After a season that finished with a 24 game unbeaten run and a comprehensive League Two title victory, the months that have followed since haven’t quite brought the same amount of joy to Northampton Town supporters as the club prepares for life in League One next month.
Manager Chris Wilder left for hometown team and fellow League One side Sheffield United, and star midfielders Ricky Holmes, Nicky Adams and Danny Rose have all followed suit and found new clubs, leaving a huge gap in the middle of the park – an area that was so fruitful for the Cobblers last year.
These exits, followed by defeats against local non-league sides Nuneaton Town and Brackley Town as well as an uninspiring draw against QPR, seem to have deflated the momentum that the club had built up from their unbeaten run at the end of last season. With this, it’s fair to say that the excitement and anticipation around Sixfields ahead of their return to League One seems to be disappearing ever so slightly.
Although it’s impossible to judge how a team’s season is going to pan out from a few lethargic pre-season games, and although it is common knowledge that nothing is ever won or lost from these run-outs, the lack of potency further up the field, so close to August, is a worry for the Cobblers.
With Holmes and Adams moving on to new clubs, much of the attacking drive that was seen on the Sixfields Stadium pitch last season has left with them, and new manager Rob Page is now seemingly in a race against time to find a solution to this before the season begins in under a fortnight’s time.
It seems like Page’s first efforts to find this solution comes in the shape of Harry Beautyman, a 24-year-old midfielder who signed a two-year deal from rivals Peterborough shortly after their draw against QPR.
A box-to-box midfielder, Beautyman scored five times across 45 appearances for Peterborough in his stint in League One, and Cobblers’ fans are hoping he can bring his energetic style of play to the club to start filling the void left by Holmes et al.
Beautyman seemed like a good asset to the Posh over the last 18 months, and it could well turn out that Peterborough’s loss becomes Northampton’s gain; yet even if he does settle well into the Cobblers, it’s clear that there still needs to be another signing or two made by Page to act as cover.
One of the driving factors during their title win last season was that Northampton were never short of options going forward – if Holmes or Adams needed resting or picked up an injury, there were always suitable replacements on the bench to come into the side and keep the momentum going.
Yet with Lawson d’Ath becoming riddled with inconsistency towards the end of the campaign, Alfie Potter struggling with injuries and Lee Martin not extending his loan deal with the club after his time at Sixfields, attacking depth is something Page’s side are currently lacking.
The appointment of striker Alex Revell from neighbours MK Dons seems like a promising bit of business for Northampton however, and with him likely to partner Marc Richards (Cobblers’ top goal-scorer for 2015/16) in front of goal there’s no lack of Football League experience – this could prove to be priceless for Northampton’s hopes of remaining in the division beyond this year.
Yet for this partnership to truly work out, we end up back at the same problem; they need sufficient service from the midfield to have any chance of getting close to scoring. Between them, Holmes and Adams either scored or assisted 32 of Northampton’s 82 league goals last year; take these out of the tally and the Cobblers would have been hanging on to a play-off place rather than the league title.
Even though the season starts in less than a fortnight, the transfer window is open for another month and it’s a reasonable assumption to make that Page will be digging into his pockets to acquire the services of a few more attacking players to try and replicate the club’s success from last year.
If he manages this, and if Beautyman can settle down into the club and strike up a good bond with fellow midfielder John-Joe O’Toole, then Northampton might be able to make a name for themselves in their first League One campaign for eight years.