Major questions still abound with one week to go…

If things had started to look a bit brighter for the Cobblers following decent pre-season showings against QPR and Wolves, then you have to say they took a nose dive this afternoon as Rob Page was handed a pre-season nightmare at Eastleigh with a 4-1 defeat that will do nothing to repel the fears of many that his newly/partly assembled squad isn’t quite there yet.

There’s been better news signings wise in the last few days with an actual FEE being paid for Harry Beautyman’s services with the former Posh man’s arrival a definite step in the right direction followed by a relatively unknown quality arriving in the shape of Kenji Gorre, the attacking midfielder signed on loan from Swansea City. Page doesn’t strike me as the type to make knee jerk reactions based on single games but he surely needs to think about pushing other, similar deals through before the serious stuff starts in a week’s time after this showing.

Defensively we’ve looked vulnerable away from home in pre-season and we have to hope and pray that it’s simply cobwebs being blown away or we’ll soon be shown up in League One. We may go into the season on the back of a 24 game unbeaten run and as League Two champions but as soon as that whistle goes on opening day every team goes back to being equal.

First opponents Fleetwood Town have been through the mill themselves in the last couple of weeks with Steven Pressley resigning in the midst of their own negative pre-season results and they’ll be looking to new boss Uwe Rosler to set the tone for their season and his tenure when he takes charge of the Cod Army for the first time next weekend at Sixfields.

It’s all smoke and mirrors usually when it comes to pre-season and let’s hope that’s the case this time around too. If we end August with a couple of wins under our belt and a fuller squad that’s looking cohesive and together as a unit then we’ll have forgotten all about this shaky month of warm up games. Fleetwood will be hoping for exactly that too and both teams will be going into that opening game thinking that they can come away with a morale boosting first three points of the season.

One thing’s for sure – in exactly a week’s time, one way or another, the debates can begin, the Saturday afternoons of worry and nerves can return and another chapter in the life of Northampton Town will commence.

Bring it all on again!

Let the games begin!

league-2-sky-bet1

So here we go again. After the post World Cup lull and the no nonsense and kind of drifting pre-season that saw the Cobblers in an unusually comfortable and sorted out position in terms of getting the right squad together we’re here on the edge of the 2014-15 season.

The first few months of this season will see Sixfields move past the first stages of redevelopment and celebrate its twentieth birthday – where all that time’s gone I have no idea! Whether we can pass these milestones with a progressive team on the pitch remains to be seen but there’s far more concreteness and positivity about the place than in the post Wembley dreariness of twelve months ago.

Matt Duke has suddenly been challenged by new loan signing Jordan Archer for the goalkeeper’s jersey but to me it says more about Chris Wilder’s thoughts on the current progress of Dean Snedker than anything else. It would be foolish to put him in to the key position and firing line if he’s not ready so a loan spell is much more sensible. Chris Dunn never really recovered from being thrust into the headlights when he came straight in to replace Mark Bunn so it could be a good thing in the long term for the current young stopper.

Defensively – barring another Kelvin Langmead set back – we’re well set with centre backs while it’s looking pretty certain that Chris Wilder will be going with the wing back system that served him well at the back end of last season with Evan Horwood and Danny Alfei likely to get the nods on either side.

Midfield is an interesting one. Darren Carter and Ricky Ravenhill’s partnership in the centre should stick but with the attacking wide intent from Chris Hackett and Kaid Mohammed as well as the key ‘goals from midfield’ machine that we hope John-Joe O’Toole to be there won’t be room for everyone. That does give us flexible options though and as games progress and flash points change the flow of them we’re guaranteed some quality on the bench.

Up top there’s the returning and experienced Marc Richards favourite to lead the line and Ivan Toney looking to continue the incredible impact he had in the last two games of last season. Emile Sinclair will be desperate for a change in his favour with the Town faithful but only hard work and, ultimately, goals will start to change opinion on his usefulness.

