NTFC Month in Review: August-September 2012

Nicholls…good opening month

So this is a new feature I’m going to try to stick to on the blog for the coming season. It’s not going to be the usual run through of results and key moments I usually produce at the end of each season but more a look at some of the things that have gone well, disappointed us and surprised us in the month in question.

Seeing as though we kicked off the season on August 14th with the League Cup it makes sense to do these on a similar date of each month rather than just at the end of the month, which will then mean I end them in mid-May unless there’s some sort of end of season business to deal with. We won’t talk of anything near that question for a fair few months yet though!

So here we go…any comments always welcome!

What’s gone well?

The defence (sporadically) – The big question marks have been about the defending but for a large majority of the first month we’ve seen some solid displays. Kelvin Langmead looks like a new player and appears to have shed a stone or two over the summer. Coupled with a new partner in central defence, the towering David Artell he seems to be flourishing, especially having been handed the captaincy over the summer. Joe Widdowson, John Johnson and new boy Danny East have been solid either side whilst Lee Nicholls has enjoyed a terrific start to his loan spell in goal. More on him later. With one or two blips (the nine goals conceded in the three games against Southend, Wolves and Plymouth) there’s still some work to do but for the most part it’s nice to know that we can be hard to beat on our day and that’s a start!

Alex Nicholls – What a start to his Cobblers career. Five goals in all competitions has set the former Walsall man on the way to what looks pretty certain to be his highest ever scoring return for a season (previous best is eight with Walsall). Nicholls has played on the wing in the past but was signed with the knowledge that he’d be played in his more natural position of front man and boy has he flourished. His added work ethic and battling qualities make him a prime candidate for fans’ favourite and if he can keep up a record anything even close to his first month then we’ll be in for a good season.

Chris Hackett – Hackett seems the type that fans can often get frustrated with (a la Josh Low). He’s undoubtedly talented and for this level can have a massive impact but you get the feeling he’s a confidence player. More often than not, though, he’s been the spark that we’ve been lacking for so many seasons and will add another goal threat in every game. A key figure to the team if he can stay fit.

Bayo as a super sub – I’m the first to call for Bayo to start games but when you have a beast like him on the bench then you’re automatically starting games with an ace up the sleeve. As defences tire, the big man comes on and changes games, something that he seems happy to do for the time being. Setting up both goals during the win over Wimbledon last weekend was the typical impact he’s had in this opening month. #Beastmode at its best!

Effective loans – Not many things bother me more than short term loans that don’t have any impact on the side, staying for a month for fitness or ‘experience’ before leaving and not forming any sort of connection to the club. Part of Stuart Gray’s downfall in his last months in charge involved this sort of player, and the wrong sort of player. Aidy Boothroyd has been sensible in choosing the right type of player and the right type of deal as and when they are needed. Lee Nicholls has been outstanding in goal, Danny East solid as cover for John Johnson and Henoc Mukendi, though raw, is here for the long term and is looking honest enough a player to learn.

Progression in the JPT – The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy isn’t for everyone but I’m all for a rare run in the one cup competition that we’re realistically able to have a go at. Beating the plastic Dons made the First Round win that bit sweeter and with some fringe players getting some good game time it was a complete win to set up another decent tie at home to Colchester in Round Two.

Robinson…Twitter trouble

What’s not gone so well?

The defence (sporadically) – Yes, the defence makes both categories. Like I mentioned before, it’s been good for the most part but there’s been small bursts of panic that reminded us of last season which we certainly don’t want to revisit. A couple of the Southend and Plymouth goes in particular were disappointing to concede and we need to be a little bit more solid when under that sort of pressure.

Jake Robinson’s Twitter outburst – Now I’m not one of those who called for Robinson’s head when he tweeted about not being in the squad for the trip to Rochdale on the opening day but it wasn’t the best outlet for his frustration. Bayo was out of the side back in January, kept his head down and worked his way back in so that Aidy Boothroyd couldn’t ignore him. That’s what Robinson should have done. It was almost wiped out by that stunner of a goal against MK Dons and there could yet be a place for him at Sixfields but whilst we continue to be fruitful in front of goal it makes sense that he’s able to get games, and hopefully more goals, under his belt down the road at Luton. Hopefully he’ll come back all the better and the Cobblers front line will be that bit stronger.

