While the finer details of Dean Austin’s first team selection for next week’s opening game against Lincoln have yet to be decided, there’s one thing the Cobblers boss is not willing to budge on: the attacking, front-foot style of football his side will play this season.
Austin, who’s approaching his first full campaign as a manager, has kept everyone guessing during pre-season – including his players – having experimented with a variety of combinations and systems in Town’s five friendly victories, the latest of which came on Tuesday when strikers Andy Williams and Sam Hoskins partnered each other in a 4-4-2 for the visit of Barnet.
The Cobblers performed well and were comfortable 3-0 winners against the non-league outfit, with Hoskins and Williams both on target, but a much-changed line-up is expected to take on a Manchester United XI this Friday and with the likes of Junior Morais, Daniel Powell and Leon Barnett, among others, set to come in, Austin knows he has some tough decisions to make when the real stuff kicks off.
“I’ve said to the players that I need to have the most difficult job in the week leading up to the first game in terms of having to pick a first XI,” he said.
“They made it very tough for me at the end of last season and at the moment it’s going to be difficult to leave players out because the boys have been that good in training.
“We’ve got another game on Friday and we’ll see what happens and how we play in that but the squad and the team is shaping up quite nicely at the moment.”
Competition for places is particularly heated in central midfield with John-Joe O’Toole, Shaun McWilliams, Matt Crooks and Sam Foley among those battling it out for just two – possibly three depending on the system Austin goes with – places.
McWilliams, typically tenacious in snapping into challenges, and Crooks, who injected moments of class including one sublime through ball for Hoskins’ goal, both impressed during Tuesday’s dominant victory over Barnet, but O’Toole and Foley are likely to get their chance to shine against United on Friday.
The wealth of midfield options is a welcome problem for Austin, who says that the ability to be adaptable will be crucial as the season goes on.
“Because we have so much flexibility, I’m looking at different things at the minute and I’m looking at Lincoln’s squad and feeling how we might be able to exploit their weaknesses,” he explained.
It’s not about the system, it’s about the philosophy. We want to play offensive, attacking football. It’s just about putting the building blocks in place and edging ourselves towards becoming the complete team.
“They’ll be doing the same with us so I’m not really set on the combination yet because I want to give everyone the opportunity and the boys on Friday will have their chance to stake their claim.
“We’ve got flexibility in this team and there’s a lot of options in forward areas that allows us to be very adaptable.”
Austin has mostly played 4-4-2 in pre-season but that’s not necessarily how Cobblers will line-up when Lincoln City visit the PTS Academy Stadium for next Saturday’s League Two curtain-raiser.
The Town boss added: “We can flip what we do but that’s what we work on in training. Sometimes you might see us play with two strikers down the middle and sometimes you might see us with one down the middle, one off and then two wingers high up.
“But it’s not about the system, it’s about the philosophy. We want to play offensive, attacking football. We know what we want to do, we know what we’re about,we know what we’re good at and we know where we need to improve.
“It’s just about putting the building blocks in place and edging ourselves towards becoming the complete team, but we’ll never be the complete team because I’m never happy!”