“I need to be playing… whether that’s here or elsewhere” - those were the words of a forthright John-Joe O’Toole as Northampton’s enigmatic midfielder opened up about a difficult 12 months since signing for the club last summer.
Speaking in a candid post-match interview after Northampton’s 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night, in which he netted his second headed goal of the season, O’Toole admitted to his growing frustration and disappointment with how his Cobblers career has panned out.
The 27-year-old has been heavily out of favour this season after being placed on the transfer list by manager Chris Wilder in May, but he made the most of a rare start on Tuesday and is now desperate to win more first-team opportunities and prove his worth at Sixfields.
O’Toole’s goal, which cancelled out Adebayo Azeez’s early opener, was almost a carbon copy of his opening day strike against Bristol Rovers as he expertly guided a David Buchanan cross into the far corner.
It meant the former Rovers man has already matched his goal tally from the entirety of last season, and he is hopeful that will be enough to convince Wilder to give him an extended run in the side.
However, with opportunities limited, O’Toole admits he may have to move elsewhere to play regularly.
He said: “I’ve just been looking for more opportunities and hopefully I’ve taken it because I want to hold down a regular place.
“It’s been disappointing for me this season but I can only stick with it in training, work hard and wait for my time.
“The manager has told me I’m not in his plans, but I feel I’m at an age where I need to play and I feel like I should be playing.
“But if you’re not in the manager’s plans you’re looking elsewhere.
“I’m really disappointed.
“Obviously everyone knows last season didn’t go too well for one reason or another but this year I’ve felt a lot sharper and I feel like that, when I do play, I’m going to do a much better job than last year.
“It has been so frustrating but you just don’t know what’s going to happen or what’s around the corner in football.
“Hopefully I can kick on, get my head down and maybe change Wilder’s mind or get noticed by someone else and crack on elsewhere, because I need to be playing.
“If I’m not in the manager’s plans then it works out best for everyone if I’m not in his way and I progress my career somewhere else.”
Playing just his second game of the season, it was no surprise to see O’Toole tire as the Tuesday’s encounter wore on, but with more games under his belt, the midfielder is confident he can regain his best form.
“Getting through 90 minutes was a little bit on my mind as I’ve only had two games in pre-season and haven’t played much since then,” he added.
“But I felt quite strong tonight with that in mind.
“I feel fit and sharp and with another game or two I’ll be flying, so hopefully I can get in the team on Saturday and kick on again.”
Tuesday’s draw takes Northampton’s points tally to 15 from 10 games this season, and O’Toole feels they’re well placed to launch a promotion challenge.
He continued: “I think we should be up there with the team we’ve got.
“We can’t be getting carried away but we’ve got to keep picking up points and we should be up there by the end of the season.
“The boys always want to win every game and maybe with the quality we have we should be looking to win these sort of games, but it was a tough match against Wimbledon and sometimes you just have to dig in, take your point and move on.”