Gary Johnson: Keith Curle’s definitely earned first promotion as manager

Keith Curle, manager of Northampton Town
Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK.

Keith Curle, manager of Northampton Town Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK. - Credit: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

I know very few Torquay United fans will be crying over Exeter City losing to Northampton Town at Wembley the other night. Of course, I don't expect them to - there's a lot of history goes into local rivalries.

But I am sad for Exeter on two counts.

One, they've been so close so often in the play-offs, they must be getting fed up with it.

But two, speaking as a manager who has been there a time or two, it is sad when your team just doesn't perform on a big day like that.

As I watched that League Two final, I couldn't help thinking that, if you're going to class yourself as a football team, you've also got to be ready to handle it when another team comes at you with a long-ball, 'Route One', in-your-face performance like Northampton did.

Sometimes, that's very difficult.

I know that game inside out. When I was assistant manager to John Beck at Cambridge United (1990-92), we went from the Fourth Division to within one game of what became the Premier League the next season. And we played like that.

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The idea is that, the more times the ball is in their penalty area, however it gets there, percentage-wise you have a very good chance of winning the game.

Northampton's manager Keith Curle, who I've known a long time, was saying in an interview that it's not the number of passes you have, it's whoever scores the most goals that counts.

But it all depends on two things - you've got to have a team that can play that way, with everybody committed to it, and you've still got to have that ability to stick the ball in the net.

If you haven't got both those things and it starts to go wrong, it can end up looking not so pretty.

Keith was Neil Warnock's assistant at Crystal Palace when we played them in the Championship play-off semi-final at Bristol City (2008). Thankfully, we beat them home and away.

I've got every respect for Neil and what he's done in the game, and it was as competitive in the technical areas as it was on the pitch over those two legs!

They work a lot on what I call the 'dark arts'. And I do mean that as a compliment.

Northampton the other night had six men around the goalkeeper at corners, they draw people into confrontation in a football sense, and you have to be ready and aware of those tactics, mentally as well as physically.

My conclusion is that there has to be some type of 'in-between' game.

Players have got to know at what point are they all pressing together, at what point are they all getting back behind the ball, at what point are they all ready to play.

If you get get that right, then you can counter what Northampton threw at Exeter at Wembley.

I am quite surprised, with the way Keith organises his teams, that was his first promotion as a manager. He's definitely earned it.

Stay safe, everyone.

As each week passes, that day when we can all see each other again comes closer.

It can't come too soon...