New boss Keith Curle has aspirations to guide the Cobblers towards the top end of Sky Bet League Two and beyond, but he admits his first challenge is to put the foundations in place to drag them away from immediate relegation trouble.
Curle, who replaced the sacked Dean Austin on Monday, took charge of his first game on Tuesday evening when Town’s goalless draw at home to Bury kept them a lowly 21st in the table, level on points with Cambridge United in the relegation zone.
But the 54-year-old is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of league two life, having taken over as Carlisle United manager in September 2014 when they sat bottom of the division with just three points from eight games.
Curle steered the Cumbrians to 20th place at the end of the season, nine points clear of the bottom two, before finishing 10th, sixth and 10th again in the subsequent three campaigns ahead of his decision to stand down from the job earlier this year.
The situation is not quite so desperate for the Cobblers, but with just one win to their name all season, Curle, who has signed a contract at the PTS Academy Stadium until the end of next season, knows he can’t afford to look too far into the future despite his lofty ambitions.
“At the start of the year I think everybody associated with the club had aspirations for the team to be operating at the other end of this division,” said the former England defender.
We’re trying to be progressive and it’s a clean slate for the players and that slate started on Tuesday when they put down a benchmark for what the minimum demands are going to be from meCobblers boss Keith Curle
“I took on board another fantastic club in Carlisle United in a similar situation. It was on the back of a relegation and they were four points adrift at the bottom of the league and we did enough to stay up in that first season.
“We then had three top-10 finishes and one play-off finish and then there was a change of direction at the club which didn’t suit myself, but I want to be operating at the top end of the division and I want to get out of it.
“I then want to build a platform and a foundation to be a contender in the next division but it’s a case of steadily building and getting results.”
When asked for his opinion on why the Cobblers have struggled so much this season, Curle replied: “I think it would be unfair for me to judge what has happened at the club before I came in.
“On paper, we’ve got some very good players but unfortunately the game isn’t played on paper.
“The league table doesn’t lie. You are where you are for a reason. What those reasons are have gone on before me – our starting point is now.
“We’re trying to be progressive and it’s a clean slate for the players and that slate started on Tuesday when they put down a benchmark for what the minimum demands are going to be from me.”
Curle, who has also managed Mansfield and Notts County, hadn’t spent a single minute on the training pitch before Tuesday’s game but still made the bold move on switching formation and dropping five players.
He now has three days to prepare the team for Saturday’s trip to Marc Richards’ Swindon Town, who lost 1-0 at Crewe in midweek.
“Mentally there’s been a lot of stress on the footballing department so it’s important to close it down for a day and rest and then we start work on Thursday when we’ll do a double session,” added Curle.
“There will be a lot of tactical and technical information for the players. Because of the physical exertions on Tuesday I’ll be mindful of the fact it won’t be overly taxing, but I will demand their full attention as there are key components that I think we can improve on to take us to the next level.”