Aidy Boothroyd says Alex Nicholls is ‘as brave as a lion’ - but that it was that quality that led to him breaking his leg against Port Vale in October.
Town play Port Vale this afternoon (ko 3pm) and Nicholls is due to travel to the game as part of a recent policy - suggested by the players themselves - to take all injured squad members to away matches.
It is likely to mean an emotional afternoon for the player, who has been sidelined with a double fracture of his left leg that was inflicted by Valiants defender John McCombe.
It occurred as Nicholls scored the opening goal in a 2-0 win at Sixfields and represents his final contribution to a season in which he had already scored eight goals after a summer move from Walsall.
Boothroyd commends the striker - who is not expected to return to first team action until the autumn - for the bravery he showed at that moment but confesses he wished Nicholls had not been so courageous.
“When you’re a centre-forward going in on goal you’ve got two options,” he said.
“You can let the player tackle you and take the ball off you and not score or you can go for it
“And we’ve got a player that was brave enough to go for it. If I was a manager I would want my defender to make a last-ditch challenge like that one (McCombe’s).
“How they did that is debateable and sometimes it’s an unfortunate tackle or somebody not being in control of their body or their momentum.
“It was a little while ago now and as far as I’m concerned I would rather Alex hadn’t been brave at that moment on that day, because we might be 12 points better off and having a different conversation.
“But he is what he is, he’s as brave as a lion and I’m sure longer term he’ll bounce back from this like he did his previous broken leg.”
McCombe, who was sent off at Sixfields for the challenge and who tried to contact Nicholls after the match to apologise, is unlikely to start with Darren Purse and former Cobblers loan man Liam Chilvers the preferred combination at the heart of the Vale defence.
McCombe’s absence will also deny the visiting supporters an outlet for their frustrations at losing a key player, but Boothroyd played down that factor and instead chose to focus on the importance of nurturing Nicholls back to full fitness.
“I don’t think it’s a motivation for us,” he said.
“All of the players and all of the staff have a high regard for Alex and he’s come through a couple of big setbacks since then.
“He’s in training every day and he’s working hard at getting himself back to full fitness. The sooner we have him back the better.
“It’s going to be a long road for him but the main focus for us is trying to get a similar result to the one we got that day.
“It was a sad day but the rest of the team have picked up the baton since then and we’ve done well without him.”