KEITH Curle celebrated his 58th birthday earlier this month, but he is hoping for even more happy returns tonight.

Curle goes back to Northampton Town for the first time in a competitive game since managing the Cobblers.

The Latics boss won promotion via the League Two play-offs in June 2020, in front of an empty Wembley, having qualified by virtue of average points per game after the season was curtailed by Covid-19.

Curle and assistant Colin West were sacked by the club in February this year after a tough first half of the season, in which they won six in 26 in League One.

But Northampton chairman Kelvin Thomas said they would always owe the duo a debt of gratitude.

“We have a huge amount of respect for Keith and Colin but feel a change is required,” Thomas said at the time.

“Keith and Colin leave with our thanks and our best wishes and their time at the club will go down as a success, especially managing us through the difficult period of Covid-19.”

Curle went on to be appointed Harry Kewell’s successor at Oldham in March initially on a short-term deal, bringing West with him to Boundary Park in the summer after agreeing a new two-year contract.

And while it has been a tough start to the season as Curle has juggled transfer restrictions, his Latics side head to Sixfields buoyed by a dramatic home win against second place Port Vale on Saturday, and one they are looking to build on.

“I’ve got some good friends down there,” said Curle is his return to Northampton.

“You don’t get many friends in football but there are some good people work within that football club.

“I can be proud to say I can look everyone in the eye when I go down there because I know where they were when I first went there.

“They had an embarrassingly high playing budget that massively got reduced - thousands per week got taken off that.

“I earned them a lot of money, got them promoted, and in my opinion I got sacked too soon.

“But it is what it is and you deal with it.”

Asked if his departure meant he had a point to prove tonight, Curle added: “I’ve got nothing to prove because I can’t play. If I can go on the pitch that might be different.

“All you ask for is the club that you’re at you want the players to be representative of the passion, desire, hunger, willingness that you’ve got and you want that to be evident when you go back to a club that you served and got promoted.”