It tells all you need to know about both John-Joe O’Toole’s importance and the Cobblers’ current plight that his return to the pitch on Saturday generated the biggest roar Sixfields has heard in three games.
Repeatedly thwarted by injury over the past few months, you have to go way back to April 17 and the visit of Shrewsbury Town to find the last time O’Toole even featured in Northampton’s matchday squad.
He subsequently underwent surgery on a groin injury that had plagued him for several weeks prior but another problem picked up in pre-season continued to keep him out of action, much to the detriment of his team and the frustration of fans and managers.
Finally, having come through his first full week of training unscathed, Saturday’s visit of AFC Wimbledon presented Town’s 2015/16 player of the year with a chance to make his eagerly-anticipated return to action, replacing Shaun McWilliams on 78 minutes.
It was a week earlier than Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had forecasted but his mere presence back on a football pitch lifted the whole stadium, though he was unable to influence the result as Harry Forrester’s second-half strike heaped more misery on the struggling Cobblers.
For O’Toole though, it was just a relief to be back.
“I’ve waited a while for that,” he admitted. “I kept having stumbling blocks along the way so it’s been a real frustrating time for me but it’s great to be out there.
“So far, so good. It was my first full week training and I’m really happy to be back and now I’ve got to stay on top of it strengthening-wise and make sure it’s right.
“It’s great to get 15 minutes or so and all in all I didn’t feel too bad out there. I felt all right and that’s a start and now I need to build on it in the coming weeks, but I’m happy.”
Even the sight of O’Toole going through his paces was enough to bring warm applause from home fans all around Sixfields on Saturday, something which he doesn’t take for granted.
It’s great to get 15 minutes or so on Saturday and all in all I didn’t feel too bad out there. I felt all right and that’s a start and now I need to build on it in the coming weeks, but I’m happy.
“The fans have always been great to me here and I really appreciate it,” added the 29-year-old who penned a two-year deal at Sixfields back in April. “I know they’ve got all the lads’ backing but it’s always nice for them to be cheering your name and hopefully I can be out there scoring goals and repaying them.”
O’Toole’s return is a timely boost for the Cobblers, who are 23rd in Sky Bet League One and struggling for both goals and points.
The midfielder has scored 12 goals in each of his last two seasons and Town will need him to rediscover that form sooner rather than later to lift themselves out of trouble.
“Obviously it’s under difficult circumstances at the minute,” he continued. “We’re not doing great but there’s more than enough quality in there to get ourselves out of it so I’m not too worried.
“We’re going through a sticky patch but there’s enough talent and hard-work and desire in the dressing room to get us out of it and once it clicks I’m sure it’ll be fine.”