How many players do the Cobblers need to sign? And which positions need strengthening?
There has been a little bit of a lull on the recruitment front at Sixfields in the past week or so, but you can be sure plenty of work is going on behind the scenes to get the players in to strengthen the Cobblers squad.
Manager Justin Edinburgh, head of recruitment Andy Melville and chief executive James Whiting are working hard to bring in the players the manager has targeted to prepare the Cobblers for the new Sky Bet League One campaign.
Town just managed to stave off relegation last season, and a big improvement is needed to try and ensure the team is looking towards the top end of the table rather than the bottom.
The Cobblers finished in what looks a healthy 16th in the table, but their safety wasn’t secured until the end of the penultimate match of the season, with four points eventually the difference between them and Port Vale, who finished fourth bottom.
With the make up of league one for next season now confirmed, the competition looks like it will be even tougher for Town, with Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic, Rotherham United, Portsmouth, Doncaster Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Blackpool the new kids on the block.
There are some big clubs, and some big budgets in there, and you add them to the likes of Bradford City, Charlton Athletic, Milton Keynes Dons, Bristol Rovers, Oxford United and the rest, it’s going to be a tough test and Edinburgh has to get his new signings right.
The manager’s clearout at the end of last season saw Adam Smith, Zander Diamond, Gaby Zakuani, Neal Eardley, Paul Anderson, Emmanuel Sonupe and Rod McDonald all depart Sixfields, along with six loan players.
Jak McCourt, Raheem Hanley and Harry Beautyman have also been told they can leave the club, although they all have one year remaining on their contracts.
Recruitment has been steady in the first month of the close season, with winger Daniel Powell, midfielder Sam Foley, left-back George Smith and central defender Leon Barnett signing on for a Sixfields future to date.
Striker Leon Lobjoit is another new face after he joined from UCL Division One side Buckingham Town, while youth teamers Joe Iaciofano and James Goff have signed professional contracts.
It means the overall squad size, discounting the transfer-listed trio, is 17.
With the likes of Iaciofano and Goff more likely to be sent out to develop on loan, that leaves the squad just 15-strong, and it means there are still plenty more bodies needed to be brought in.
Here, Jeremy Casey runs through the squad as it stands psoition by position, and where he feels it needs strengthening.
Contracted: David Cornell, James Goff
Action required: Edinburgh has already stated he will be signing an experienced goalkeeper, and the squad needs that. Cornell has shown promise, but it could be too much of a risk to throw him in as the number one, as he has only played 20 league matches in the past three and a half years.
Goalkeepers needed: 1
Contracted: Brendan Moloney, Aaron Phillips
Action required: Nothing, squad well stocked in this department
Right-backs needed: 0
Contracted: Dave Buchanan, George Smith. Transfer-listed: Raheem Hanley
Action required: Nothing
Left-backs needed: 0
Contracted: Leon Barnett
Action required: This is the department that needs the most attention. Until Barnett signed from Bury last week, the Cobblers didn’t have a central defender on their books. They now have one, but are going to need three more.
Central defenders needed: 3
Contracted: Daniel Powell, Sam Hoskins. Transfer-listed: Harry Beautyman
Action required: The wide areas were a problem thoughout last season, especially after Hoskins suffered his knee injury in January. The creativity, assists and pace of Ricky Holmes and Nicky Adams were sorely missed following their departure in the summer of 2016, and none of Paul Anderson, Kenji Gorre or Beautyman were up to the task. Powell does look to be an upgrade though, and everybody will be hoping Hoskins comes back fit and firing. Sam Foley can also be utilised out wide, so this could be a department that is close to being complete, but I would still like to see another genuine winger, with real pace, brought in. Somebody to get those crosses in!
Wide midfielders needed: 1
Contracted: Shaun McWilliams, John-Joe O’Toole, Matt Taylor, Sam Foley. Transfer-listed; Jak McCourt
Action required: The central midfield area is already looking fairly strong, thanks to the addition of Foley from Port Vale, and the very impressive form of teenager Shaun McWilliams at the back end of last season. John-Joe O’Toole signing a new deal was a huge boost for the Cobblers, and he should be even sharper after undergoing surgery on the groin problem that affected him in the latter stages of last season. Matt Taylor was a virtual ever-present after signing from Burnley, but as he turns 36 in November, it could be he becomes more of a peripheral figure this time around. One thing the Cobblers central midfield area lacked last season is dynamism, and I would still like to see somebody signed to add more pace and power in there. The team needs a driving force.
Central midfielders needed: 1
Contracted players: Marc Richards, Alex Revell, Leon Lobjoit, Joe Iaciofano
Action required: The attacking department is severely imbalanced. Richards and Revell have been there, and done it. They are reliable, hard-working and can score goals, but they are similar in style, both acting as focal points and target men, but lacking pace. After those two hugely experienced strikers, you are down to complete novices and unknowns in Lobjoit and Iaciofano. Both ‘know where the net is’, particularly Lobjoit who scored more than 60 goals for Buckingham Town down in UCL Division One last season, but can they step up do it in the big league? They may well do so, but I’m not sure Edinburgh can gamble on that being the case. I would be looking to bring in at least two more strikers, and ones with different attributes to Richards and Revell, with somebody with pace a definite must. At times last season Town simply had nobody who could stretch a game, get the opposition defence turning. They need that this time around.
Forwards needed: 2
So, by my reckoning it could be the Cobblers still need to sign as many as eight players ahead of the new campaign.
If they did that, it would give them a senior squad of 23 players, providing of course the three transfer-listed players can be moved on.
If they staym, then it may be Edinburgh will have to rethink some of his plans.
There is certainly still plenty of financial wheeling and dealing and squad balancing to do before the players return for pre-season at the end of June, and it will be fascinating to see what Edinburgh does.
The Cobblers boss has has made it clear his intention is to sign players on contracts rather than on loan deals, but it aalso seems inevitable loan players will have to be utilised to enhance the squad.
Anyway, the fixtures are announced on June 21, the Cobblers play their first friendly on July 8, and the new season kicks off in just 60 days’ time, so we’ll all know soon enough!