Nicholls...big return

Nicholls…big return

Alex Nicholls has been inspirational in his fight back from injury and may still be the best of wild cards to our forward options. Anyone who’s drifting along and not battling for their place will do well to look at Nicholls’ fight back and willingness to get back into the side as a motivator.

Overall we’re not looking too bad at all. The squad is finally at a point where there’s quality rather than quantity – something that’s been promised for years and while there will be obvious questions asked once injuries and suspensions come into play there should be enough there to challenge at least for a place in the top half.

Wilder is a good organiser and I’ve said for a few years now that if you have an organised side you’ll stand a good chance at the top seven in this division. The Cobblers have been at this level now for a good enough number of years for us to realise we’re here for a reason and only hard work, a bit of guile and solidarity in the camp will give us that platform to try and exit the league at the right end.

Let’s, as fans, also be realistic and good to one another. In the midst of the relegation battle at the end of last season, Wycombe fans were brilliant at keeping things relaxed and welcoming us as football friends rather than fierce enemies. It all sounds idealistic and airy fairy I know but there’s frankly too much crap going on in the world right now to be seeing opposition football fans as a sworn enemy.

Let’s enjoy the ride – we’ll be taken through the mill once again but that’s what keeps us coming back year after year even when some of us threaten to throw in the towel at the end of some seasons. Enjoy supporting your football team, enjoy the highs, enjoy the pub debates, enjoy the hours of analysis back at home and enjoy this wonderful nine months that we can’t get enough of.

There’s only one Northampton Town Football Club and they’re about to send us all into that whirlwind we call the football season once again. Deep breaths now…

Pre-season questions and answers – the countdown is on!

This is still one of the quieter summers that the Cobblers have been through in the past few years with a squad put together very early and games coming and going without any huge headlines or worries to come from them. It’s all run of the mill and we now begin the real countdown to the season with only a few questions hanging over Sixfields ahead of the big kick off on August 9th.

The first one is off the pitch as the East Stand is frantically put back together piece by piece – we know that it won’t be 100% complete by the time Mansfield Town visit on the opening day but on sporadic visits to the home of football over this summer I worry as to whether many will actually be able to sit down on that side of the pitch for that first home game. The fact that most of the big news coming out of the club over the last few weeks is to do with said redevelopment is a sign of good progress on the pitch with a smaller but more rounded squad already testing themselves.

The early nine goal smashing of Sileby made way for some tighter games with draws at Alloa and at home to Sheffield United followed up by Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Leyton Orient – the first loss of the summer.

I’m not a big fan of pre-season and never think you can totally take too much excitement or stress away from them but this time around we’re seeming solid at the back but still to register a whole lot of fluidity and forcefulness in taking our chances at the other end. Formation trials have seen 4-5-1 and 4-4-1-1 attempted with John-Joe O’Toole the main factor in how we shape the attacking options. Marc Richards has seen plenty of action as a lone striker and that seems to indicate how we’ll start things off in a couple of weeks. If that’s the case I’d like to see O’Toole given some freedom behind him to cause havoc and make those chances happen.

Elsewhere we’re pretty solid and the Alex Nicholls contract situation is still one to watch. He’ll more than likely get another chance at Wellingborough Town on Tuesday night after only a couple of showings from the bench since his hat-trick at Sileby.

It’s a waiting game from here on in but as far as the Cobblers are concerned not a lot is about to change between now and the start of the season. Whether that’s a positive thing or not we shall see once the real action gets under way.

Start those count down clocks!

Welcome back Mr Nicholls!

Alex-Nicholls_2811798

Sileby Rangers 0-9 Northampton Town

Pre-Season Friendly

On any other day, this first pre-season friendly of 2014 for the Cobblers would have created just a passing interest for Town fans – be it those who made up a healthy attendance at Fernie Fields this afternoon or those checking the progress from beaches and holidays. But what would usually be a low key run out turned into a significant and emotional game because of one man’s official return to the football pitch after twenty months out.

