Cobblers defenders Artell and Johnson closing in on playing return

Fit-again defensive duo David Artell and John Johnson will be given a run-out in a behind-closed-doors reserve-team game in the next fortnight as they step up their returns from medium-term injuries.

And manager Aidy Boothroyd wants the pair back as soon as possible to increase his options for the second half of a campaign that has improved recently with five wins from the past six home matches.

The two players will both rejoin full training on Monday after overcoming their ailments - Artell has been out since October 9 with an Achilles problem with Johnson has undergone a second operation of the season on a knee injury.

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The right-back had keyhole surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee and made a playing comeback in November only for the injury to flare up again and require more treatment.

Boothroyd admits he rushed Johnson into the fray the first time but is keen to get him and Artell back in the selection frame as a matter of urgency to increase his defensive options - which were increased today with the signing of Clarke Carlisle - and the depth of his squad.

“I want to get them back as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s always nice for me as a manager to have players raring to go on the sidelines.

“It gives the players in the team and who have got the shirts that little bit more edge or urgency because they know if they don’t perform people will take their places.

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“That’s good to have and plus it gives everyone a bit of a confidence boost because they look at the bench and see that things can be changed, and the opposition see what we’ve got as well.

“They will look at our squad and think we haven’t got a lot of numbers but we have got quality and we can change it when we want to.

“That’s where I’ve always wanted to get to. It’s an elusive position where you’ve got six or seven players on your bench that you know can change a game.

“I don’t think we’ve been that strong for a long time. When we get these guys back, we’ll be strong.”

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The next stage for both players is a run-out in a practice match, something the club has been working on for the past week but on which they will step up their efforts in the next few days.

“We’ll certainly get a run-out organised for those two (Artell and Johnson),” said Boothroyd.

“We’ve had a couple lined up but because of the amount of games those teams have had or because of injuries those matches have fallen through.

“We’ll get a game for them somewhere though and we’ll get them some match practice because we need to get their timing back.”

The Cobblers are back in npower League Two action tomorrow (Sat) when they entertain Fleetwood at Sixfields (ko 3pm)