There was a final chance for Dean Austin to cast his eye over the majority of players who missed Tuesday’s friendly win over Barnet as a young Manchester United XI came to town last night. It was a completely new starting eleven taking to the field looking to impress one final time before the big kick off with academy players and youth team prodigies including Jay Williams, Camron McWilliams and James Goff taking to the field alongside returning fringe players.
On a quiet evening for the most part, the more encouraging take away points were set to be the performances of the three young lads at the back who all put in a really assured outings without being truly stretched by a United side who were behind the Cobblers in terms of their pre-season preparation, a fact that was apparent for most of the evening.
Goff didn’t have a lot to worry about in goal but still seems a good, solid prospect who didn’t look out of place in the slightest. The same can be said of Williams at centre-back and of McWilliams, brother of Shaun, who was excellent at right back and may even give Shay Facey and Hakeen Odoffin something to think about during the coming months.
In a game of few chances, it was Billy Waters who again grabbed a chance to impress with both hands. It was another terrific and energised performance from the man who came off the bench to score that wonderful goal on Tuesday night with the former Cheltenham man putting his marker on both goals.
The first involved good hold up play from Kevin van Veen to tee up Waters who drilled in a low shot into the corner of the net from just inside the area. If that goal highlighted his finishing prowess, it was the other side of his game – the harrying, tenacious side – that helped to make the second. Waters battled for the ball on the left, made a darting run and linked up well with van Veen and Morgan Roberts – another impressive young talent who came off the bench – before seeing a half chance cleared. The ball was kept alive on the opposite flank and Dan Powell put in a pin point cross for van Veen to meet with a headed effort for 2-0.
The Dutchman didn’t do himself any favours at the end of last season since joining to a whole load of hype and there are still doubts as to whether he’s befitting of a starting place in a Cobblers side drilled by Austin to press but the goal should do his confidence no harm. He grew into the match after a patchy first half and his hold up play at times was excellent. The quality that van Veen possesses is clear and that’s why Town fans get so frustrated when it’s not on show.
Elsewhere, John-Joe O’Toole returned from compassionate leave and did a solid enough job in the middle of the park with Sam Foley while Dean Bowditch got his first proper run-out for months in the first half. Powell did enough to put himself into Austin’s thinking but after a good pre-season run all round for this Cobblers squad it would seem that there are plenty of options.
With a week to go until the season kicks off it’s all about trying to keep hold of what we have and there’s been much talk about which players may or may not leave. The simple fact, reiterated by Austin and Kelvin Thomas, is that we don’t need to sell and players will only leave at the right price. It’ll be a nervy couple of weeks before the window closes on August 9 but over the two friendlies this week there was not one member of the squad that you could say was not playing for his manager or giving the games their full energy and attention.
Coming in the other way is goalkeeper Lewis Ward, on loan from Reading, whose arrival was confirmed at the end of last night’s game. On first viewing he seems a real presence and had an outstanding spell in the National League with Aldershot so this is the next natural stage for the 21-year-old.
I’m more certain than I was a week ago that we’re near enough there on the signings front and while another winger would be useful, the options around the squad, as long as its kept together, should provide enough depth to keep us going. And with the amount of talent coming through the ranks at Sixfields, the future looks to be extremely bright.