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Thoughts on last season
Last season was one which was largely anticipated to have so much promise for Northampton. The team stormed to the League 2 title the season before, returning them to the third tier for the first time in a decade. The optimism and feel-good factor was hampered however when manager Chris Wilder left the club to take his dream job at Sheffield United.
Joining Wilder out of the club was many of the side who claimed the title with Nicky Adams, Danny Rose, Joel Byrom, John Marquis, James Collins and stand out winger Ricky Holmes all leaving. Former Port Vale boss Rob Page was appointed to replace Wilder and after bringing in ex-Premier League players Matt Taylor and Lewin Nyatanga, as well as the experienced Alex Revell, the optimism returned.
Rob Page kept the unbeaten run from the season before going which facilitated in Northampton rising into the play-off positions early in the season. This unbeaten run also included an EFL cup victory over West Brom. After the unbeaten run ended away at eventual relegated Chesterfield, the club went on a poor run and got dragged into a relegation fight. After some unsavoury comments and a 5-1 loss to Bristol Rovers, Page was relieved of his duties, with a relegation fight staring Town in the face.
Justin Edinburgh was the man bought in to steady the ship and keep the team afloat. With the addition of some loan arrivals and a creative diamond formation in midfield, results picked up and survival was eventually achieved. The standout result towards the back end of the season was a 1-0 win away at rivals Oxford United, where skipper Marc Richards back heeled the winner in the last minute of the game.
Last season was such a contrast from the season before, with the playing style on the pitch completely different resulting in the club scoring 22 less goals. A major achievement however is the fact the club never got dragged into a relegation battle as such, spending most of the time looking over their shoulder in the 16th/17th position. With Edinburgh having had time to build his own side and now having financial support by the new Chinese investors 5U Sport, next season looks a lot more positive and the optimism can return.
After a poor season and many of Pages arrivals failing to make an impact, it’s no surprise that Northampton have a whole new squad available to them this season, with 12 new arrivals.
In defence, the full backs David Buchanan and Brendan Moloney remained from the league 2 title winning side. These two players will be challenged this year for a starting position by youngsters Aaron Phillips and new arrival George Smith, who has looked impressive since arriving from Gateshead. These options at full-back have seen Edinburgh experiment with a back 3 in pre-season, with these 4 providing an option to play at wing-back.
In central defence, the Cobblers have 4 options, all of whom have joined the club this summer. Leon Barnett has arrived from Bury, along with youngster Regan Poole on loan from Man United. Furthermore, the club beat rivals to the signings of Aaron Pierre from Wycombe and Ash Taylor from Aberdeen. With these strong additions it has given Edinburgh options and prompted him to experiment with a 3 at the back.
In midfield, club hero John-Joe O’Toole and the experienced Matt Taylor remain at the club. These two have been joined by new arrivals Sam Foley, the previously nicknamed ‘Iraqi Pirlo’ Yasser Kasim, and the impressive Matt Crooks, who was wanted by plenty of teams after announcing his desire to leave Rangers.
Crooks and O’Toole look to be the first-choice midfield partnership in a 3-4-1-2 formation set to be used by Edinburgh, however the options available provide selection headaches. Added to these options is youngster Shaun McWilliams, who will be looking to continue his development from last season.
In terms of attacking talent, skipper Marc Richards and Alex Revell remain at the club, with one of the these almost certain to start as Edinburgh prefers a target man system.
Other options up front include the young and impressive Billy Waters, bought in from Cheltenham following 16 goals in League 2, Sam Hoskins, whose return from injury will be like a new signing and Chris Long, who has arrived for the season from Burnley. In addition to this there are youngsters Leon Lobjoit, Joe Iacofano and new arrival Dean Bowditch who looks to be the man playing in the number 10 role behind the strikers.
Another new arrival is winger Daniel Powell from MK Dons, who so far in preseason has been used up front, in behind and at wing back. This versatility means Northampton have the players to use many different formations this season.
In terms of departures, perhaps the two most significant are Zander Diamond, who left the club after being first choice centre half for over three seasons, and goalkeeper Adam Smith, who looks set to have a successful career after a series of impressive performances. It is perhaps the goalkeeper position which still needs strengthening, as David Cornell represents the only serious option available for the Cobblers this season.
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Near enough the entire playing squad is new for the season therefore this is difficult to suggest.
Matt Crooks looks like a great signing is in contention as he is a combative midfielder and former League 2 team of the year. Billy Waters also has the potential to become a fan favourite, as he is the sort of player to get the crowd going with a piece of skill and an eye for goal. Another one to look out for is centre half Ash Taylor, who looks like a signing made with intent and could prove to be a ‘Taylor-made’ replacement for former fan-favourite Zander Diamond.
There are many interesting fixtures for the Cobblers this season, as local rivals Peterborough, MK Dons and Oxford all play in League 1. With positive results over these teams the Cobblers will hope to be the best in the East Midlands mini league come end of the season.
With the added pressure of Chinese investors hovering over him, a good start is key for Edinburgh and with all the new personnel, Edinburgh will need to find a winning formation and playing squad quickly. This may take time, so avoiding defeat during this gelling period is essential.
I am confident that a relegation battle will not unfold, however I’d say a play-off push is perhaps a step too far, purely due to the fear of the unknown; it remains unseen how well this team will bond. I also feel that despite the likes of Richards, Revell, Long and Waters, the cobblers may lack a 20+ a season goal-scorer, and this may halt the progress.
Another goalkeeper is needed, and will most likely be the last arrival before the transfer window shuts. It will then be down to Edinburgh to work his magic, and with confidence from Kelvin Thomas the chairman, this is a great opportunity for him as a young manager to prove his credentials and take the club closer to the Championship.
Off the field, the mess over the development of the East Stand finally appears to be heading towards its conclusion, and this is the beginning of an exciting new era for Northampton Town football club.