FEATURE: Homegrown trio backed to become key players for Cobblers
Although this coming summer is expected to be one of major change for the Cobblers with plenty of comings and goings, three players who could become integral squad members next season may already be at the club.
Perhaps it was a nod to the future from manager Keith Curle when he selected three young, talented and homegrown players in his starting line-up for Saturday’s final game of the season at Oldham Athletic.
Shaun McWilliams, in for his 29th appearance of the campaign, has established himself as a first-team player for a couple of years now but remains only 20 while Jay Williams and Scott Pollock, both 18, have broken through under Curle this season, playing 14 and five games respectively.
All three started together for the first time at Boundary Park on Saturday and they were part of an impressive team performance full of energy and purpose as the Cobblers ran out emphatic 5-2 winners over their fellow mid-table finishers.
Williams, at centre-back, defended well in one-on-one situations, Pollock showed plenty of neat touches and McWilliams provided the energy and impetus in central midfield, playing a key role in Town’s fifth goal.
So with many ins and outs expected over the coming few months, will McWilliams, Williams and Pollock become first-team regulars next season?
“They’re three players of a group of seven or eight that we’ve got where we’ve identified areas they can improve on,” said Curle following his side’s win over Oldham.
“We want to create a learning environment and they have the credentials if they maintain their application and attitude towards learning their game, learning their craft and learning their profession.
“We’re employing a development coach next season and we want to create the right environment.
“You see a lot of young players get identified because of the badges that I’ve mentioned before - I like to identify young players that are working at their game and working at their craft on the training ground and that’s the culture we’re trying to create at the club.”
Speaking about their performances against Oldham and why he selected them, Curle added: “People might say it was a brave decision but in my mind it’s the right decision to give them the opportunity to showcase what they’ve been working on in training.
“Jay Williams will learn from every game he plays and he will pick up the artistry that’s required from being a centre-back. It’s not all about winning the first contact, sometimes it’s the game understanding and the positional understanding.
“He had Charlie Goode one side of him and Aaron Pierre the other and they would have given him good guidance.
“Within 10 minutes we changed the shape and swapped Scotty Pollock with Sam Foley and again he’s got good neat touches and he’s a forward-thinking player.
“I didn’t think he got close enough to them for the first 10 or 15 minutes and they were allowed to play training ground football whereby they were popping it around and we couldn’t get a touch of the ball.
“But put Sam Foley back in there and he destroys play, breaks play up and gets on the front foot very quickly so it’s very, very pleasing.”
Curle recently spoke about the importance of young players maintaining their focus on football amid all the distractions and whilst he did not directly refer to McWilliams, the 20-year-old’s prolonged absence from the matchday squad – partly due to injury – prior to his return against Yeovil last weekend raised questions.
“Shaun McWilliams has been biding his time to get back into the team,” Curle continued. “He’s had a niggling injury and he’s had to adjust to new demands that have been put on him and simplifying his game.
“I want Shaun to break play up, retain possession and get us on the front foot very quickly.
“That’s not as discredit to him because you find good players at higher up the pyramid they play one or two touch football and they play forward and that’s what we encourage Shaun to do.”