Promotion again the aim for Cobblers
Northampton Town go into the new season off the back of a successful second half of last term, ending with a finishing position just below the play-offs. This was in fact a fine recovery from a very disappointing start to the season, that itself followed relegation from League One at the end of 2008/09.
A string of catastrophic performances signalled the end of Stuart Gray’s time in charge last November. However, the improved performance since must give grounds to optimism for current boss Ian Sampson that there is a platform in place for a promotion push this time round.
Money is, of course, tight at Sixfields and squad changes in the close season have been comparatively few. The major departure is the larger-than-life figure of cult hero Adebayo Akinfenwa, who was offered a new deal by the club after scoring 37 goals in 88 games. A deal could not be agreed, though, and the loss of the former Swansea striker means a huge gap must be filled in the Cobblers squad.
Arrivals include striker Tadhg Purcell, who impressed with nine goals in the second half of last season for already doomed Darlington and was previously prolific in the League of Ireland for Shamrock Rovers. He will challenge the veteran Steve Guinan and former Leicester City academy player Billy McKay for a place in the starting line-up.
Elsewhere, Sampson is concentrating on the free-agent market and has offered a contract to former Coventry defender Marcus Hall.
In terms of the existing squad, youth is key in two important areas. First choice keeper Chris Dunn, a product of the MK Dons academy, is only 22 years old and will be helped this season by the appointment of former England goalkeeper Tim Flowers as goalkeeping coach. Flowers has returned to the club on a permanent basis following a spell on the staff at Hull City last season.
In midfield, the first choice players Kevin Thornton, Ryan Gilligan, Abdul Osman and Liam Davis are all under 25 and are all strong competitors, while Sampson has brought in the physical youngster Nathaniel Wedderburn following his release from Stoke City. It is an area that probably needs supplementing with experience. Veteran John Curtis deputised in a central midfield role last season and provided a steady presence.
Of course, League Two is a physical and demanding division. However, performances to date under Sampson’s stewardship, the retention of most of last season’s squad and the addition of a natural goalscorer suggest that at least a play-off place is likely as the club seeks an early return to League One.
Written by: Rich Prew