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Should the midfield be a shield or a sword?

Tom Reed mulls over the start of the season for the Cobblers…

Northampton Town started their season with back-to-back defeats and fans questioning the tactics of manager Justin Edinburgh. The ex-Spurs defender favours a wing-back system which has seen Cobblers fall to dual 1-0 losses in the League at Shrewsbury Town and the League Cup at Queens Park Rangers.

The Saturday-Tuesday fixtures gave Town fans the chance to assess the Northampton side which has seen several additions over the summer. Lenell John-Lewis struck late on for Shrewsbury on Saturday in the League opener at the New Meadow to condemn Cobblers to a single goal defeat. John-Lewis, about whom fans famously chant ‘his name is a shop’ had the 1000 strong shoe army support going wild in the aisles.

Most worrying for Town diehards was the fashion of the defeat in which the Cobblers were overwhelmed at times by the side who are the bookies favourites for relegation. Northampton boss Edinburgh has gone with a trendy wing-back system that has placed his players under mental and technical strain. Such a 3-4-1-2 system of three centre-backs and two wing-backs relies on the central defenders to be comfortable on the ball and the wing-backs to be quick, agile and full of stamina. Question marks already hover over the ability of stalwart left-back Dave Buchanan to fulfil such a role and indeed the number of true wing-backs in the Cobblers squad.

Moreover, the on-the-ball competency of Northampton’s first choice centre-backs Aaron Pierre, Ash Taylor and Leon Barnett is open to debate with none of the trio noted for calmness in possession by fans of their previous clubs. All this leads fans to ask whether Edinburgh is getting the best out of a squad which should be better than the one brought together by former boss Rob Page by this time last year.

At League One level clubs really need to be squeezing every pound worth of value out of each player, yet Edinburgh is focusing on his defence, leaving the likes of Yaser Kasim and agile loanee striker Chris Long for bit part roles. Indeed, cult hero midfielder John-Joe O’Toole is supposed to be nearing fitness after a groin problem and it is difficult to see how he will slot into Town’s current format.

Overall, Cobblers fans are crying out for the sort of attacking style 4-2-3-1 that Chris Wilder used in the League 2 title winning season of 2015-16. That means putting the emphasis on rapid attacking midfielders and trying to overwhelm opposition rather than contain them which Town are doing at present. Of course, no manager can play the same formation week in week out anyway and much depends on the lineup of the opposition.

Justin Edinburgh was brought in before the Chinese takeover at Sixfields and needs to be wary of 5USports’ ambitions for the club. They have spent money and will want results and are expected to be present at Sixfields for the Fleetwood home match.

String together some victories with the wing-back system and Edinburgh will win the plaudits à la Antonio Conte at Chelsea. Lose the next few difficult looking games V Fleetwood Town, Charlton Athletic and then the derby versus Peterborough and Edinburgh may really start to feel the burn from the Chinese.

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