It was obvious from the moment Keith Curle opened his mouth that the tone of this post-match interview would be different to any other he has delivered during his 35 games in charge of the Cobblers.
Usually so considered and careful with his words, either in victory or defeat, and always quick to leap to the defence of his players even when they play poorly, Curle’s patience finally ran out after his side were embarrassed by 10-man, crisis-hit and relegation-threatened Port Vale on Saturday.
We had players at half-time saying they had fatigue after 45 minutes. You’ve had 45 minutes and you’re telling the physio that you’re fatigued? No chance.
Leading 1-0 through Sam Hoskins’ early goal and playing with an extra man following Leon Legge’s red card, the Cobblers simply fell apart during a torrid second-half as goals from David Worrall and Tom Pope condemned them to an inexplicable and inexcusable 2-1 defeat.
Curle arrived at Northampton with the reputation of a no-nonsense, straight-talking manager and we were seeing why here. Just two days shy of his six-month anniversary in the Northampton hotseat, and with the summer transfer window fast approaching, there was no more Mr Nice Guy
“As I told the players, I will protect them,” he said. “But, let me tell you, this is me being protective because I’ve seen exactly what the supporters have seen and it’s not good enough and I can assure you the players know that.”
Speaking after a defeat is nothing new for Curle this season but whilst he has previously taken a more lighthearted approach to his interviews, there was no sign of that on Saturday, clearly feeling now was the time to unleash his frustration and lay bare his side’s shortcomings, though the bluntness of his words was still surprising.
“The worrying thing is, the players think they are good enough but they’re nowhere near where they need to be,” he said. “It’s just not good enough.
“We’ve had to step back our training in terms of where we want to go because players can’t do the simple things and the basic things and they think they’re too good when you pull them up.
“I say to them that we need to play basic football – get the ball down and pass and move. We don’t control the ball with meaning and purpose of where we want to go.
“We take too many touches on the ball. We need to move it quicker but we don’t and we have players in that changing room that think they’re good players but they don’t do the basics and that’s the message to the players on Saturday.
“You get the feeling that some of them think the season is over. Well, every day next week we’re in at 9am, every day – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – because this season isn’t over. It’s not over for me and it’s certainly not going to be over for the players.”
He didn’t stop there, either. “We had players at half-time saying they had fatigue after 45 minutes,” continued Curle. “It’s 45 minutes and you’re telling the physio that you’re fatigued? No chance.
“There were times in the second-half when we had possession inside our own half and we passed the ball out of play. Why go and get on the ball if all you’re going to do is pass it out? It’s shocking. We don’t play the ball forward with purpose and with appreciation.
“Everything about the day was right; the atmosphere, the build-up, the information, even the start of the game.
“We got on the front foot at the start, we did the simple things and did them well and we enjoyed doing them but then we start running with the ball, we start turning down forward passes, we start standing still, we start waiting for other people to make things happen rather than being on the move.
“We were static, we didn’t move the ball and we didn’t have that creative edge that we want to go and exploit teams. How many crosses did we put into the goalkeeper’s hands? How many times did we take the option of just putting the ball into the box rather than finding the pass? I’d love to say a lot more.”