Alex Nicholls came off the bench to a fantastic reception a few minutes into the second half to cap what has been a gutsy and inspirational fight back to fitness following that horror tackle from John McCombe of Port Vale back in October 2012. You get the sense from interviews and tweets that Nicholls never imagined that he wouldn’t be back and it’s a testament to a character that we saw on the pitch for a couple of months at the start of the 2012/13 season that he’s not given in where plenty would have called it quits.

The fact that he’s even kicking a ball again is almost miraculous so to score a hat-trick inside eleven second half minutes of your first half of football back – no matter who the opposition – is outstanding. It wasn’t just the goals either as the striker put himself about like his old self. There’s only one thing left for him to do now and that’s to earn the contract that’s been held back for him by Chris Wilder.He surely cannot have done any more so far.

It was a perfect start to pre-season all round with new man John-Joe O’Toole also netting a hat-trick and Lee Collins, Ivan Toney and Chris Hackett getting on the score sheet while Kelvin Langmead and Collins led the defence to a clean sheet they’ll be more than happy with. It was never going to be a result to shout from the rooftop whatever happened but you can do no more than bag a load of goals and shut the door at the other end.

A trip to Scotland for a training camp and a match at Alloa Athletic on Thursday is next before a couple of home friendlies hopefully provide Nicholls the chance to really put the old ghosts to bed. A superb moment to kick off the countdown to the season…now get that man a contract!

Start of the season in sight!

Deegan...signed

Deegan…signed

And so to the final countdown…are we ready? Even Aidy Boothroyd has this week admitted that the answer is no but the slowly but surely approach is coming to fruition. Another couple of friendlies are down (a Maunsell Cup victory over Corby and a 2-1 win over Stoke City Under 21’s) with two more permanent signings in place.

JJ Hooper seems like a good enough player to battle his way towards the first team and he backed up his one year deal by scoring in both warm up games this week. A young striker who needs an arm over his shoulder to kick on after being released by Newcastle United, Hooper has shown promise throughout pre-season and fought off competition from another couple of young forwards to win his place in Northampton Town: version 2013/14.

Gary Deegan is one that will definitely be more involved in the first team right away after he signed a deal towards the end of last week. Last season was a roller coaster ride for the midfielder at SPL side Hibs when mid-season he was on the receiving end of an unprovoked attack in Edinburgh city centre and suffered a broken jaw that kept him out until December. He made an impressive return, though, and produced this in the Scottish Cup for his first goal for the club:

More of those in claret would be lovely please Mr Deegan!

We’re now a couple of players away from being a squad that looks like they can make a challenge and attention now turns to hopefully securing a right back and a striker with journalist’s nightmare Kevin Amankwaah possibly the man to follow Hooper and Deegan into the club. The striker issue rolls on but we have to be patient and understand that we do have until the end of August to bring someone in.

We would all love to have the whole squad in place before the start of the campaign but if you look at it another way you could say that should a first choice striker suffer a serious mid-season injury, like the one Alex Nicholls sustained, we would need time to replace him. Until that time we would have to get by until the right man came along. We’re in the position now where we still have a month to bring in a permanent signing up front and if we have to wait for the right one then so be it.

With six days to go, it all seems a bit surreal that the season is about to begin again…the scars from Wembley still run deep and we need to come right out of the blocks with intent against York City and wipe away any memories from that half an hour of madness that ended 2012/13.

This time next week we’ll be looking back on the opening day of the new campaign…time for the moaning to stop and the excitement to begin!

Worries creep in as Posh nick friendly win…

Dickinson...injury

Dickinson…injury

It was never going to be a ‘blood and thunder’ derby game at Sixfields as big rivals Peterborough United came to town for the first big test of pre-season for Aidy Boothroyd’s men. A 1-0 defeat to the Posh isn’t the main concern coming out of the game with most of the just over 1,000 home fans attending likely to be happy just to be back and watching football at their home ground again. It would have been nice to record a victory against the men from London Road but the more pressing issues this pre-season are coming from events away from actual match time.

