D3D4 Northampton Town Correspondent Toby Foster is happy with Justin Edinburgh summer transfer business so far…
After rampantly winning the League Two title just two seasons ago, it is fair to say that Northampton’s return to competing in League One has so far been somewhat underwhelming. The Cobblers had originally started 2016/17 in good style, extending an unbeaten run (which had begun in the previous campaign) to an impressive 33 games undefeated and knocking out West Brom on penalties in the League Cup. But by October, performances had begun to take a turn for the worse.
Two months into the season, the Cobblers were already displaying the impacts of poor summer recruitment, the departure of key players, and an inexperienced management team headed by Robert Page. A 3-0 trouncing at local rivals Peterborough United, along with several dismal performances in winnable fixtures and the Cobblers being dumped out of the FA Cup by non-league Stourbridge FC were enough to make Page a dead man walking in the managerial role as the threat of relegation loomed. He finally received his marching orders from Chairman Kelvin Thomas in January after Northampton slumped to a 5-0 loss at Bristol Rovers. Thankfully, Page’s replacement Justin Edinburgh immediately steadied the ship and guided the club to a 16th place finish. Despite a disappointing season overall, supporters were optimistic about the future under the more experienced Edinburgh.
The build-up to 2017/18 started with good news- Edinburgh had acted quickly to finalise new contracts with Northampton’s two key talents, prolific striker Marc Richards and deft midfielder John-Joe O’Toole.
With his top players secured, Edinburgh then began a ruthless purge of underperforming members of the team, many of whom had been signed by his predecessor. In total, 15 players were released by Edinburgh during the summer break, and so began the task of finding quality replacements for them all. Fortunately, this challenge was significantly lessened by another promising club announcement- a Chinese company had purchased a 40% stake in the Cobblers and were willing to provide extra funding for new signings.
Soon, a flock of new players began to flood in to Northampton’s ranks. Edinburgh was careful to select a balance of proven talents and rising stars in his signings. Of the former, MK Dons winger Daniel Powell and Aberdeen centre-back Ash Taylor are the biggest new names, whilst the latter includes non-league sensation Leon Lobjoit and Cobblers academy hotshot Joe Iaciofano.
Edinburgh waited until later in the window to make his marquee signing though, paying an undisclosed fee for Rangers midfielder Matt Crooks. With the signing seen as a coup by many Cobblers fans, Crooks has high expectations to live up to, but his impressive previous performances on loan at Scunthorpe United last season suggest that he has every chance of being the player that supporters hope he will be.
In total, Northampton have obtained the services of 11 new players since the opening of the summer window, and the 2017/18 squad now looks near-ideal. Only one place remains in which fans would like to see an improvement- goalkeeping. With last season’s Number 1 Adam Smith leaving for Bristol Rovers, shot-stopping duties at present will fall to backup goalkeeper David Cornell. Edinburgh has promised a new signing in this position, and it remains the only area in which he is yet to deliver.
For much of last season, Cobblers played a 4-4-2 diamond formation, though this was mostly to compensate for a lack of midfield pace. With the additions of Crooks and Powell to the squad, pace no longer seems to be an issue as far as Northampton are concerned, and so this may tempt Edinburgh into trying something different. Indeed, he has been experimenting with a more direct 4-3-3 approach in preseason friendlies.
Cautious but significant optimism is abundant among most Cobblers supporters for the start of the new campaign. It remains to be seen whether the club’s playoff-chasing ambitions will be realised by Edinburgh’s new-look Northampton team.
words Toby Foster