THE BIG KICK-OFF: Skipper Richards impressed by strength of Cobblers squad

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Marc Richards rates the current Sixfield squad as one of the strongest he has been involved with during his five years as a Cobblers player.

The Town skipper has spent a long time at Town, split over two spells, and has been involved in some pretty good campaigns along the way.

In his first two seasons at the club from 2003 to 2005, the Cobblers made the league two play-offs before suffering semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Mansfield Town and Southend United respectively.

Following his return to the club in 2014, Richards has been part of a mid-table league two finish, that stunning title success under Chris Wilder, and then a consolidating campaign in league one last term.

He has seen many players come and go, but after what has been a very, very busy summer of recruitment, Richards believes manager Justin Edinburgh has pieced together a powerful looking unit.

“Certainly as regards to strength in depth, this is one of the strongest squads I have worked with at Northampton,” said the 35-year-old, who has made 132 starts and 51 substitute appearances for the Cobblers, scoring 62 goals.

There are going to be players who might miss out on match day squads... I would say from top to bottom, nobody is safe

Cobblers skipper Marc Richards

“There are going to be players who might miss out on match day squads, who would be looking to start games.

“That is going to be disappointing for them, but they then need to work hard and find a way of getting into the squad, and then getting in the team, and that goes for everybody.

“Shaun McWilliams is 18 or 19 years old and he is going to be looking for a start because he is a good player, and the gaffer knows he is a good player.

“So I would say from top to bottom, nobody is safe.”

The summer of departures and signings has been one of the busiest for many years.

The last time a Town manager was so busy, and so flushed with money to invest, was probably Martin Wilkinson back in the summer of 2003.

He was tasked with rebuilding the squad after relegation from league one, and brought in a host of quality players, spending a club record £165,000 on Josh Low, and also signing the likes of Martin Smith and Ashley Westwood, and a 21-year-old Richards from Blackburn Rovers.

So how does the current squad compare to the class of 2003?

“I think this is a stronger squad than the one Martin Wilkinson put together,” said Richards. “It’s a different level of football isn’t it?

“There were a lot of players then that came from a higher level to drop down to the league two, and the two seasons I was here we didn’t quite cut it.

“We made the play-offs but we weren’t quite good enough, so I think this squad is stronger.

“There is a lot more strength in depth, but that’s not to say that wasn’t a good squad, because it was, there were a lot of good players in there.”

The current squad kicks off the new season with a trip to Shrewsbury Town on Saturday, and Richards believes the pre-season campaign has been a good one.

With so many new faces, the squad travelled to Spain for a training camp, and that allowed for players to get to know each other.

The team has played six friendlies, losing just one to AFC Rushden & Diamonds, and they wrapped things up with a 2-1 home win over league two Newport County last Saturday.

And the skipper feels everything is coming together nicely ahead of the trip to the New Meadow.

“It can take time for teams to gel with so many new faces coming through the door, but I think we have shown through pre-season that the players we have brought in are really good characters,” he said.

“We have all gelled nicely, although I don’t think the game was too pretty last Saturday.

“That said, we found a way to win, which is the main thing.”