Fixture: Shrewsbury Town v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Saturday, August 5, 3pm kick-off
Venue: Montgomery Waters Meadow
Forecast: 17C, showers
Outs and doubts: Shrewsbury: Joe Riley (ankle). Cobblers: John-Joe O’Toole (groin), Brendan Moloney (hamstring), Shaun McWilliams (ankle), Sam Hoskins (knee), Sam Foley (ankle)
Betting: Shrews 6/4, draw 23/10, Cobblers 9/5
Likely line-ups: Northampton (3-4-1-2): Cornell; Barnett, A Taylor, Pierre; Powell, Crooks, M Taylor, Buchanan; Bowditch; Waters, Richards. Shrewsbury (4-4-2): Henderson; Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Brown; Whalley, Ogogo, Nolan, Rodman; Morris, Dodge
Man in the middle: Seb Stockbridge
Most recent meeting: Monday, April 17, 2017 – Northampton 1 (Richards) Shrewsbury 1 (Sadler)
Record v Shrewsbury: P51 W20 D10 L21
Opposition view: “Pre-season’s finished now and overall I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen,” Shrews boss Paul Hurst told the club’s website this week. “The work rate of the players has been good and I think we are in a decent place going into that first game, so the overall view is a happy one.
“Having given it some thought I now have an 11 in mind for Saturday, but if I see something else this week then that might give me second thoughts.”
Cobblers connection: Now into his fifth different loan spell since leaving Sixfields, Ivan Toney’s career has not taken off in the way he might have hoped when he switched Northampton for Newcastle in 2015. The talented 21-year-old, who was courted by several clubs while at the Cobblers, has played a grand total of 45 minutes over four substitute appearances in his two years at Newcastle, but he’s spent most of his time away from St James Park. Indeed, his most successful loan spell came at Shrewsbury Town where he scored seven times, including twice against the Cobblers, in 25 appearances last season. Only this week Toney was loaned out for a fifth time with Town’s League One rivals Wigan Athletic his destination on this occasion.
James Heneghan’s preview: Excitement and optimism are rarely in short supply ahead of the opening league fixture of any new campaign, but there is an extra layer of intrigue for the Cobblers this weekend as their revamped squad undergoes its first proper examination.
Shrewsbury too are a team on the up and boast understandable confidence going into this weekend, all the more so after a highly impressive pre-season campaign that has yielded wins over four Championship sides in Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Burton Albion and Wolves.
That intrigue stems from the fact that no one is quite sure what to expect over the next nine months following a remarkable summer of transfer activity that has seen 12 players join amid a splattering of departures, making for an almost entirely new-look squad.
For now the mood is one of optimism, which is in stark contrast to three months ago when the Cobblers were held to a home goalless draw by Gillingham to mark a tame end to a tame season.
There is at least some continuity on the manager front - unlike last summer when they made the fateful move of going from Chris Wilder to Rob Page - as Justin Edinburgh prepares for his full campaign as the main man at Sixfields.
But with new investment and an all-changed squad, there are many questions to be answered and the first of those may come this weekend.
On paper, Shrewsbury, one of the favourites for relegation among the bookies, present an ideal opportunity to hit the ground running but, like Town, they have justified optimism ahead of Saturday’s clash.
A settled side bolstered by several summer acquisitions, they have been on the rise under the excellent guidance of manager Paul Hurst, who did a remarkable job in hauling them away from desperate trouble last season.
It was just prior to his appointment last October when the rock-bottom Shrews appeared doomed for the drop following a dreadful performance in a 4-2 defeat to the Cobblers, despite Ivan Toney’s brace. Back then they looked cast-iron certainties for relegation.
But Hurst, brought in from Grimsby Town, steadied the ship and gradually led them away from danger before a brilliant run of form around February time was ultimately enough to keep them up as they eventually finished 18th, just two points shy of Northampton.
So they too are a team on the up and boast understandable confidence going into this weekend, all the more so after a highly impressive pre-season campaign that has yielded wins over four Championship sides in Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Burton Albion and Wolves.
Those victories have been mixed with defeats to non-league AFC Telford and Brackley Town but, nevertheless, Saturday still represents a tricky start for Northampton, and that could well be a running theme in this competitive-looking division.
The Cobblers are one of those teams who could end up just about anywhere, from a play-off challenge to another bottom half struggle. Among many factors, much will hinge on how quickly their new-look squad click together.
But an improvement on last year’s 16th place finish should be viewed as the bare minimum. Beyond that, there is no reason why they cannot push top half, top 10 or even challenge the play-offs. They have the players and the squad depth to do so, but of course the proof will be in the pudding.
The Cobblers are not helped this weekend by five absentees. John-Joe O’Toole (groin), Brendan Moloney (hamstring) and Shuan McWilliams (ankle) must wait at least another week to kick-start their own campaigns, and it’ll be a much longer wait for longer-term duo Sam Foley (ankle) and Sam Hoskins (knee) who are eyeing September returns.
Still, Edinburgh has much to ponder and it will be fascinating to see his first team selection on Saturday which will undoubtedly include a raft of debutants, perhaps up to eight.
David Cornell will be in goal as the Cobblers boss continues to wait for his first-choice keeper option, while Ash Taylor, Aaron Pierre and Leon Barnett appear certain to start in a three-man defence.
With Moloney out, Powell has been preferred over Phillips at right wing-back in pre-season and could be again at New Meadow, with David Buchanan on the opposite flank.
The two Matts, Crooks and Taylor, are likely to partner each other in midfield with perhaps Dean Bowditch behind a front two of Marc Richards and Billy Waters.
So that’s potentially seven competitive debuts as well as new system to implement. How will they go? We’re about to find out. Bring on 3pm.
Prediction: Shrewsbury Town 1 Northampton Town 2