James Heneghan's verdict on Cobblers' excellent opening-day win over Cardiff City

Harry Smith and Ryan Watson were on target against Cardiff.Harry Smith and Ryan Watson were on target against Cardiff.
Harry Smith and Ryan Watson were on target against Cardiff.
If Saturday's terrific victory over Cardiff City taught us anything, it's that jumping to conclusions before a ball has even been kicked is perhaps not always a wise thing to do.

It might be a little extreme to say that Cobblers fans were in need of a pick-me-up ahead of Saturday's Carabao Cup tie given the excitement that naturally comes with the first game of a new season, but there was certainly some apprehension around.

A day earlier it had been confirmed that Callum Morton would not be returning to the PTS, a blow that only added to the growing concerns regarding Cobblers' recruitment this summer as they prepare for the significant jump in quality this season.

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For some, all the excitement and optimism generated from their Wembley success only two months ago had been washed away and replaced with a sense of 'here we go again' with fears that history will repeat itself and Cobblers are set to follow a hard-won promotion with an all-too swift return to the EFL's bottom tier.

Few will argue with the fact that it has not been an ideal transfer window for Keith Curle. The Town manager himself has admitted to missing out on top targets following the loss of key players, and while it's clearly too soon to judge their replacements, the new signings are either unknowns or unproven at this level.

And judging by social media on Friday evening, Morton's move to Lincoln was the tipping point for many. Despite the season being yet to start, it was decided that Cobblers were set for a long and difficult campaign.

But within 24 hours came their terrific performance and well-deserved victory over Cardiff City in the EFL Cup which showed the folly of making sweeping judgements before a ball has even been kicked in anger. While one swallow does not make a summer, this was a hugely encouraging start for the Cobblers as they swept aside a team that narrowly missed out on Premier League football only a few weeks ago.

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True, Cardiff were without nine players, but their starting line-up was still brimming with Championship quality with Sol Bamba, Junior Hoilett and Josh Murphy among those to start, although you would never have guessed from the way the Cobblers coasted to victory, even if they had to ride their luck at times.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing of all from Saturday was the performances of Town's new players, particularly the new-look back three who, in just their first competitive outing together, were hugely impressive, led brilliantly by new captain Cian Bolger.

"Sometimes we're brave because we go three v three, two v two and one v one at the back," said Curle afterwards. "But the players have to understand that that's how we play and if you're defender, you've got to be able to defend one v ones.

"It's an art and it's a craft and the players are understanding their requirements and what's needed and their application has been very good.

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"We do a lot of work on fundamentals and that's why I have meetings with players when I bring them to the club - I want them to have a clear indication of what's going to be expected of them."

That clarity is so important. For all the talk of new signings - or lack of them - there is simply no substitute for having a clear identity and a settled system, both of which the Cobblers have under Curle. And when players buy into it, you can achieve great things.

"You get that understanding and you get better buy-in when you get results, but ultimately we know the fundamentals are in place to give us a good foundation," Curle added.

"They're respecting the fundamentals of the game and once those fundamentals are in place, then we can look to be more creative when we get into the final third because on Saturday I thought we had opportunities in the final third.

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"Our final ball could have been better and we could have selected a better pass but, ultimately, as a foundation, it was very pleasing."

The players might be new but Saturday's performance had all the hallmarks of Town's performances in the play-offs. They were organised, disciplined and hard-working and had a simple but effective gameplan, one which their esteemed visitors could not handle.

That is the clarity and continuity that Curle brings and it will provide a big asset for the Cobblers ahead of their League One campaign.

"Players have now set their standards with that performance and their application and the understanding of what we're about," Curle continued.

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"We're not going to drift too far away from what we call our fundamentals. What we want to do is to improve the personnel that we've got working with us and you do that by gaining a better understanding."

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