Curle’s ‘proud­est’ day as Northamp­ton surge up

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - League Two play-off fi­nal By John Ai­zle­wood at Wem­b­ley

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

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