas.
He continued: “There’s a level of frustration because we had an opportunity to have an overload in our own half with the territorial advantage and an extra man sitting in midfield.
“We didn’t move the ball quickly enough at the back to get the ball out and get the man advanced up the pitch and then it’s about picking the right pass. We knew we could cause them problems in wide areas if we could get the ball there quickly enough.
“It’s about keeping the ball flowing, keeping it moving and working the ball into the final third with quality and get into areas where you can express yourself.”
Nonetheless, Town got themselves out of jail thanks to Junior Morias’ late equaliser, which was met by pandemonium around the ground.
“The ending shows the support is here for this football team, how they stayed with us,” Curle added. “That shows the unity that’s growing and there’s a bond there.”