Shaun McWilliams was singled out for special praise by his manager after Saturday’s ‘magnificent’ performance against Blackpool, but Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was also keen to stress the importance of managing the teenager’s workload this season.
McWilliams, playing his first full season of men’s football, only made his senior Cobblers debut in April of this year but he’s since been thrust into the heat of battle by both previous manager Justin Edinburgh and current boss Hasselbaink.
His impressive performances, both in midfield and at right-back, have earned him deserved praise and recognition from fans, team-mates and coaches, culminating in him signing an improved contract last month, keeping him at Sixfields for another three years.
A midfielder by trade, it’s the way McWilliams has seamlessly slotted into the unfamiliar position of right-back – at least at senior level – that has been so impressive, showing his adaptability and tenacious attitude in superb performances against Gillingham last week and then Blackpool on Saturday.
The Cobblers won both games and McWilliams’ versatility has allowed Hasselbaink to look after regular right-back Brendan Moloney, who’s struggled with injury and fitness in recent years.
But the teenager’s impressive form has now given Hasselbaink a quandary for when Moloney returns to full fitness, though the Town manager is aware of the need to look after his young prospect.
“At the moment, he’s doing a job and he’s doing a very good job,” said Hasselbaink when asked about the 19-year-old following Saturday’s 1-0 win over Blackpool.
“Do we need to watch out with Shaun? Yes because he’s a young boy and we have to be able to put him in, to take him out and put him in.
“If you look at him, he hasn’t had a lot of experience of playing men’s football so we don’t want to burn him out very soon, in December for instance.
“So we do need to make sure that we can play him for the whole year but, at the moment, in that position, he’s doing a magnificent job.”
If you look at him, he hasn’t had a lot of experience of playing men’s football so we don’t want to burn him out very soon, in December for instance.
One of McWilliams’ team-mates also only had good things to say about his recent form, with Saturday’s match-winner Sam Hoskins saying: “You can see the talent he’s got, whether he’s playing central midfield or at right-back.
“He played right-back when he was a bit younger but he hasn’t played there for a while and you can see the talent he’s got because he’s stepped straight back into that position and deservedly won match of the match.”
The absence of Alex Revell from Northampton’s matchday squad on Saturday raised a few eyebrows after the striker became available for selection again having served a three-game suspension for his sending off against Bristol Rovers.
Hasselbaink instead opted for Marc Richards, Dean Bowditch and Billy Waters as his three attacking options on the bench, with Chris Long starting alongside Sam Hoskins and Daniel Powell in a front three.
“It was nothing to do with match fitness,” explained Hasselbaink. We know what kind of player Alex is and I had to make a decision (on Saturday).
“We played with one striker today and with another midfielder supporting the striker.
“At times it was 4-4-2 but I had two other strikers on the bench and I needed a defender on the bench as well as a defensive midfielder and two attacking wide players.
“So I had to make a choice between Alex and Marc Richards and that’s the choice I made.”
On Richards, whose second-half introduction against Blackpool marked his 200th appearance for the Cobblers, Hasselbaink added: “We know he’s been an important figure at this club and that the supporters like him.
“He’s always given 100 per cent here so I will go and congratulate him!”