IN FOCUS: Teenager McWilliams taking it all in his stride as he makes his mark at Sixfields

HAVING A BALL - Cobblers youngster Shaun McWilliams
HAVING A BALL - Cobblers youngster Shaun McWilliams

For somebody of such tender years, Shaun McWilliams has managed to take plenty in his stride in the past six months.

This time last year, the Cobblers teenager was adjusting to life as a footballer after signing his first professional contract, and was playing on loan for non-League side King’s Lynn.

He impressed for the Evo-Stik South Premier side, and was recalled by then Town boss Justin Edinburgh, who handed the Northampton-born midfielder his first team debut as a substitute in a 1-1 draw at Rochdale on April 1.

By the end of the season, he was a first choice pick, and despite a heavy summer of investment, he has once again been a key first team fixture, with new Cobblers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink selecting him in his first two Town teams, before he suffered an untimely injury.

He has fought his way back into first team contention after a month out, and in the past two matches has answered an SOS to play at right-back due to injuries to both Brendan Moloney and Aaron Phillips - and he has done it superbly in wins over Gillingham and Blackpool, claiming the man-of-the-match gong in the latter.

In many supporters’ eyes, McWilliams would already be one of the first names on the Town teamsheet, so can the player believe how things have progressed so quickly?

It has come along dramatically, and from my own personal perspective my confidence is growing. I am just loving being on the pitch, whatever position it is

Cobblers teenager Shaun McWilliams

“It has come along dramatically,” he admitted. “And from my own personal perspective my confidence is growing, and I am just loving being on the pitch, whatever position it is.”

McWilliams is set to continue as right-back for the visit of Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup first round on Saturday, and although he sees himself as a midfielder, he admits he is happy to play wherever he is asked.

“I was playing in midfield and thought I was doing well, but then I got the injury,” said the 19-year-old.

“I have been asked to play right back and been put in there, I have played there before, although not for a while, and I feel I have played well.

“At this point in time I don’t mind where I play, I just want to be on the pitch.”

McWilliams played as a right-back at youth level, and he added; “I have a rough idea about playing there, although it is a bit different now (at league one level).

“There are more tricky wingers, there are bigger and more powerful men, but I think I can do well there.”

McWilliams could face his toughest test yet on Saturday if he comes up against the Iron’s in-form winger Josh Morris, but he is focused on helping the Cobblers progress, and believes they will do.

“It is nice going into this competition knowing we got the best we could from last weekend, which was the three points,” said McWilliams.

“It would be good to go further in the FA Cup, and we want to carry on the momentum.

“It’s not the best draw, but we will go into it thinking we can get the win, and that’s what I think we will do.

“Things have changed now, and results are now going our way. We have done a lot of work on the training ground, and we can finally see things turning around.”

McWilliams’ progress through the ranks at Sixfields has been a boost for everybody concerned, with the supporters taking extra pride in the fact the player is Northampton born and bred, having played his youth football with town clubs Falcons and Soccer Stars.

And it seems the fans might soon have another ‘one of their own’ to sing about from the stands.

That’s because Shaun’s younger brother Camron is also catching the eye at Sixfields, impressing Hasselbaink so much that he was named on the bench for the Checkatrade Trophy clash at Peterborough United at the beginning of last month.

So, how does it feel for McWilliams to have his 16-year-old kid brother also knocking on the Sixfields door?

“It is quite cool actually, and having people always speaking about it,” said McWilliams.

“I speak to him at home on a daily basis, telling him what he can work on and things I can give to his game, but he will add his own bits and I am sure he will do well.

“We have our mum and dad also giving us information, so I am sure he will take it all on board and listen to what he wants to listen to.”

After growing up together, nobody will be a better judge of Camron than his big brother, so how do the two compare?

“We always played football together in the garden, in parks,” said Shaun. “We went to the same school, and then in the Academy we played a little bit together.

“He is a bit bigger than me, and he is actually a right-back! He is quite quick, he is powerful and he is a good defender.”

Hasselbaink was fulsome in his praise of McWilliams earlier this week, and it seems the Town boss has also made an impact on McWilliams.

“Everybody knows who he is, and what he has done,” said McWilliams of the former Chelsea and Leeds Unites striker.

“When he comes out on the training pitch every day, he is always putting down what he wants from the sidelines.

“He is always speaking to you, so it is a boost and it helps your confidence a lot.”

But being just 19, surely McWilliams didn’t see Hasselbaink in action - with the former Holland frontman retiring from football in 2008 - when the Town midfielder was just 10-years-old.

It seems he has been doing a bit of research, and he is impressed.

“Over the years I have seen a couple of videos,” said McWilliams. “And since he has come in (at the Cobblers) I have watched more videos of him, so I have the picture of what sort of player he was!”