Sometimes it can be amazing to think of what can happen over the space of a single year in the game of football; from the edge of extinction to the heady heights of the League One play-off positions, Northampton Town have had a more eventful two years than most Football League sides.
After all of the drama of the last 12 months at Sixfields, the club now need to put all of that behind them and focus on their priorities – to establish themselves as a League One side and avoid relegation.
However, after midfielders Ricky Holmes, Danny Rose and Nicky Adams (all pivotal players in Northampton’s title winning season) left for other Football League clubs over the summer, there were a lot of concerned fans who thought that these departures would leave far too much of a gap in a midfield that was so strong and solid last year.
Instead, new boss Rob Page went about his transfer business very acutely, making fewer signings than previous manager Chris Wilder had in the summer before but ensuring that the handful of players coming in would improve the squad – very much bringing an ethos of quality over quantity to the club.
These summer acquisitions include – among others – Alex Revell from Milton Keynes Dons and Matthew Taylor from Burnley, and it’s these two that have started the season on fire for the Cobblers and have helped lift them up to as high as fifth in the League One table.
Alex Revell has undeniably been a revelation for the club since his arrival, firing in four goals over his first nine league games, including one against his former club.
His style of play is perfectly suited for League One football, acting as the lone man upfront and holding the ball up, allowing the wider midfielders to make runs in behind the defensive line; and it is this level of physicality playing in front of the back-line that makes him a defender’s worst nightmare.
With Marc Richards, Northampton’s top goal-scorer from the last two seasons, struggling to find match fitness after a recurring injury, the Cobblers’ hopes in front of goal rest mainly on the shoulders of Revell, and he has risen to the task excellently.
At the age of 33 Revell is at the more experienced end of his career, and arguably won’t be sticking around as part of Rob Page’s long term plans. However, as a short term acquisition, there aren’t many other strikers in the Football League that would make as quick an impact for Northampton.
As joint fourth top goal-scorer in League One so far (averaging a goal every 200 minutes) he has been a key part of Northampton’s quick start to the season, and Page will be hoping that he can continue his rich vein of form for the upcoming months.
Matt Taylor, meanwhile, is another player arguably coming to the end of his career at 34-years-old, but he’s someone that needs very little introduction; ex-Premier League player for Portsmouth, arguably most known for some of his outrageous wonder goals down on the south coast, he has been an outstanding signing for Northampton so far.
After being a first-team regular for Burnley in their promotion-winning Championship season last year, Taylor has arrived at Sixfields bringing all of his footballing experience to the side, and this has been clear to see across the opening ten games of the campaign.
Comfortable on the ball, Taylor has settled straight into a midfield partnership with fan favourite John-Joe O’Toole and has adapted well to the more physical style of play in League One.
As well as this, the ex-Burnley man’s footballing brain is very switched on, in a manner very similar to the way Nicky Adams played his football for the club last year. The latter, with his 12 assists last season, was a catalyst for so many Northampton goals and was always going to be difficult to replace, yet Taylor has started this year in fantastic form, scoring and assisting three goals apiece.
If he can maintain this level of form, the shock of the summer exits will soon be able to be forgotten.
Even despite their record-breaking season last year, and despite their record of only one loss in their last 33 league games dating back to December 2015, the Cobblers’ impressive start to League One life comes as a surprise to most.
One loss in ten games is not a bad return for any newly-promoted team, and Page seems to have finally got his side to gel and play his style of football after a tricky pre-season period.
Perhaps the biggest testament to this current Northampton Town side is the way in which Ander Herrera celebrated his goal in Manchester United’s visit to Sixfields in the EFL Cup last week; it just shows how the Premier League giants were more than aware that they were in a game, and there was almost a sense of relief that they saw off the League One side.
With the main target for this season to avoid relegation back to League Two, the Cobblers are already exceeding expectations hugely; yet with the team in form, the new signings settling down and results going their way, who can count against them aiming even higher for the end of May.
Earlier it was said that a lot can happen in a single year, but what about two years – Northampton Town supporters may be forgiven if they dare to dream of Championship football next season.