Fixture: Northampton Town v Fleetwood Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, August 6, 3pm kick-off
Forecast: 23C, sunny
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: Brendan Moloney (groin), Raheem Hanley (calf), Jak McCourt (shoulder), Alfie Potter (not match fit). Fleetwood: Jimmy Ryan (foot), Amari’i Bell (hamstring)
Betting: Northampton 6/5, draw 9/4, Fleetwood 12/5
Likely line-ups: Northampton (4-2-3-1): Smith; Phillips, Diamond, Zakuani, Buchanan; O’Toole, M Taylor; D’Ath, Beautyman, Gorre; Revell. Fleetwood (4-4-2): Neal; McLaughlin, Pond, Eastham, Duckworth; Grant, Ryan, Jonsson, Kip; Ball, Hunter.
Man in the middle: Andy Haines
Last time out: Portsmouth 1 (Naismith) Northampton 2 (own goal, Collins); Fleetwood 2 (Grant, Cole) Crewe 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 15, 2014 – Fleetwood Town 2 (Evans 2) Northampton Town 0
Record v Fleetwood: P5 W3 D0 L2
Opposition view: Uwe Rosler only took charge of Fleetwood last Saturday but the German insists he and his side are fully prepared for the visit to Sixfields, telling the club website: “I think we are prepared. It was a very busy week but the players helped me a lot.
“It is now up to us to stand up and focus on our game, coping with the physicality of League One football, especially from a physical Northampton team, and then play our football, be brave to attack, be brave to go to Northampton and think in the mindset of winning. I think that will take us a long way.
“I know their manager, I know how he played at Port Vale, I went quite a bit over there and watched his team, so I think he’ll put his style on the Northampton team and we are aware of their strengths and areas we can hurt them.”
Cobblers connection: For the second time in three years Ryan Cresswell has been denied the chance to play in England’s third tier following promotion from League Two. The 28-year-old could have faced his former club on Saturday had he not been released by Northampton earlier this week. Having started out at Sheffield United, Cresswell’s no-nonsense style of defending has taken him to a variety of clubs in the lower echelons of the Football League during his 10-year career, including Bury, Rotherham and Southend. In July 2013, he joined Fleetwood on a two-year deal having been named in the PFA League Two Team of the Year for the previous season. His only season at the club was a successful one as he played 26 times in their promotion-winning campaign. There was to be no follow-up year at the Cod Army, though, with Cresswell moving to Northampton in September 2014 and once again he played his part in winning promotion to League One, but now finds himself at non-league Eastleigh.
James Heneghan’s preview: And so, just 91 days after the Cobblers walked off Fratton Park as the undisputed champions of League Two, the dawn of a new season is upon us once again with Fleetwood Town the first to visit Sixfields and kick-off something of a new era at Northampton Town.
With a new manager, a new division and a host of new players, it’s not been the quiet few months many may have hoped for following last year’s helter-skelter, title-winning exploits, but I suppose an all-go summer only feels fitting after the season which had it all.
And if this forthcoming campaign is anything like last year, strap yourselves in for another bumpy, roller-coaster ride.
Any thoughts of a peaceful transition from tier four to tier three were extinguished the moment Chris Wilder walked out of Sixfields to head home to Sheffield United, and ever since it’s all been about Rob Page as the new Cobblers boss looks to re-shape and re-model the squad to suit his requirements.
It’s not been all plain-sailing – it was never going to be after Wilder’s departure – but with 10 new faces through the door and the backroom staff now all in place, the foundations are there for another successful campaign, although it remains difficult to gauge just where this new Cobblers set-up are at given all the changes.
Expectations among fans range from anything between a relegation dogfight and a push for the play-offs depending on the state of your half-empty or half-full glass, but as usual, the reality lies somewhere in-between.
The quality of the arrivals should give reason for optimism, particularly the likes of Matt Taylor and Harry Beautyman who both add a sprinkling of stardust to an otherwise well-equipped squad, but that optimism is somewhat offset by the loss of three key men from last season: Ricky Holmes, Nicky Adams and Chris Wilder.
So what constitutes a good season? In truth, anything higher or between the 12th to 18th bracket should be viewed as progress because whilst avoiding an immediate return to League Two is the absolute bare minimum, it almost feels just as important to not be dragged into a relegation scrap and secure survival as early and as stress free as possible so that the bar for the following campaign can be set that little bit higher.
A mid-table finish would mean consolidation in League One in addition to providing a solid base for Page and co to build from going into future seasons.
With another attacking player or two, there’s no reason why more cannot be achieved and an outside push for promotion shouldn’t be out of the question, however this season will be a step up in both quality and intensity and those goals lost by the departures of Adams and Holmes still need replacing.
And then there’s their pre-season campaign which has been decidedly unconvincing.
Of course, pre-seasons are seldom the most accurate of guides and a couple of below-par performances should not be reason for doom and gloom.
However, with that said, friendlies can sometimes provide insight into any potential problems that may lie ahead and when you factor in the three defeats to non-league trio Nuneaton, Eastleigh and Brackley in games where Northampton conceded a total of nine goals, there is genuine cause for concern.
Injuries have not helped – and that itself is a worry – but the defence looks vulnerable and they do not totally assured of themselves, particularly Aaron Phillips at right-back who has too often been caught out of position.
This, though, is what pre-season is for: to build up match sharpness and iron out any issues, and Page will be hoping he and his players have timed it just right for when the real stuff starts.
Amidst all the mayhem of the summer, it’s easy to forget that the Cobblers currently boast a remarkable 24-game unbeaten run and they will be seeking to make that 25 this weekend having not lost in the league since last December – a 2-1 defeat to Portsmouth at Sixfields.
To do that, they must overcome a side who have endured an equally busy summer, indeed Fleetwood go into Saturday’s curtain-raiser with an even newer man at the helm than Northampton, one who was only appointed six days ago.
Steven Pressley’s resignation as Fleetwood boss came as a surprise, particularly given the timing, but the pedigree of his replacement, Uwe Rosler, is impressive, despite the German’s struggles at Leeds United, and he’s promised to give the Cobblers a difficult test this weekend.
Given the influx of new faces coupled with a new man in charge, picking Northampton’s opening-day starting XI represents something of a stab in the dark.
Adam Smith is a certain starter between the sticks whilst David Buchanan, John-Joe O’Toole and Lawson D’Ath appear likely to feature, but with injuries continuing to tot up and new signings yet to gel, anything beyond those three is not certain.
Page favours a 4-3-3 system but injuries and the personnel at his disposal may dictate otherwise for the time being as he looks to give several players their Cobblers debuts.
Brendan Moloney, Raheem Hanley and Alfie Potter are definitely out, while Aaron Phillips, Gabriel Zakuani, Matthew Taylor, Harry Beautyman, Alex Revell and Kenji Gorre are all likely to play their first competitive game for the club.
Whatever the team, whatever the result on Saturday, another fascinating, intriguing and thrilling season lies in wait. For these next few hours not a single person knows how the next nine months will pan out and what thrills and spills will be in store, and that is the beauty of sport.
And whilst talk of doing a Burton seems a tad premature, for Northampton fans, there’s every reason to for optimism. If the new regime can harness and continue the momentum from the sensational success of last season, we could be in another memorable campaign. Roll on 3pm.
Prediction: Northampton 2 Fleetwood 1