Cobblers 2 MK Dons 1 - six talking points from Friday's impressive friendly win

After three successive defeats, Friday's impressive 2-1 victory over MK Dons was a timely boost for the Cobblers and their fans heading into next Saturday's League Two opener against Walsall.

Saturday, 27th July 2019, 1:08 pm
Reece Hall-Johnson tackles Joe Mason. Picture: Pete Norton

It was not so much the result - although welcome - but the dominant nature of Town's performance that served up plenty of positives for manager Keith Curle who will now have some selection quandaries for next week's visit of the Saddlers.

Here are five talking points from Friday's friendly at the PTS.

Scoreline flatters undercooked Dons

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The 2-1 final score indicates a tight game but in truth it was anything but. The Cobblers were the superior team for much of the contest, particularly in the opening 45 minutes when they created at least three clear chances - including Sam Hoskins' well-worked and well-taken early opener - to MK Dons' none.

They were only denied a bigger lead at half-time by visiting stopper Lee Nicholls who saved impressively from Hoskins and Matty Warburton while Harry Smith also threatened.

The second-half was less one-way traffic but even when Keith Curle rang the changes, Town continued to create the better chances. In addition to Smith's well-directed header, Scott Wharton nodded over, Warburton side-footed wide and Andy Williams twice went close late on.

Dons scarcely deserved Kieran Agard's late goal as Curle's side were also solid in defence, led by captain Charlie Goode whose terrific performance meant goalkeeper David Cornell had little to do. Second-half stopper Steve Arnold was equally untroubled.

Paul Tisdale's side provided a good gauge for the Cobblers given their promotion last season but they looked a little undercooked, perhaps a result of their light pre-season schedule. Before Friday, they had played games against solely non-league opposition in Oxford City, Brackley Town, Welwyn Garden City and Hemel Hempstead.

McCormack will be key

The difference between a good season and a great season for Northampton may well hinge on the fitness of Alan McCormack. He only played 45 minutes on Friday but that was enough time for him to demonstrate the quality, experience and knowhow he brings in the middle of the park.

Sitting in front of the defence, he acted as the midfield general, ordering the troops around and barking out orders. He mopped up attacks effectively and picked out some nice passes to kick-start moves in the opposite direction. With Chris Lines also impressing on the ball, Town have a midfield partnership to rival any team in the division.

Whilst much will depend on McCormack's fitness - he struggled with injury throughout his time at Luton - just having him around will hugely beneficial for the team, particularly for the younger members of the squad such as Shaun McWilliams and Scott Pollock.

Adams can't do it all on his own

Nicky Adams will inevitably be Town's creative fulcrum this season but if Town are to sustain a promotion challenge over nine months, they will need others to step up.

Adams grabbed another two assists on Friday, delivering a perfect cross for Sam Hoskins to side-foot home before repeating the trick in the second-half when this time Harry Smith reaped the rewards.

The Adams-Smith partnership could be a productive one once the campaign gets underway next weekend but Cobblers can't solely rely on Adams for their creative output. If injury or loss of form strikes, the likes of Warburton and Hoskins, among others, must lend a helping hand.

Little and large combo works well

One of the notable features of the first-half on Friday was the partnership between Smith and Warburton. With Smith roughing up defenders, winning headers and holding the ball up, Warburton buzzed around in the space between Dons' defence and midfield and acted as the link man.

Two chances were the result of their link play and it could become an effective tactic throughout the season. Warburton seems to have a knack for finding space in the box - his movement brought him two good chances on Friday - while Smith's physical attributes will give any defence a tough time.

Captaincy brings out the best in Goode

The home side were not required to do much defending during Friday's friendly but when Dons did threaten, they struggled to find a way past Town's new captain.

There were two instances in the first-half when Goode came to the fore, first putting his body on the line to block a goalbound effort and then positioning himself perfectly to hack away a dangerous cross.

There were more examples of good defending during his time on the pitch, too, and with Jordan Turnbull also playing well and new signing Scott Wharton slotting in seamlessly, Curle has some tough decisions at the heart of his defence.

Now for the real stuff

Ultimately, pre-season counts for very little when the season gets underway. Cobblers have had a mixed campaign, winning two, losing three and drawing one, but it might just be that they're peaking at the right time.

Having struggled in defeat to Brackley on Tuesday - something Curle later explained - they were sharper, fitter and fluent versus MK Dons three days later. A repeat performance against Walsall next Saturday will do nicely.