Cobblers cult hero John-Joe O'Toole is getting into his stride
After Chris Wilder seemingly solved the puzzle that is John-Joe O'Toole last season, it's now the turn of Rob Page to carry on the good work and get the best out of his mercurial yet indisputably talented midfielder.
But having been named Northampton’s player of the year back in May, the opening month of the current season did not go according to plan.
O’Toole failed to have the same influence, picked up booking after booking and found himself suspended - the first player in the entire EFL to rack up five bookings - and eventually dropped from the team, with Northampton winning back-to-back home games against Milton Keynes Dons and Walsall during his time on the sidelines.
But fans continued to show their unwavering love and adulation for the 27-year-old, none more so than when seemingly the whole west stand burst into song as he was brought on as a substitute against Manchester United last Wednesday night.
And he impressed in that brief cameo too, enough to win himself a place in the starting line-up for the visit of Southend United on Saturday.
A man-of-the-match performance duly followed and all of a sudden things look rosy for both O’Toole and the Cobblers.
“It’s always frustrating when you’re not playing,” admitted O’Toole, who was at his best again in another goalscoring performance in Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory at Swindon Town.
“It was great to see the boys get the first couple of wins under our belt which was important. But it is frustrating.
“You want to be playing, as every player does, and now I’m back in, I need to build on it.”
O’Toole opened the scoring against Southend on Saturday when a sluggish first-half was followed by a rampant second as Northampton blew away their beleaguered visitors with three goals in a blistering 14-minute spell.
All three stemmed from Southend errors, goalkeeper Mark Oxley gifting O’Toole his first of the season before Jason Demetriou saw red for a needless last-man foul on Paul Anderson with Alex Revell converting the subsequent spot-kick for his third penalty in four games.
A trademark Matty Taylor free-kick made it three before Anderson’s late fourth put the gloss on a terrific victory, one which catapulted Cobblers all the way up to fifth place.
They moved fourth with the midweek win at Swindon, and it was all a far cry from their unconvincing start.
And O’Toole offered his own interesting view on what he thinks has changed between then and now.
“I thought we weren’t playing as well and I felt we were doing a lot of defending,” he explained.
“You’ve got to defend, but possibly we weren’t getting up the pitch and that’s something which we’ve been working on, as well as getting around Revs and helping him.
“I think that’s definitely improved.
“Not winning in the first five games was frustrating, but we got the win on Saturday and a couple before that and now we need to kick-on.
“It always takes a little bit of time to get used to a new manager, but I think everyone is used to him now and he’s been really good.
“Training’s been sharp and I think we can definitely improve but we’re getting there.”
O’Toole has had more ups and downs than the Grand Old Duke of York in his two and a bit years at Sixfields but one thing has always remained constant - the love of the fans.
It’s a feeling which is reciprocated too, O’Toole adding: “They’ve been brilliant with me, even when it wasn’t going too well at the start.
“They’ve been right behind me and I always hear them singing. Not all players are lucky enough to get that sort of recognition so I’m really lucky and I’m trying to thrive off it.
“I’ll always be grateful for that.
“We’re up in the play-offs now but one win and you’re up there and one loss or draw and you’re going to fall a few places, so we need to make sure we stay up there now.”