Boss Curle targeting progress to Checkatrade Trophy knockout stages
'It doesn't matter if we are playing The Bull's Head in the car park, I want to win the game.'
Yep, the Cobblers may be taking on Fulham Under-21s in the much derided Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday night (ko 7.45pm), but the competitive edge of boss Keith Curle will not be diminished – and he will expect the same commitment from his players.
Town go into the game against the Cottagers youngsters still in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of the EFL’s lower league KO competition, thanks to last month’s 2-1 win at Oxford United.
That followed on from an opening defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in back in August, but a win over Fulham at the PTS Academy should be enough for Town to progress, and that is the priority for Curle.
As a player, the Town boss was an EFL Trophy winner and loser at Wembley with Bristol City, and although it is a competition that has many, many critics, particularly since the inclusion of academy sides from Premier League and Championship clubs, Curle is a fan.
“I have been lucky enough to play at Wembley three times in the Checkatrade in finals, and I think I won two and lost on penalties in another,” said the 54-year-old.
“I have a very good experience of it, and very good memories.
“I know there is some controversy surrounding it, but ultimately it is a chance for the players and the staff to represent the football club in a competitive competition.
“It doesn’t matter if we are playing The Bull’s Head in the car park, I want to win the game.”
Fulham arrive at the PTS already out of the competition, having lost to both Wycome and Oxford in theor previous two group games, but Curle is expecting a competitive game and will be priming his players for just that.
“Every game the players get an opportunity to express themselves and Tuesday night is another challenge,” said the Town manager.
“I said to the players when I first arrived that they were going to face a lot of challenges and you never know where the next game can lead to.
“We will show Fulham exactly the same respect we would show any team and our approach will be exactly the same.”
Curle admits preparing to face the Fulham kids does throw up a bit of a challenge for him and his staff, particularly as they field an Under-21 team in this competition.
Fulham don’t actually have a team at that age group, they have an U18s and an U23s, and it will be a mixture of players from both squads that will turn out.
The Cottagers squad includes a couple of familiar names in Steven Sessegnon and Timmy Abraham, brothers of Fulham’s Ryan and Aston Villa’s Tammy, but Curle admits they won’t really know what they are going to face until they see the team-sheet.
“The analyst and the chief scout have been getting as much information as they can about the Fulham personnel,” said the Town boss.
“We have got a rough idea, and we know they have two systems that they like to play.
“Within that there are lots of variables and different permutations with personnel, but as soon as we get the team sheet we will have an even bigger idea.
“The important thing is, it is about our fundamentals and our foundation of what we want to do and how we stop the opposition.
“Then we have to earn the right to play, and play in the areas that we want to play in.
“That is something that, as a squad, there is that mentality throughout the squad and that then makes it easier for the team to perform on any given day.”
The Cobblers are without the suspended John-Joe O’Toole and Sam Foley, while Matt Crooks is also out injured.
Fitness doubts also still surround Ash Taylor, Shay Facey, Leon Barnett, Dean Bowditch and Junior Morias, although there is a chance one or two of them could be ready to return.
The west and Moulton College stands are open for the Fulham game and ticket prices have been reduced to £5 for adults and senior citizens, and £1 for under 18s.
Tickets can be purchased ahead of arrival via ntfcdirect.co.uk