Home run ends as Cobblers are held to scrappy draw by play-off rivals Cheltenham
Cobblers responded to their calamitous Boxing Day defeat at Crawley by drawing 1-1 with Cheltenham Town in a disjointed and low-quality contest at the PTS Academy Stadium on Sunday.
Some may have feared the worst when Cheltenham's Conor Thomas scored from the spot inside three minutes but, in a very scrappy and fragmented first-half, Town pegged their visitors back as Jordan Turnbull scored his sixth of the season to atone for giving away the earlier penalty.
There was only one side who looked like scoring a winner in the second-half but Cobblers, despite pressing, couldn't really fashion too many clear opportunities and subsequently had to settle for a point.
The draw ends Town's six-game winning run at home but keeps them ninth in League Two and within touching distance of the play-offs.
Curle inevitably rang the changes from his side's Boxing Day horror show at Crawley as David Cornell reclaimed his place in goal while Michael Harriman, Paul Anderson, Vadaine Oliver and Andy Williams also all returned to the team.
Injured pair Harry Smith and Shaun McWilliams missed out, Joe Martin and Chris Lines dropped to the bench and there was no place in the squad for Alan McCormack.
Curle was after a reaction from his side but they made a shocking start when Turnbull's clumsy challenge on Georg Lloyd gifted Cheltenham a penalty on just two minutes. Thomas stepped up to take and never looked like missing, calmly sending Cornell the wrong way.
It was the worst possible start for the Cobblers who were now facing a long afternoon ahead, although they might have been level only five minutes later when Oliver's knockdown found Williams inside the box but his scuffed shot drifted a few inches wide.
Town's play for much of the first-half was one-dimensional and predictable as they repeatedly went long towards Oliver, and whilst he won plenty of headers, there was little else in the way of invention or creativity to worry the visitors.
The home side did, however, get back on level terms before half-time and the goal was an unsurprisingly scrappy one. Ryan Watson was fouled 30 yards from goal and Scott Flinders could only palm Nicky Adams' free-kick out to Oliver, who squared for Turnbull and he couldn't miss.
That didn't lead to much of an improvement and it wasn't until the hour-mark when the home side finally sprung to life. They twice went close in a matter of moments as Flinders was equal to Watson's powerful drive and then Williams curled agains the post.
But although Sam Hoskins fired into the side-netting a few minutes later, that brief flurry of activity didn't last long and the game soon returned to being a scrappy affair that was low on excitement.
Cheltenham were almost non-existent as an attacking force, managing just three shots across the 90 minutes, and in truth they looked a side for the taking, but Cobblers lacked both the quality and composure in the final third to take advantage.
The final act of the game saw Cheltenham substitute Alex Addai sent off for an altercation with Charlie Goode.
Cobblers: Cornell, Goode (c), Wharton, Turnbull, Harriman, Watson, Anderson, Adams, Hoskins (Pollock 88), Oliver, Williams.
Subs not used: Arnold, Martin, Hall-Johnson, Lines, Warburton, Waters
Cheltenham: Flinders, Long, Hussey, Tozer (c), Raglan, Thomas, Broom, Sheaf (Addai 65), Lloyd (Campbell 81), Doyle-Hayes (Ince 31), Greaves
Subs not used: Clements, Boyce, Debayo, Lovett
Referee: Martin Coy
Cheltenham fans: 367