Tom Reed reflects on a tough season for Cobblers and gives his tip for the World Cup…
Northampton ended a painfully disappointing 2017/18 season with relegation back to League 2. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sacked after just 7 months in April while his replacement Dean Austin could not prevent the drop to the basement division.
Relegation was doubly painful for Town fans given the massive effort of Wilder’s Wonders class of 2015/16 to win League 2 despite the club being dogged by financial trouble. Although the money problems seem to have eased, the Cobblers are undoubtedly still suffering the hangover of the botched stadium redevelopment.
Issues over the leases at Sixfields appear to have been resolved but Northampton fans are still waiting for the East Stand to be finished and for the club to revolve around action on the pitch rather than the building site.
Ex-Spurs defender Austin has got the full-time manager’s job after appearing to galvanise the side on taking over from Hasselbaink. Cobblers are going back to basics with an emphasis on hard-work and an intense match approach. Moreover, it also looks like Austin is clearing a pathway for homegrown academy players such as Morgan Roberts and Sean Whaler who have graduated from the youth academy to sign full-time contracts. Town fans will also hope that Kings Heath lad Shaun McWilliams is given the game time that eluded him under Hasselbaink.
Town have announced pre-season friendlies against local clubs Sileby Rangers and Brackley Town while they will also travel to St Albans City and Chelmsford City to sharpen up for the upcoming season. If Austin can retain the side from League 1 last term then his team will start as strong favourites for automatic promotion but that is a big if.
Defensive stalwart Austin played over a hundred games for Spurs and will no-doubt build from the back in order to drive the team forwards. Centre-Back Aaron Pierre will be a key player with a pre-season under his belt while Town will do well to keep hold of rapid right-back Shay Facey signed from Man City. Cobblers have decent strength in depth in midfield with the languid Matt Crooks having the potential to run riot in League 2.
Cult hero John-Joe O’Toole will be the one however that the Shoe Army are most keen to keep hold of being the lynchpin of the Town midfield for the past few years. However, quite a few of Northampton’s roster have the potential to succeed at League 1 level so it will be interesting to see how Chairman Kelvin Thomas can fend off interest from above.
World Cup watch
World Cup specialists Brazil are clear favourites to take the World Cup crown in Russia and for good reason. Adenor Bacchi’s Selecao side are blessed with talent and one of the stars of the Tournament in Neymar. Brazil warmed up for Russia with a 3-0 thrashing of Austria and should easily advance from a weak Group E.
Elsewhere, Spain should be strong contenders if able to turn superior possess into goals via Diego Costa while Germany will put in a solid shift as always. England could be everything or nothing but the Quarter Finals will be considered an achievement for Gareth Southgate’s charges. Given the progress of the youth England ranks however, it could be that Qatar 2022 is targeted as winnable for the 3 Lions.