Here we are just a day away from the start of the 2018/19 season with the Cobblers’ transfer activity kept to a minimum and the need for the window to close without any outgoings now perhaps more important than trying desperately to bring in anyone new. As things stand the only thing we could possibly do with is a bit more width but played in the right way, the squad should have enough to more than compete and sustain a challenge in the top half of League Two.
So how do they all fit into Austin’s system? After a pretty good pre-season, who makes the grade to start games? And what of the youth team graduates knocking on the door? Here I look at the squad and make my choice for the ideal starting eleven for the Cobblers. Note: this isn’t necessarily based on who is available now but on the idea of a fully fit Town squad. Two players in particular, Shay Facey and Junior Morias, may not start tomorrow but I do think they will make their positions their own eventually.
So here goes…please feel free to comment/agree/more likely disagree!
Options: Lewis Ward, David Cornell, James Goff, Luke Coddington
Having four keepers on the books is one too many and since the end of last season it’s been clear that Luke Coddington is the one that is free to leave the club. James Goff came in and did a solid enough job against the Manchester United XI last week but is likely to be given the chance to go out on loan to further his experience. That leaves a straight race between Cornell and loan signing Lewis Ward, who only joined at the end of the final friendly.
Based on nothing more than the loanee having been brought in to replace last season’s number one, I’m going for Lewis Ward to start the season in goal.
Options: Shay Facey, Hakeem Odoffin, Camron McWilliams
Young Camron McWilliams really stood out in the friendly win last Friday and eventually could well push for the right-back slot whilst his versatility is a real positive. Hakeem Odoffin has been brought in from Wolves to battle for this position and, while he’s raw, has good potential. But if all are fit, I’d still be giving the right-back berth to Shay Facey who has a chance to make the position his own in the coming months once he recovers from injury.
CENTRE BACKS X 2
Options: Ash Taylor, Aaron Pierre, Leon Barnett, Jordan Turnbull
You’d expect Austin to be starting with two central defenders and Ash Taylor is sure to be first choice. The big dilemma for the Town boss is who partners him and all of Pierre, Barnett and Turnbull have done well in pre-season. With the record he has at this level and the slightly better athleticism, I’m going with Pierre to partner Taylor but in the case of injury or suspension we certainly have good back-up.
Options: David Buchanan, Jordan Turnbull
One of the more straight forward decisions for Austin to make is at left-back with Joe Bunney out of the picture on loan at Blackpool and Turnbull again a good emergency option. But it’s David Buchanan, in his fourth season at the club, who should be a shoe in here.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD x3
Options: John-Joe O’Toole, Shaun McWilliams, Matt Crooks, Sam Foley, Camron McWilliams, Morgan Roberts, Yaser Kasim
Another big question to be answered is how the midfield is set up – will Austin favour a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2? Formation is key to answering the riddle of the centre of the park with plenty of options to hand again. I’m instantly taking Kasim out of the equation as he seems to have been told he has no future with the club.
So how do we set up? I’d favour a 4-2-3-1 so two defensive minded midfielders and one central attacker in the middle. So that means three from the above list and I’d take O’Toole and McWilliams providing the heart of the battle and Crooks giving us that extra bit of guile and creativity further forward. McWilliams and O’Toole can also be deployed in a more advanced role which is why my option would be for the three of them to all fit in.
That leaves two wider forwards and one central striker.
Options: Daniel Powell, Sam Hoskins, Billy Waters, Shaun Whaler, Morgan Roberts, Sam Foley, Jack Bridge, Matt Crooks, Dean Bowditch, Junior Morias
Plenty of choices here for the wide forward berths. The only real complaint about Austin’s recruitment has been that we don’t seem to have much width but I would argue that his system is more set up to using the wide attackers as more of an ‘inside forward’ rather than an out and out winger. Crooks is already used in my formation so he’s discarded for the wide positions.
The interesting choice could be Junior Morias on one side with his pace and power likely to cause plenty of problems for League Two defences. On the other side, it’s a pick between Powell, Waters and Hoskins and based on the performances of pre-season I would plump for Waters to be getting a start. There’s the argument that you shouldn’t read too much into pre-season and all that but I feel like he’s earned his shot and it’s another close call to make.
Options: Andy Williams, Kevin van Veen, Junior Morias, Billy Waters, Sam Hoskins, Joe Iaciofano, Dean Bowditch
With Waters and Morias cutting in from the wings, we’re now down to the one central striker that could be used. Sam Hoskins did a great job with his energy at the end of last season in the role but long-term I get the feeling that new signing Andy Williams would be the best bet to start with. He’s got an eye for goal and seems a clever player that can bring the others into play well. Kevin van Veen has a lot to prove but if he can get himself motivated there’s no reason why he can’t push Williams all the way.
So there we have it – a Cobblers starting eleven that on paper at least looks like it could challenge. I’m sure all of you are making your own picks and line-ups today so please feel free to share them in the comments section (or hurl abuse at me on Twitter!)
To cover my back, my 4-4-2 option would be: Ward, Facey, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan, Crooks, O’Toole, McWilliams, Powell, Morias, Williams
Whatever the line-up, under Austin we do at least have the refreshing thought that the baffling selections and tactics under our esteemed former boss should be long gone.
Enjoy the start of the season, all! See you on the other side…