Page says O'Toole and Zakuani face fight to regain Cobblers places
Boss Rob Page admits midfielder John-Joe O'Toole and defender Gaby Zakuani are both facing a fight to regain their places in the Cobblers starting line-up.
The pair started the previous five Sky Bet League One matches this season, but missed last Sunday’s 3-2 win over Milton Keynes Dons at Sixfields.
O’Toole, who is also nursing an ankle strain, was suspended and while Zakuani was on international duty with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lewin Nyatanga replaced Zakuani at the heart of defence and produced a strong performance alongside Zander Diamond, while Harry Beautyman, with Paul Anderson making his debut out wide, switched inside to take up O’Toole’s central midfield role and was one of the team’s best players, scoring the opening goal.
Both O’Toole and Zakuani returned to full training with the Cobblers squad at Moulton on Thursday and will have been looking to impress as they know they aren’t guaranteed their place in the team for the weekend date with Walsall.
Page admitted he faces some tough selection decisions ahead of Saturday’s Sixfields showdown with the Saddlers (ko 3pm), and says no player is guaranteed their place at any time.
“We have improved the squad, and we have quality players in the squad that increase the competition for places,” said the Cobblers boss.
“That was always the inent in pre-season when we were adding players and bringing them in.
“So it’s not just John-Joe O’Toole who was out last week, every single player in that team knows they can’t rest at ease thinking they have had a good game.
“If there is any off performance, or any time they take their foot off the pedal, they know there is somebody behind them wanting to take their jersey.”
If O’Toole shrugs off his ankle knock then Page will have a fully-fit squad to pick from for Saturday, and that means several players aren’t even going to get changed for the game and will be sitting in the stands in their club tracksuit.
That is a situation that could lead to discontent in some squads, but Page is confident he has brought together a group of players that can see the bigger picture.
“The hardest part of the job is having to leave players out of the 18, not just the starting 11,” said Page.
“But with the characters we have in the dressing room, I know I can rely on any one of those to go put the jersey on when called upon.
“Using Aaron Phillips as an example, he is a first-class professional.
“He wasn’t even in the 18 last Sunday, but he was in and around it with the boys at the end of the game, and was in the changing room before the game, and that is what I expect of my players.
“They are professional, and at any time I am going to need every single one of that squad this season if we are going to be successful as a club.
“If we are going to be successful I need everybody to buy into it, and I have got that in this group of players.”