Five talking points from Cobblers' opening-day victory against Port Vale

Jon Brady's men get up and running with slender victory

By James Heneghan
Monday, 9th August 2021, 12:19 pm
Updated Monday, 9th August 2021, 12:20 pm
The number one spot is Liam Roberts' to lose.
The number one spot is Liam Roberts' to lose.

Cobblers kicked off the new season with a 1-0 victory over Port Vale on Saturday.

Benny Ashley-Seal scored the only goal of the game as Town won on the opening day for the first time since 2016.

On a good day all-round for the Cobblers, here are a few talking points from Sixfields...

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Roberts is Brady's number one

For a long time it was unclear who would be first-choice between the sticks this season. Summer signings Liam Roberts and Jonny Maxted joined Northampton with similar reputations and both had been regulars for their respective former clubs in League Two over the last couple of seasons.

But towards the end of pre-season, it became apparent that Roberts was Brady's preferred choice and his excellent performance in Town's final pre-season friendly at Cambridge United last weekend confirmed the decision.

He got the nod on Saturday and all in all it was a solid enough start. Whilst he had nothing major to do, his handling was secure and when required he came out to gather balls into his box. Stiffer tests await and Maxted will be hot on his heels - he could well start at Coventry in midweek - but for now it's Roberts' place to lose.

Strong start for new CB pairing

Despite eventually being relegated, the Cobblers ended last season with a stable and dependable centre-back partnership of Fraser Horsfall and Lloyd Jones. The loss of Jones during the early stages of the summer transfer window was a blow, but Northampton's recruitment team appear to have replaced him well with the addition of Jon Guthrie, and with Horsfall picking up from where he left off last season, the two have the makings of a strong pairing.

They were arguably the two best players on the pitch against Vale. Horsfall was aggressive and dominant and Guthrie composed as both won nearly every aerial battle en route to an opening-day clean sheet. It was especially impressive given the direct and physical threat of the opposition. It's only one game but the early signs are promising.

Mills can't take it easy

He might have been confirmed as Brady's captain last week, and he played well against Vale on Saturday, but Joseph Mills can't rest on his laurels this season.

Brady admitted it was not a straightforward decision to start Mills, and the electric cameo of Ali Koiki in the final 15 minutes further highlighted the competition at left-back. Koiki is quick, powerful and technically adept. His very first act as a late substitute was to beat one man and tee up Shaun McWilliams, and he also surged away on one or two other counter-attacks, leaving defenders for dead.

Pace is not a commodity the Cobblers have been blessed with in recent seasons but with Koiki, Connolly and others, this team shouldn't have any problems in that department. Koiki's game still needs refining but he provides Brady with a different option at both left-back and on the wing.

Plenty more to come

The first game of any new season is a unique occasion, emphasised further this year due to the long-awaited return of supporters. Players are eager to impress and new signings are still settling in and that often makes for a frenetic, error-strewn affair.

It was no different between Town and Vale on Saturday. Brady would have been delighted by the result but the performance was one of a team still getting to know each other. You would hope and expect that things can only go in one direction from here as the season settles down into its usual rhythm and players build those 'connections', as Brady so often refers to.

It's so good to have fans back!

But the best bit about Saturday did not come on the pitch, rather it was in the stands. Just under 6,000 people were in attendance at Sixfields, including 1,000 from Port Vale, and it made for a fantastic atmosphere.

It was nice to have football last season because it provided a distraction from everything else, but the absence of supporters meant it was never quite the same. Saturday was a reminder of the value of fans - there was nothing better than hearing that huge roar when Benny Ashley-Seal found the net.