Curle’s ‘proudest’ day as Northampton surge up
When Keith Curle arrived at Northampton Town in October 2018, his job pitch admitted he needed a promotion to salvage a moribund managerial career. Last night, the team who were seventh in League Two when lockdown began had reached League One.
As one-sided as play-off finals get, Northampton outclassed Exeter City from the first minute to the last. Afterwards, the champagne flowed and selfies were taken, but this probably wasn’t quite the big Wembley evening the journeymen of Exeter and Northampton had dreamed of all their lives. Not for them, the thrill of national attention; of their one-team localities united behind them and of the
giddy rush provided by perhaps the biggest crowd of their professional lives. Not for their fans reward for trekking to Morecambe and Grimsby. And not, for these financially challenged clubs, a bumper payday and concomitant marketing bonanza.
Instead, this watershed in most of the participants’ careers took place at a Marie Celeste Wembley. The national anthem was piped through; the collective knee was taken, but Wembley’s first competitive game behind locked doors took place in a vacuum where the only audible noise came from the players themselves.
“It was surreal,” Curle said. “But we were representing those who couldn’t be there. We focused on the event, got the fundamentals right and asked questions. It’s my proudest moment as a manger.”
If the game sounded like a training session, Northampton were all attacking noise and set-piece mischief. After 11 one-way minutes. Nigel Atangana headed Charlie Goode’s long throw clear, but only to Ryan Watson, who drove towards goal. A deflection off Aaron Martin wrong-footed Jon Maxted and League One beckoned.
The second came when Goode fired a long free-kick forwards and Scott Wharton headed across goal, Jordan Turnbull helped it along and, as the Exeter defence played “After You Alphonse”, West Bromwich Albion loanee Callum Morton, twice a scorer in the 3-0 semi-final win at Cheltenham, guided the ball home.
Exeter’s wretched night was effectively over in the 59th minute when 400-game veteran Dean Moxey scythed through Watson like a rash debutant. Off went Moxey. “The red card was embarrassing,” admitted manager Matt Taylor.
Exeter then crumbled in the last 10 minutes. Morton robbed Nicholas Law and found Mark Marshall, who squared for Sam Hoskins to stroke finish. Then, Andy Williams tucked in a fourth when Harry Smith nodded on another Goode throw-in.
“I didn’t like what Northampton turned us into,” admitted Taylor. “We lacked character and personality. We arrived as men and left as boys. A lot of these players won’t be retained.”
We’re going up: Keith Curle and his players celebrate; (left) cardboard cut-outs sit in the stands at Wembley; (right) Ryan Watson opens the scoring for Northampton