Sky Bet League One player of the month John-Joe O’Toole admits he was ‘gutted’ to see title-winning skipper Marc Richards leave the Cobblers in the January transfer window - but knows people moving on is ‘part and parcel of the game’.
O’Toole also declared he feels ‘a bit lost’ following the break-up of Chris Wilder’s 2016 team, but says he is encouraged by the character and quality of the current Cobblers squad
Indeed, he believes there is no reason why, given time, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s class of 2018 can’t replicate the ‘unbreakable’ spirit of Wilder’s relentless trophy winning team.
O’Toole, who on Friday was named league one’s player of the month for January, is one of an ever-dwindling number of survivors from Town’s title-winning season, and last Saturday against Rochdale he was the only man on the pitch still at the club from that era.
Richards’ departure means that only O’Toole, Dave Buchanan, Brendan Moloney and Sam Hoskins remain from the squad that lifted the league two trophy in April, 2016.
There has been a remarkable turnover of players, and managers too, in those 20 months at Sixfields, and O’Toole admits he does miss some of the big characters who have graced the club in recent years.
Sometimes you think if we had kept that squad together what might have happened? But, you know that’s not how it goes, you have to adaptJohn-Joe O’Toole
But he is also optimistic about the potential of the current squad.
Nine new faces joined in the January transfer window and the playing unit is up there with the biggest and most expensive ever assembled at Sixfields.
Not surprisingly, fans’ favourite and key player O’Toole has survived the culls undertaken by Rob Page, Justin Edinburgh and now Hasselbaink, so is a good person to judge how the current squad compares with the era of Richards, Ricky Holmes, Nicky Adams, Zander Diamond and the crew.
“It is very different, and I feel a bit lost without a few of them now to be honest,” said O’Toole, who at 29 is now the fourth oldest member of the squad behind Buchanan, Sam Foley and Richard O’Donnell.
“I was gutted to see Rico go, as I think he still had a lot to offer.
“You only have to see that he has gone to Swindon and made an instant impact, whereas perhaps here maybe we didn’t really play to his strengths.
“If you get the ball to him in the box then he will score you goals. He was probably the best finisher at the club and his goal record speaks for itself.
“He was a great skipper, a great person to have about and he is a legend here now, so it was a bit gutting seeing him go.
“But you have other lads that have gone as well, and it is one of those things that you have to adapt, and you have to get on with it as it’s part and parcel of the game.”
Asked how he thinks the two squads compare, O’Toole said: “That is so hard, because we were so successful that year, and there have been a lot of changes to the squad.
“Sometimes you think if we had kept that squad together what might have happened? But, you know that’s not how it goes, you have to adapt.
“There have been some good players since then (the title win), and there have been some not so good players, probably too many.
“The bond that I suppose you have with players takes a while to develop, it doesn’t happen overnight, and I think success brings that as well.
“If you start winning, you get together and it is a different mentality, you think you are sort of unbreakable, and I don’t see why we can’t do that.
“We have the ability and there are different types of characters in there now, and it is a lot younger than it was.
“That has its good points, but it sometimes lacks a little bit when it comes to experience, but if we can get a good run together and get ourselves safe this season, then next season who knows?”
O’Toole is delighted to have been rewarded for his efforts in 2018 so far with the player of the month award, but he says the most important thing is that his form has helped the team claim some much-needed points.
It was a rewarding few weeks for O’Toole, who scored four goals in four games to help Town to wins over Southend United, Bradford City and Milton Keynes Dons, as well as a 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers.
Asked for a standout moment, O’Toole said: “It has been all of it, I can’t really single out a moment.
“It’s just nice for us as a group to be getting a few wins together, which we all knew that we needed.
“We had four good results, with the draw at Blackburn being a good one as well as they are a really strong team. That was a good point.
“The game last Saturday (Cobblers lost to Rochdale 1-0) was a kick in the teeth as we weren’t at the races, and we can’t have days like that when we are down there and fighting for our lives.
“But we just need to get back to it, and we have a good opportunity on Saturday (at AFC Wimbledon) as it is a more than winnable game, and we have to kick on from there.
“It’s been a good month, but we are not out of it and we need to kick on again and steer well clear of that bottom four.”