Plenty of work to do as Page prepares Cobblers for life in league one

Cobblers chairman Kelvin Thomas (left) and manager Rob Page
Cobblers chairman Kelvin Thomas (left) and manager Rob Page

With just three weeks to go until the Cobblers players return for pre-season training on July 1, there is still plenty of work to be done on recruitment at Sixfields.

New boss Rob Page this week called for patience as he goes about his business, trying to find the right men to add to the 17-strong group of players he already has, and he is right to do so.

The end-of-season shock of losing manager Chris Wilder to Sheffield United threw a huge spanner in the works in terms of the club’s plans for life in Sky Bet League One.

Chairman Kelvin Thomas moved quickly to replace Wilder, taking just a week to persuade Page his future lay away from Port Vale and with Northampton, and the Welshman has now had three weeks to get his feet under the table.

After taking advice, he released five players on his second day in the job and then allowed Nicky Adams to leave and sign for Carlisle United.

Danny Rose, who had been offered a new deal at Sixfields, has decided his future lies on the south coast at Portsmouth, and with loan players John Marquis, Luke Prosser and James Collins all going back to their parent clubs too, it means the Town squad is perhaps a little lighter in numbers than some fans would have anticipated as we head towards the middle of June.

Particularly as the Cobblers have known they are going to be playing in league one since April 9, the day they clinched promotion with a 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers.

There is still plenty of time before the season starts on August 6, and Page is right not to rush in and just make signings for the sake of it.

He and head of recruitment Andy Melville are working hard behind the scenes in terms of attracting players to the club, players that they believe will add extra quality to what is already in place at Sixfields.

New signings will be announced in the coming weeks, but as it stands just one new player has been brought to the club in the shape of right-back Aaron Phillips.

The 22-year-old was snapped up after he was released by Coventry City, and he joins the 15 senior players left at the club from last season’s Sky Bet League Two title-winning campaign, and also 17-year-old academy graduate Shaun McWilliams in making up the 17-man squad contracted for the new campaign.

Phillips’ arrival means there are no problems for Page as regards the right-back position, as he has the new signing as well as Brendan Moloney, and it’s a similar story between the sticks where Adam Smith and Ryan Clarke are both tied down for another 12 months.

But as far as other departments being complete, that’s as far as it goes.

All other areas are in need of strengthening - and that’s presuming no other players go the other way and are tempted out of the exit door in the next few weeks.

If the 17 currently contracted do stay with Northampton, and let’s hope that is going to be the case, then I still think Page is going to have to probably bring in eight players to ensure the club is ready for the rigours of the new campaign.

A change in the loan system for the season ahead means there are no more emergency loans, so a player can no longer be signed for a month if a key defender or midfielder suffers a suspension or injury.

Players can still be signed on six-month or season-long loans, but there can be no more quick fixes.

Managers are going to have to work with the squads they have from August to January, and then January to May, and ensure they have the quality and numbers to cover all eventualities in those periods. Strength in depth is going to be crucial.

So how are the Cobblers fixed? And where do they need to strengthen?

Here we run the rule over the Town squad and suggest what additions may still be needed, whether it be through permanent signings or long-term loans.

Goalkeepers - Adam Smith and Ryan Clarke. No action needed.

Right-backs - Brendan Moloney and Aaron Phillips. No action needed.

Left-backs - Dave Buchanan. Action needed (one signing) - A second left-back is needed as cover for Buchanan. The former Preston man was an absolute machine last season and played every game, but it will be unwise and unrealistic to rely on him being able to do that again.

Centre-backs - Ryan Cresswell, Zander Diamond, Rod McDonald. Action needed (two signings) - I would say the squad needs two extra central defenders as the team makes the step up to league one, with the players preferably having experience of having played at that level.

Holding central midfielders - John-Joe O’Toole, Joel Byrom, Jason Taylor, Shaun McWilliams. Action needed (one signing) - One more player needs to be brought in to this area, as a replacement for Danny Rose, who was a key man in the back end of last season.

Attacking midfielders - Ricky Holmes, Alfie Potter, Lawson D’Ath. Action needed (two signings) - Nicky Adams has to be replaced, and I would bring in another as well if the team is going to continue to operate in a 4-2-3-1 formation. That of course may not be the case as Page may want to play a different system, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Strikers - Marc Richards, Sam Hoskins. Action needed (two signings) - with loan players James Collins and John Marquis both having left the club, I would say Page needs to bring in two out and out strikers to bring some much-needed strength in depth.