The Cobblers players returned to Sixfields for the first day of pre-season on Thursday, with manager Rob Page making it clear he expects the squad to have kept themselves in decent shape over the summer.
Day one was a steady introduction for the players, who all reported to the ground in groups of three for a 20-minute fitness test undertaken by with physio Anders Braastad and the sports science team.
They also had meetings with new boss Page, who will then take charge of the first full day of pre-season training on Friday, along with the club’s new performance coach John Harbin, goalkeeping coach Paddy Kenny and assistant boss Paul Wilkinson.
There was a time when players would report back for pre-season carrying more than a few extra pounds after a long and relaxing summer, but Page doesn’t expect that to be the case with the Northampton squad.
Indeed, he expects the players to be ready to hit the ground running.
“It is always the first two weeks of pre-season that are the tough two weeks that no player enjoys doing,” said Page, who will have met many of the Northampton players for the first time on Thursday.
The physio gave the players a booklet to keep a level of fitness up over the summer to enable them to come in on the first day ready to go, and let’s hope they have stuck to it. If they haven’t they will get found outCobblers boss Rob Page
“But football is changing, it is evolving every year, and hopefully the players won’t have had five or six weeks without doing anything, they will have looked after themselves and they will be coming in in a relatively fit state, ready for a tough couple of weeks.
“The physio gave the players a booklet to keep a level of fitness up over the summer.
“You don’t want to be risking injuries, and to go from doing nothing to extreme running straight away would be crazy really, because you risk soft tissue injuries.
“So we give them the booklet to enable them to come in on the first day ready to go, and let’s hope they have stuck to it. If they haven’t they will get found out.”
It is clear Page is anticipating the players will have maintained a professional approach after they had finished celebrating their Sky Bet League Two title success back in early May.
And the former Wales international has warned any player that may not have done the necessary groundwork that they face a ‘rude awakening’.
“With the additions we have brought into the squad, we haven’t brought players into this that are happy to sit on the bench, let’s not forget that,” said Page, who has signed six players since taking over from Chris Wilder.
“We have brought players in that want to be part of this football club moving forward and want to take us to that next level.
“Anybody coming in thinking they have had a great season last season, which they did have, but anybody thinking that will automatically get them a place for next season will get a rude awakening if they haven’t looked after themselves.
“If they have it will improve them as individuals, and enhance us as a squad.”
New performance coach Harbin has a reputation in the game for being something of a hard taskmaster, and it goes without saying the players are going to be sweating plenty over the next few weeks.
But Page has told them they will also be doing plenty of ballwork, starting on Friday afternoon at Moulton College.
“Day one last summer we had the balls out at Port Vale, and when you look back we didn’t have hardly any soft tissue injuries,” said Page, who is taking charge of only his second pre-season as a manager.
“There is no reason now why we can’t get the balls out and play, although we still work the players hard. They will still get their work done, but football is evolving all the time.
“Maybe the 10-mile road runs on the first day are in the past now, and it is a bit more scientific, but it has to be relevant to what they come up against on a Saturday.
“It is all about getting that specific fitness into them for a Saturday, and that is something we did really well with the last pre-season, and we saw the benefit of that.”
Following Thursday’s testing at Sixfields, the players will be doing a double session on Friday.
They will be doing running tests in the morning, so Page can ‘see where they are’ fitness wise, before heading out to the club’s improved training facility at Moulton College in the afternoon for more hard graft.
The players will then be given the weekend off, before getting back down to business on Monday.