Cobblers aiming higher after season of survival – Interview
Monday, 7th Aug 2017 18:03 by Clive Whittingham
Northampton fan Chris Evans (not that one, I don’t think) runs us through seasons of steady improvement on the pitch set against a backdrop of alarming financial issues off it.
I guess after Chris Wilder left for Sheffield United last summer following promotion it was always going to be tough stepping up a division. How did it go?
CE: Firstly I don't begrudge Chris leaving. The timing was a real kick in the guts, but the chance to manage the club whose blood runs through your veins, is a job that surely no one would turn down.
Last season was similar to a return from a sun-filled holiday or a weekend of reaching for the lazers at a rave, it was a real thump back to reality on the pitch, after seeing us win week in/week out as we secured the League 2 title, breaking records in the process.
In the summer months that followed our title success, we lost the management team as well as several key players such as Nicky Adams and Ricky Holmes. Rob Page came in as manager, recruitment of new faces happened and we had a great start, up to third in the table at one point.
We kept the unbeaten run going from the previous season, which came to an end at Chesterfield in mid-September - 31 games unbeaten, an incredible achievement, it will likely never happen again in my lifetime. As autumn came, then winter, the league form dipped, the mood at the club was low and despite a brief rest bite with a win against Oxford on Boxing Day, Page was relieved of his duties after a dire 5-0 loss against Bristol Rovers in early January, one of the worst defeats I've seen as a Cobblers fan.
Justin Edinburgh came in and a better run of form happened, allowing us to secure safety with one game to spare. The football wasn't pretty, but we got the job in hand done, although by the end of the season I was glad to see the back of 2016/17.
Why will this season be different?
CE: This will be Justin's team, he has had summer to scout and sign new players, and with the investment from the new investors - 5USport - bigger things are expected. Lots of new signings have joined, some with glowing reputations. Of course you need these individuals to work effectively as a team, and that is Justin's job to get the tactics right. Fingers crossed we have a more successful and stable season than last term.
Justin Edinburgh has been around the block a few times in the lower divisions, what has he brought to the club since joining?
CE: He steadied the ship after Rob Page. The football wasn't much different, but he won back the dressing room, which a lot of fans felt Page had lost. There was a desire to play for the shirt again, that in turn lead to better results, which lead to us fans having smiles on our faces again. He is only eight months into his term, so hard to judge really, but with his own stamp on the team, this will be the time to really see what Justin is made of.
What's the current situation with the new stand, and the missing council loan? How has that affected the club over the past couple of years? Miraculous that Wilder got the team promoted when they weren't paid at various points in the season!
CE: The East stand has been subject to issues with the leases on the land, it is ongoing, but updates from our Chairman Kelvin Thomas, advise we are going in the right direction with progress on this matter. As for the missing council loan given that the criminal investigation is ongoing, it is wise for me to not comment, so will concentrate on the positives from that turbulent time.
The effects of that episode and the fact that players and club staff were not paid, proved to be a positive in the end. That season we went from nearly going out of business to breaking club records and winning the League 2 title. The off the field troubles only seemed to energise the club from kit man to manager to players to club staff to fans, we were united, it created a team spirit that I've never seen before at the Cobblers. Chris Wilder was the captain of the ship and his leadership shone through with his passionate post match interview to the media after a win a Notts County. He pleaded with then chairman David Cardoza to sort out the right deal to sell the club, it is one that will go down in Cobblers folklore. Days later the club was sold to Kelvin Thomas and saved, the rest is history.
Who are the star players in the current side and who are the weak links?
CE: Well so many have come through the door this summer, it is hard to tell, I'm still trying to remember the players’ names for starters. Matt Crooks was the star signing, brought with a big fanfare from Glasgow Rangers. A big (well massive, he dwarfs everyone else in the squad) young midfielder, who looks good on the ball. Ash Taylor looks a solid no nonsense defender. John Joe O'Toole, 'the long-haired Messi' as I call him, is a key player for us. He is currently out injured, one of the stars of that title winning season, he continued his excellent form last term, scoring 12 from midfield. A key area that needs improvement is the goalkeeper position, David Cornell was last year’s number two, he started in the defeat at Shrewsbury on Saturday, one of the few players who had a good game. But with every position you should have someone to keep a player on their toes and looking over their shoulder. I expect Edinburgh to get another goalkeeper in before the transfer window shuts.
What are the realistic short, medium and long term aims for the club?
CE: Despite the poor start yesterday at Shrewsbury, once the team gels I'm hoping for a top half finish, maybe even a flirt with the play off places. I'd hope we would establish ourselves to be a top half League 1 side in the medium term. With the investment from 5USport, dare I say it, it would be fantastic to become a Championship club one day. Off the pitch I'd like to see the East stand developed, it is key for revenue, with executive boxes installed and more room for bums on seats. Our development of young local players has been brilliant in recent years with the likes of Mark Bunn, Ivan Toney, Luke Chambers and Michael Jacobs all being sold and playing in higher divisions. I would hope this continues and even keep a few of our young stars to propel us upwards. Of course though this is Northampton Town, and having been a fan for 20 odd years, I know that one thing you can count on from the Cobblers, is that we never do things the easy way.
The Twitter @TheHappyCobbler, @loftforwords
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