Swindon Town 1 Northampton Town 1 '“ match reivew and player ratings
Given the muddled, chaotic state the Cobblers were in when Keith Curle stepped through the door on Monday morning, you have to say his first week in charge has been, for the most part, a successful one.
It remains an early and precarious stage of the process as Curle goes about laying the building blocks and steadily rebuilding confidence among a set of players who had just come off a heavy beating and were drifting dangerously close towards the bottom end of another league table.
But there is already a discernible difference in his new side’s play. While the Cobblers are not exactly producing the most free-flowing, high-quality brand of football under Curle – not yet, anyway – there are signs of a more robust, more resilient outfit in the making compared to the shapeless mess Dean Austin left behind.
That was not necessarily of Austin’s making, of course, but Town’s defence had become ragged and disjointed to the point where opposing teams were finding it all too easy to pick their passes and find their spots, cutting through and creating chances with alarming ease.
By contrast, the two performances under Curle, including this hard-earned 1-1 draw at Swindon Town, represent a vast improvement in that department. It would obviously be premature to make sweeping conclusions at this stage but there is, so far, a greater backbone to Northampton and teams are having to work harder to test, let alone beat, David Cornell.
What was especially encouraging on Saturday was that Curle named an entirely new back three as regular centre-backs Leon Barnett and Ash Taylor missed out through injury, and yet it didn’t appear to disrupt the team’s cohesion or confidence playing 3-5-2, aside from another sluggish start.
Much of that owed to the excellence of Jordan Turnbull and Aaron Pierre although had it not been for the brilliance of Cornell, who spectacular thwarted James Dunne and then kept out Marc Richards, Town would have been two down and facing an uphill battle inside 20 minutes.
There were several square pegs in round holes as Shay Facey started at centre-back and Shaun McWilliams marked his return from injury at wing-back before Kevin van Veen and Billy Waters operated in the same role during the second-half.
Arguably the star performer came from an unlikely source. In for his first league start of the season, Turnbull’s display will leave many wondering why he has been left watching on from the sidelines while his fellow centre-backs struggle as Northampton leak goals galore.
After taking a little time to settle in, Turnbull improved markedly as the game progressed, his anticipation and composure key to nullifying Swindon’s threat. The 23-year-old has rarely done much wrong when he’s been handed the opportunity in his eight months at Northampton and he surely now deserves a run in the team.
Following Cornell’s brilliance, the visitors were the better team either side of half-time before John-Joe O’Toole opened his account for the season in trademark style, arriving late to thump in Sam Hoskins’ cross.
Unfortunately, another trademark goal, scored by the magical left foot of Matt Taylor, meant Curle would have to wait for his three points, though it does not change the fact that this has been a positive few days.
The rate of progress under Curle is not blistering but, equally, that the Cobblers are making promising strides and look a more cohesive, well-drilled team is undeniable.
With just one point and one place separating them from the bottom two, however, that upward curve must now continue.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Came to Town’s rescue twice in the first 15 minutes, demonstrating superb reactions to thwart Dunne and Richards and keep his side in the game. Far quieter from then on, bar one comfortable save and Taylor’s exquisite free-kick, for which he had no chance... 8
Shay Facey - Wasn’t out of place in the unusual position of centre-back, which is credit to him and his versatility. Covered the space well and didn’t shy away from aerial challenges... 7
Jordan Turnbull - First league start of the season and his performance here will have many wondering why it came so late. Any concern caused by his nervy start couldn’t have been more misplaced, particularly during a brilliant second-half, always in the right place to clear or head away the danger... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Aaron Pierre - It was unfortunate that he was the one to concede the free-kick which Taylor thumped home as he otherwise had a very fine game, using his physical attributes to contain Swindon’s front two effectively. Even ventured forward with some driving runs out from the back... 7
David Buchanan - Surprise set-piece taker for the day as Town won plenty of corners and free-kicks and caused one or two problems. Defended doggedly at wing-back... 7
Shaun McWilliams - Another to feature out of position but did a job at wing-back, pulling off his usual quota of crunching tackles while providing the occasional threat in attack. He delivered several testing balls into the box that could so easily have fallen to a team-mate... 7
Sam Foley - Displayed his usual tenacity as he scampered around at the base of midfield where he did a successful job of protecting his back four, with Swindon kept at arm’s-length for the most part... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Controlled things in the first-half when he saw lots of the ball, and then almost won the game in the second with a trademark O’Toole goal. Late run into the box and an emphatic finish to match... 7
Matt Crooks - Quiet day at the office for his standards. Often took the wrong decision when leading the break and touch was sloppy with little sign of his usual composure... 6
Sam Hoskins - Supplied the cross for O’Toole’s opener and also set up chances for Crooks and Williams. Hit the outside of the post with a difficult chance from an acute angle... 7
Andy Williams - An unenviable task leading Town’s line but made sure Swindon’s defence knew they were in a battle as he found decent areas. Just lacked that final touch or pass... 6
Kevin van Veen - 6
Billy Waters - 6
Dean Bowditch - 6