Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has welcomed the long-awaited return of key man John-Joe O’Toole and hopes he can help spark the Cobblers into life after the midfielder finally made his first appearance of the season on Saturday.
Following surgery back in April, it was hoped O’Toole would be in for a trouble-free campaign this time around having struggled with a persistent groin problem for much of the back end of last term.
But, frustratingly, that has been far from the case due to a second, similar injury sustained in pre-season, something which had plagued him for the first two months of the campaign and prevented him from even appearing in a matchday squad prior to the visit of AFC Wimbledon.
He took several injections in a bid to regain full fitness before biting the bullet and undergoing another operation, and thankfully that seemed to fix the issue.
After coming through his first full week of training unscathed, Hasselbaink opted to take a gamble and put O’Toole – who signed a two-year deal earlier in 2017 – on the bench for Saturday’s clash.
The sight of the midfielder going through his paces up and down the touchline was met by cheers from home fans all around Sixfields, and his 78th minute introduction prompted the loudest roar of the day, such is his popularity with the Northampton faithful.
O’Toole’s progress surprised even Hasselbaink, who had previously stated that it would likely be another week until the 29-year-old returned to action.
His return to the pitch was a timely boost though, and now the Cobblers will be hoping O’Toole can hit the ground running and quickly replicate the heights of the past two seasons when he netted 12 goals in each campaign.
Hasselbaink said: “It was not a lie when I spoke in the week but he did so well in training that I thought ‘you know what, let’s put him on the bench and see if I can get him 10 minutes’, but I expected to be 2-0 and then give him a chance.
“I also knew it would lift the fans to see him back and I thought he might put one in. He’s somebody who’s not afraid and nothing fazes him and that’s what we need at the moment.
He’s somebody who’s not afraid and nothing fazes him and that’s what we need at the moment.
“He’s committed and we need that and we can use that little bit of steel and no-nonsense and that is the player that he is.”
In further good news, Sam Hoskins also made his first start of the season on Saturday having gradually worked his way back to full fitness from a long-term knee injury.
“We had to go with two small ones,” added Hasselbaink, who deployed Hoskins in a front two alongside Billy Waters against AFC Wimbledon.
“Sam has just come back and it was his first start after his injury. I played him longer than I should have done so I took a risk.
“But he did OK and now he needs time.”