It seems only a couple of weeks since the season ended but Cobblers are back in League 2 action as they open the 2019/20 campaign against Walsall at Sixfields, writes Tom Reed. Both the Cobblers and the Saddlers had seasons to forget last term with Town finishing short of mid-table in the basement division and Walsall being relegated from League 1.
The Cobblers and the Saddlers have plenty in common, being named after leather industries, the two are also similarly sized outfits and will both be gunning for promotion. The respective Midlands’ sides have had similar clear outs of personnel too, with the Saddlers shipping out 11 players in the Summer while Northampton signed up 12 new faces.
The squad rebuilds by Northampton’s Keith Curle and Walsall’s Darrell Clarke sees both sides furnished with solid rosters. However, both are somewhat light in the striking department and it will be up front that this game will be decided. Cobblers simply have to get at Walsall instead of engaging in a cagey cat and mouse affair. On paper, Northampton have just about the superior strike force and Curle should look to open up a two goal lead from Town’s Midlands opponents.
Harry Smith is an obvious starter for Cobblers, the man mountain has already linked up well with assist king Nicky Adams and the cross-header-goal combination looks promising.
Matty Warburton must be another name on the NTFC team-sheet having the ability to lurk and hit first-time finishes. If you add the hardworking Andy Williams to the mix then Town have 3 forwards capable of turning solid team play into all important goals.
Walsall, meanwhile, will be looking almost solely to Josh Gordon and the inconsistent but talented Elijah Adebayo to pierce the onion bag with more attacking signings promised but not yet delivered.
Cobblers striking options would be solidified further with the inclusion of Junior Morias but the squat hot shot has been frozen out by Keith Curle, despite fans’ protestations.
Even so, Cobblers have the chance to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Both Clarke and Curle have used 5 at the back and it will be interesting to see if Town go with the more fluid 4-2-3-1 that saw off Milton Keynes in pre-season. Walsall’s off season games have been patchy and it was a smooth 4-3-3 for Aston Villa that saw the Villans put 5 past the Saddlers recently.
This will be a test of whether mysterious Curle truly wants to play the kind of “entertaining, free flowing attacking football” that he recently proclaimed to be his way this season. Previously, Curle has talked up the opposite in terms of stopping the opposition first and fans will be quick to check whether Town go with a back 4 or 5 in terms of Curle’s intent for a winnable game.
Clarke’s teams like to press high up the pitch so there are obvious inroads for Town midfielders to get in behind Walsall’s wing-backs/full-backs. This may mean Curle sticks the rapid Sam Hoskins in to maraud.
Give Walsall an inch and they will take a mile however, having the talent to take all three points. Danny Guthrie has played over 100 games in the Premier League and was well schooled by Newcastle so the 32 year-old should be one to watch for the Saddlers in terms of experience.
The ex-Bristol Rovers pair or Stuart Sinclair and James Clarke will be worthy of note too, having followed their gaffer to the Bescot. Darrell Clarke knows the duo inside out and their League 1 pedigree will be useful.
Walsall relegated Northampton from League with a last gasp winner in 2018 so Town will be gagging for revenge. All is set for a fascinating tussle and Walsall have done their part by selling out the away end.
Preferred Cobblers team:
McWilliams Goode Wharton Martin
Predicted score: Northampton 2-1 Walsall.
Odds (Betfair): Northampton: 11/8