There are few things you want from a pre-season friendly and the first of the two on home soil that took place last night gave us most of the desired outcomes:
- Minutes on the pitch/no injuries
- Glimpses of young talent
- New signings to show their worth
- A sign of a shape and way of playing
- Hope for the start of the season
A comfortable victory is, of course a welcome bonus, and the Cobblers created enough to get a result as well as a decent performance against a Barnet side just relegated from the division in which we now inhabit. The friendly was set up so that we could test ourselves against the type of side that we’ll come up against in League Two and it was very much job done by the end of the night.
We will, of course, have sterner tests in the coming weeks but Dean Austin’s men, appearing in front of the Sixfields crowd for the first time this summer, stuck to their tasks, put in the levels of energy and determination we know their manager asks for and scored some very well worked goals for good measure.
The fact that Austin named just five substitutes and left out recent signing Junior Morias as well as the likes of Sam Foley, Dean Bowditch, Jordan Turnbull, Dan Powell and Kevin van Veen caused one or two murmurings before kick off but as we play again against a “Manchester United XI” (Hi Regan Poole, how’re you doing?!) on Friday it’s understandable to spread out the squad. John-Joe O’Toole was away on compassionate leave while Shay Facey was nursing a slight knock but both could be back in the fray for the final friendly.
NTFC Starting XI: David Cornell, Hakeem Odoffin, David Buchanan, Ash Taylor, Aaron Pierre, Sean Whaler, Matt Crooks, Shaun McWilliams, Jack Bridge, Sam Hoskins, Andy Williams
Young Shaun Whaler started at right midfield and put in an excellent shift. It was the first time I’d seen him in action and there’s definite promise there – Whaler looks to be a technically gifted operator and earned a big ovation from the 850 or so Cobblers fans in attendance when he came off with cramp late on.
Elsewhere, the combination in middle of Crooks and McWilliams was impressive. I’m convinced that McWilliams has the brightest future of any Cobblers youth team graduates that have come through in recent seasons and must now be one of the first names on the team sheet for Austin. Crooks, another huge presence, will tear some League Two defences apart if he sets his mind to it and gets himself motivated enough. The pair bossed the midfield all night and created an excellent balance to the middle of the park.
Andy Williams’ presence in the squad can’t go unrecognised. He looks to be a fine piece of business and has the know how to be in the right place at the right time, highlighted by his headed opener mid-way through the first half.
Alongside him, Sam Hoskins was his usual busy self and, after setting up the Williams goal, took his chance to make it 2-0. Crooks’ pass was sublime and Hoskins finished well across the visiting keeper Mark Cousins.
All pretty rosy, then, as we headed to the break following Williams smashing the bar in search for number three with the visitors fading after a decent enough start. Odoffin was having a few problems early on down his side but settled into the game and Barnet struggled to cause much more damage in the final third.
The second half saw Town create more opportunities as Crooks followed Williams in hitting the bar and Hoskins wasting a crossing opportunity when well placed. Then there was Billy Waters.
The striker, subject of much speculation, came off the bench late on and just minutes later collected the ball on the left hand side, controlled well and absolutely hammered a shot into the top corner in off the post. Waters has had a good pre-season and my thoughts are that we should hold on to a player who can give us this kind of spark. We haven’t seen it enough, mostly due to lack of opportunity, but you’d think he’s the exact type of player Austin likes and can change a game in a flash if given the chance.
The best thing you could say about the team is that they know what they’re doing, know how they’re going to play and know the levels of commitment Austin expects. That really is half the job at this stage and if we can add another winger to provide competition along with a new number one goalkeeper then we’ll be ready.
One to go before the real action kicks in!