The hunt for a striker to ‘replace’ Bayo looked to be coming to a conclusion when Liam Dickinson, a more than able forward at this level when fully fit, limped off with a groin injury after twenty minutes of his first appearance on trial. Dickinson left Port Vale’s pre-season campaign to look for a longer deal reportedly and so we looked to be odds on to sign him until this latest setback for a man who missed the entirety of last season.

Dickinson is now out for three weeks so do we stick or twist? That’s the big question for Mr Boothroyd with time running out until the big kick off which is under two weeks, and three more friendlies, away. I’m in no doubt that we’ve missed out on some striking targets otherwise we wouldn’t have left it this long but there are still some decent enough goal scorers out there. Perhaps the answer will be out there in terms of a season long loan – not ideal but it worked well for the outstanding Lee Nicholls last season and could be a way to bring someone in short term whilst we wait and see how Nicholls’ namesake Alex does with his recovery.

Elsewhere on the injury front, Kelvin Langmead is now going to be missing for three months and that is, of course, a huge blow. Darren Purse was once again in the squad for the ‘Boro game and surely now we must offer him a deal, something that we probably should have done whether Langers was fit or not.

In better news, Gary Deegan had another good showing in the middle of the park and he’s one that I would be keen to bring in to complete a very useful Deegan/Carter combination as well as having Lewis Hornby maturing into a first team regular. Apparently an offer has been made to the former Hibs and (yes, of course) Coventry man and if we can secure him and Purse then at least we would begin to look ready.

The big debate up front lies in the hands of one Clive Platt, a man who is clearly on his final journey towards the end of his career bless him. His showing at Wembley did him no favours at all in terms of getting ‘in’ with a following that has, sometimes unfairly, singled him out as the scapegoat when things go wrong. Whilst I do think Platt brings something to the table I do believe it to be limited and only against a selection of opposition that will let him have space. Those that we need to be competing with will be on him all the time and harassing him for the ball as Bradford City did so perfectly under the Wembley clouds.

I still think Platt can play some part but do worry when I hear Boothroyd speak of him playing 46 games next season. Maybe he means he’ll play 5 minutes of every league game?!

With the season rolling nearer I would say we’re around three decent players away from calming the nerves. Purse and Deegan would be great…a hidden gem of a goal scorer who is lurking in the transfer market would complete this odd pre-season puzzle.

Trialists battle for position as Posh loom…

Deegan...trialist

Deegan…trialist

Two games, eleven goals scored and fitness improving by the day…a solid pre-season on the pitch for the Cobblers but as we prepare for the next friendly, at home to Peterborough United, you get the sense that things are stepping up a gear. With two local non-league teams disposed of we will now see how those trialists who have made an impression so far will cope with a massive step up in quality of opposition.

After JJ Hooper hit a hat-trick against Sileby Rangers it was fellow trialist Lateef Elford-Alliyu in the centre of the action on Tuesday night as Cogenhoe United were beaten 6-0 at Compton Park. Elford-Alliyu scored four times to add to goals from Gary Deegan and Darren Purse and all four are on the brink of deals ahead of the Posh friendly.

With other signings also possible and a smaller squad expected for the start of the season it looks set to be a scramble for spots in the next couple of weeks. Purse could well be the closest to a deal after it was revealed that Kelvin Langmead needs a knee operation and could well miss the start of the season. The former Birmingham defender fits the bill as a worthy stand in for Langers and certainly wouldn’t be the worst back up in the world once the skipper is back in action.

As for Deegan, he seems to be a battler of a midfielder and is likely to fit the mould of an Aidy Boothroyd player. That and he used to play for Coventry makes him a perfect signing!

So it is that we head into the Peterborough friendly on Saturday with a fight for places going on that can only be a healthy headache for the Town boss. It’s been a long summer but things are finally taking shape with just over two weeks to go until the big kick off!