Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Carlisle United managers past and possibly future meet at Sixfields on Saturday.
Northampton Town boss Keith Curle hopes to improve his current side’s form against his old employers, who are likely to be under the caretaker stewardship of Tommy Wright.
Tommy Wright is currently the second-favourite to be named the next Carlisle United manager, following John Sheridan’s surprise exit for Chesterfield.
Former Huddersfield and Birmingham boss Lee Clark is the current odds-on candidate but one would hope the club is considering Wright and his assistant, Paul Murray.
The best-kept secret in football is out. May be significant for Carlisle (re Tommy Wright's future) that Sheridan already has an assistant manager at Chesterfield: another ex-United man in Glynn Snodin #cufc https://t.co/r0lzcphUg6
— Jon Colman (@joncolman) January 9, 2019
They had been part of the coaching staff during Sheridan’s reign and thus both have a unique understanding of the current squad, which is vital at a time when the club are pushing for promotion and need as much continuity as possible.
Of course, the return of loanee Jerry Yates to Rotherham has meant one or two subtle changes have been needed to the 4-2-3-1 system that had worked so well in the run up to New Year.
Hallam Hope has taken Yates’ place up top and appears to be relishing the responsibility, having bagged a brace in the 3-2 win over Mansfield; although Connor Simpson joined on loan from Preston this week to offer a target man alternative.
Danny Grainger has moved from left-back to take Hope’s old place on the left side of midfield, with Macaulay Gillesphey coming in at left-back.
The extra defensive discipline on that flank has meant more freedom for midfielder Jack Sowerby, who bagged the opener last time out; although Sowerby has returned to Fleetwood, Regan Slater could be capable of offering similar thrust, as he showed in November’s 4-0 win at Swindon.
Departures of three key figures on and off-the-field are not ideal, but appointing Wright would help Carlisle gain the stability required to sustain their excellent goalscoring form, with the Cumbrians hitting the net 20 times in their last six games.
Carlisle had relative success under Keith Curle, who inherited a side struggling at the foot of League Two in 2014-15; he kept them up and led them to play-off challenges in the following three seasons, including a dramatic semi-final defeat to Exeter in 2016-17.
Over that period though, the attack was normally led by a target man: Jabo Ibehre and Charlie Wyke alternated on that role for two seasons, before Richie Bennett took it on last term without quite as much success.
Curle left in the summer before taking over at Northampton Town in October; while he deserves credit for leading the Cobblers nine points clear of the drop zone, the results have come without the personnel suited to his style of play and 3-5-2 formation.
Of course, it might help having a natural left wing-back in George Cox, who hopes to overcome recent injury worries after joining on loan from Brighton this week, but a target man is undoubtedly required.
Players to score more then 15 league goals for Northampton in the last 19 years:
Northampton are in a desperate need of a consistent season long striker, who would you like to see come in??#NTFC
— Teyn Edition (@TeynEdition) January 2, 2019
Andy Williams is an individualistic goalscorer, Junior Morias is industrious but 5’8”, Dean Bowditch has the fight but perhaps lacks the craft to bring others into play; Billy Waters is best as a second striker, as is Kevin Van Veen, who has moved to Scunthorpe this week.
This was not a problem in the first two months of Curle’s reign, when a lot of the players had received some stern words from chairman Kelvin Thomas for below-par displays under Dean Austin and thus had to up their level of work rate for the new boss.
Since that initial bounce however, it is arguably only centre-back Jordan Turnbull who has sustained high performance levels.
To improve their current form, with last month’s 1-0 victory at Crawley being their only success in nine, Northampton must bring in a powerful front-man.
They need somebody who can comfortably win aerial duels and hold the ball up, to bring the likes of Matt Crooks and Sam Hoskins into play, allowing Williams to focus more on poaching.
For now, the value is with backing in-form Carlisle to avoid defeat at Sixfields.
Carlisle to win draw no bet 21/20
Read Gabriel’s Championship Preview here.