Tired Legs – Playing Championship side Wolves on a Thursday and then travelling to Plymouth on the Saturday was never going to be easy and even the most cryogenic of chambers would struggle to put the Town players back in tip top condition. It’s no coincidence that those were the only two defeats of the season so far and hopefully now things have started to settle down game wise we’ll be in better shape.

The Sixfields PA system – It feels like the same pre-match CD is being inserted that was doing the rounds in 2001 and the general sound doesn’t seem to travel well at all still. A pre-match atmosphere is more important than it might seem to get supporters ‘in the mood’ and the Sixfields system needs some sort of overhaul to lift us before a ball is kicked.

Steve Evans – An automatic entry to this category for simply being allowed into Sixfields. Enjoy your time at home for the next six games, Steve! (By the way, I have nothing at all against Rotherham United at all and find their supporters to be as realistic and friendly as any in League Two but with Evans in charge it unfortunately puts a temporary black mark against your team!)

How can we improve?

By shoring up the defence (not by any new players – I feel the right men are in place – but by more consistency) and by continuing to produce good form at home. Only Wolves have won at Sixfields so far with a last gasp Southend equaliser preventing a three game winning run in the league. Couple that with battling points away from home and we won’t be far wrong. Easier said than done of course!

Goal of the month

This category is for Cobblers goals only and is a decent competition this month. Jake Robinson’s stunner against the plastics would have usually won it every other month but, for me, I enjoyed the sheer pace and skill of Chris Hackett’s strike against the real Dons a few days later.

Player of the Month

Again a stiff competition for the first time in a while with plenty staking their claim but I can’t look any further than Alex Nicholls for his all round game and five goals.

Month rating

I’m going to give the month of August-September a mark of 8/10 with plenty more to be happy about than to be negative about. Two wins, two draws and one defeat in the league, progression to Round Two of both of the early cup competitions and some positive play means that it’s been a very good start to the campaign. Keep it up boys!

Final pieces of jigsaw needed with under a week to go!

Mukendi…new signing

The last home friendly of the summer is done, the majority of the Cobblers squad is in place and we now look full steam ahead to the start of the season. It’s undoubtedly going to feel a bit odd kicking things off with a League Cup game this season and I get the feeling that we’ll somehow see it as less of a disappointment if Cardiff City progress at our expense than we would in normal seasons.

The big league kick off follows on Saturday week and that’s the one we really need to get right. There’s been a bit of transfer activity this week with Neal Kitson returning to America to be replaced by loanee Wigan stopper Lee Nicholls and Liverpool man Henoc Mukendi joining just as Michael Hoganson made his decision to join Derby County and not the Cobblers.

Both new men featured in last night’s 3-1 win over a youthful West Ham United side with Nicholl starting in goal and Mukendi playing for the final ten minutes, fluffing a chance to make it 4-1 late on. The win was an important one with previous home defeats to squads from Chelsea, Derby and Spurs putting a bit of a downer on the summer build up.

I feel like I’ve been saying it all summer but we still do need that centre back and the Clarke Carlisle ‘will he, won’t he?’ drama is still rolling on. Whether he re-joins us or not I can’t help but feel we still need another loanee for the middle of defence to provide back up having heard not such great things about Anthony Charles’ performances in the last couple of weeks. Kelvin Langmead has been making more of a mark at the other end of the pitch, scoring three times over three friendlies and he would be the one I would keep alongside a new man.

The Olympics are helping to move us quicker than we normally move towards the first day of the season and I can’t wait to get stuck in once again! There’s more League Two Previews on the way as this week ends and then I’ll be building up to the Capital One Cup game with Cardiff come Monday and Tuesday.