James Heneghan’s Northampton Town v Walsall preview
Fixture: Northampton v Walsall, Sky Bet League Two
Date/time: Saturday, August 3, 3pm kick-off
Venue: PTS Academy Stadium
Forecast: Sunny spells, 21C
Outs and doubts: Cobblers: none. Saddlers: none.
Betting: Northampton 11/8, draw 5/2, Walsall 9/5
Possible line-ups: Northampton (3-4-3): Cornell; Turnbull, Goode, Wharton; Hall-Johnson, McCormack, Lines, Martin; Adams, Warburton, Smith. Walsall (3-5-2): Roberts; Clarke, Scarr, Sadler; Norman, Pring, Sinclair, Kinsella, Guthrie; Gordon, Adebayo.
Man in the middle: Nick Kinseley
Last time out: Oldham 2 Northampton 5 (Hoskins, Pierre, Williams 2, Morias); Shrewsbury 0 Walsall 0
Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 28, 2018 – Walsall 1 (Dobson) Northampton 0
Record v Walsall: P80 W32 D15 L33
Opposition view: “Keith is a fantastic manager and has managed a lot of games now,” said Walsall boss Darrell Clarke. “They have had a lot of changes at the football club as well but they managed to get their business done a bit earlier than ourselves.
“First games are very, very strange games. Sometimes the ball becomes a bit of a hot potato. We will see how it goes but we are looking forward to going down there and putting on a good show.”
One to watch: Defender James Clarke. The composed and strong centre-back, signed from Bristol Rovers in the summer, will be expected to shore up a defence that conceded 71 league goals last season.
James Heneghan’s preview: The first game of a new football season never fails to get the juices flowing and it’s no different this time around when the revamped and recharged Cobblers host a wounded Walsall at the PTS on Saturday.
Ruthlessly ripped apart and gradually pieced back together again, Town’s squad is all change from the one which stuttered and stumbled their way towards a disappointing mid-table finish last season. Twelve have come in and almost as many have been sent packing.
Even club legends John-Joe O’Toole and David Buchanan did not survive Curle’s cull. Their absence will take some getting used to but they have been replaced by – on paper, at least – players of experience and proven quality. The new-look squad, pending one or two more additions, looks strong and certainly capable of a promotion challenge.
The first game will not make or break the season but it so often sets the tone. Think back to 2015/16 when Town’s efficient 1-0 win at Bristol Rovers was followed by an efficient, record-breaking season, or 2017/18 when an error-strewn opening-day defeat at Shrewsbury paved the way for an error-strewn, relegation-bound season.
The same could be said 12 months ago when a frustrating home loss to Lincoln set the mood for a frustrating campaign, so whilst you can’t read too much into whatever happens against Walsall – particularly with so many new faces on show – a strong start would be most welcome.
Walsall, like the Cobblers, have had a busy summer. The appointment of former Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke in May was followed by a rush of new signings – 13 in all – as they bid to bounce straight back to League One.
“Supporters know new boss Darrell Clarke isn’t going to turn around a club that has got used to losing games over night,” writes journalist Joe Masi of the Express & Star. “But whenever you are relegated the aim is always to bounce back. Clarke has an outstanding record of winning promotion and fans will be hoping he can keep the Saddlers in contention for the play-offs.”
Walsall’s most notable summer recruits include James Clarke, Mat Sadler, Stuart Sinclair, Danny Guthrie and Elijah Adebayo, although they have lost key men Andy Cook and George Dobson to Mansfield Town and Sunderland respectively.
If Dobson’s name sounds familiar to Cobblers fans, that’s because he scored the goal that essentially confirmed Town’s relegation to League Two and ensured Walsall’s survival, scoring a 90th minute winner in the penultimate game of the 2017/18 League One season – the last time these two locked horns.
But it only delayed the Saddlers’ drop down a division, which was confirmed when they finished 23rd last season after a dreadful second half of the campaign. In the 37 league games since September 23, Walsall won only seven and owned the worst record in the division.
The first game of a new season often throws up some selection headaches and, with so many new faces onboard, again that is the case. Indeed, there are decisions to be made regarding the formation, who starts in goal and what centre-back combination to go with.
Curle has switched between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 in pre-season and could do with either on Saturday. The fact that Walsall are likely to play 3-5-2 might tempt the Town boss to do likewise.
In goal, Curle has given nothing away. David Cornell played all 46 league games last season but now has strong competition from summer arrival Steve Arnold, who won’t fancy sitting on the bench having dropped down a division from Shrewsbury Town.
There are other questions too but those will be answered at 2pm tomorrow. Finally, it’s time for football to do the talking. Let the journey begin.
Prediction: Northampton Town 2 Walsall 1