Waters stakes claim in final friendly win

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.

Cobblers show signs of promise as Bees are swept aside

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!


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!

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!


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!



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…



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…



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!

Pre-Season: Part One…Sileby Rangers

Hooper...trialist in the goals

Hooper…trialist in the goals

It’s a strange old time is this pre-season lark…games against teams you’ve barely heard of can bring about either over excitement or complete and utter over the top dejection depending on the result of matches that really don’t matter score wise.

Yet every season we get ourselves into a right old tizzy whatever the results of these games that are all about getting shape, formation and fitness right for the big kick off in August. Saturday afternoon saw the Cobblers beat Sileby Rangers 5-1 and already I had done a little cheer in my head despite knowing that it may as well have been a training pitch warm up that no-one saw such was the non-importance of any result.

Still, there was a good chance for around 600 onlookers to get a glimpse of some confirmed new boys and some that were looking to impress and that’s one thing that will provide interest in these blazing hot summer days and evenings as we ‘count the sleeps’ until August 3rd. JJ Hooper, a trialist formerly with Newcastle United, netted a hat-trick and did his chances of a full time contract no harm at all. Other new faces to get a trial run were ex Birmingham defender Darren Purse, Mickael Antoine-Curier, Lateef Elford-Alliyu (another trialist to score) and Gary Deegan.

Ian Morris, making his first official appearance in a Cobblers shirt, scored the fifth for Town late on and after the match Aidy Boothroyd said that four of the five trialists, Antoine-Curier the odd one out, will be sticking around for a little bit longer.

And so it begins…the final stretch before the season officially kicks off with less than three weeks now to go before the league opener at York City. That’s where it gets serious…but we would be forgiven for those little cheers in our heads should Tuesday night’s trip to Cogenhoe produce another positive result…

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.