D3D4 Northampton Correspondent Toby Foster assess how Justin Edinburgh’s charges have done in the pre-season…
With a hectic transfer window involving 15 departures and 12 arrivals, a concern for many Northampton fans at the start of preseason 2017/18 was always going to be whether Justin Edinburgh’s new-look Cobblers team would be able to gel in time for a tricky season opener away at Shrewsbury Town on August 5th.
Preseason would be the only opportunity for Edinburgh to judge the abilities of his new signings as well as those of his retained Northampton players going into the new campaign, and so squad rotation was high on the agenda.
With only the Cobblers’ captain, striker Marc Richards (our top league goalscorer for three consecutive seasons) and left-back David Buchanan (who has started 107 of the Cobblers’ last 108 fixtures in all competitions) virtually assured of a place in the starting eleven come the league curtain-raiser, Edinburgh made clear that he wanted stiff competitiveness within the squad for the remaining positions.
Early preseason friendlies against non-league opponents Sileby Rangers and Frome Town proved to be easy wins, but a 1-1 draw against Kettering Town was less impressive, and this certainly put more pressure on the Cobblers as they went into two home friendly fixtures against much more accomplished opponents- Derby County and Newport County.
The friendly against Derby came first and was the more hotly anticipated of the two by Northampton fans, who saw the visiting Derby side (particularly their ex-Premier League signings Ikechi Anya, Tom Huddlestone and Curtis Davies) as capable of providing a real examination of the Cobblers’ team going into the new season, particularly as Justin Edinburgh decided to try out a new 5-3-2 formation in the match. Northampton’s lineup included many new signings, but it was the skipper Marc Richards who provided the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win for Northampton as he tapped in a cross from new recruit Billy Waters after 18 minutes of the contest. Waters, top scorer for Cheltenham Town last season, impressed with his pace, first-touch and work-rate.
Other Northampton newcomers, including marquee signing Matt Crooks and new centre-back Leon Barnett, were equally promising and look to be a vast improvement on the players of last season that they have replaced. Daniel Powell, signed from MK Dons to add pace on the Cobblers’ right wing, provided that aplenty as his storming runs caused real problems for the Derby defence throughout the game, making it clear what Northampton had been missing throughout all of last season. The only disappointment was the lack of skill displayed by Leon Lobjoit, a non-league goalscoring hotshot recruited by Northampton at the end of last season. Easily bullied off the ball and never looking like a threat, Lobjoit seemed hopelessly out of his depth against defenders vastly more capable than what he has grown used to facing. However, at just 22 years of age, fans remain hopeful that more experience at this level will allow Lobjoit to blossom into the player he has the potential to be.
The game against Newport County was a more subdued affair, ending in a 2-1 win for Northampton. The game was not without its bright moments though, particularly when Chris Long, newly signed by the Cobblers on loan from Burnley, scored a fantastic solo goal as he curled a strike into the net from outside the penalty area.
Opinion remains split on whether the 5-3-2 formation, employed against both Derby and Newport, has looked effective enough to be useful in the upcoming season, despite the 100% win rate it has so far produced. But regardless of the opinions of supporters on formations, it is now clear that the Cobblers have at least got the backbone of a strong League One outfit in place, with Richards, Crooks, Waters, Barnett and retained midfielder John-Joe O’Toole all looking like some of the top quality to be had in the third tier of the Football League.
Whilst preseason can often dampen the spirits of football fans, most Northampton supporters have nothing but optimism for the new term after the good transfer business and solid preseason games. As long as Edinburgh utilises his squad with the best formations and rotations possible, there is little reason to believe that Northampton cannot push for a playoff place in their latest League One campaign.
words Toby Foster