The Cobblers’ win over Aldershot was their 23rd league game of the season and at this halfway point of the campaign the team sit three points outside the play-off places.
With involvement in all three cup competitions now over, the full focus can be placed on making progress in a division from which the club was very nearly relegated last term.
In fact, this time last year, Northampton were 92nd in the Football League but things were about to change with recently-installed manager Aidy Boothroyd able to make squad alterations as the January transfer window opened.
So how is the squad and the manager performing this time around? Our man at Sixfields, Jefferson Lake, gives his half-term report on the players and the man in charge of them. Let us know if you agree with him or not...
TOP OF THE CLASS
Chris Hackett has performed with such regular excellence that, if the player-of-the-year voting was to start today, his name would feature strongly. His fitness is second to none and when such conditioning is married to a clear abundance of talent, the result is obvious.
The captain has been fantastic - Kelvin Langmead is enjoying a great sophomore year in Cobblers colours, producing the kind of heart-on-sleeve central defensive displays that supporters and coaches love and that generally generate clean sheets,
With 14 goals to his name already, Adebayo Akinfenwa should finish as the club’s leading goalscorer and there is no reason he cannot look to be going past the 20 or even the 25-goal barrier this season. The main question regarding Akinfenwa is whether the club will be able to retain his services beyond the transfer window.
Each season has a tendency to produce a breakout player, one who surprises people and presents the manager with a welcome bonus. This year’s is Lewis Hornby, a 17-year-old who plays as though he is 27 and for whom the future is distinctly bright.
Lee Nicholls has proved a very good acquisition in goal, his performances delivering to such an extent that the club are confident to go with him as their sole senior goalkeeper. Has had a couple of sticky moments in recent games but been solid otherwise.
The club has struggled to fill the left-back position since the days of Daniel Jones (and even he was more attack-minded than is probably preferable) but Joe Widdowson has been a very good capture and plays with a maturity and consistency beyond his years.
Ben Harding has missed a chunk of the season with injury and is starting to get back to being the intuitive, ball-winning central midfielder the team badly needed during his absence. Is doing little wrong at the moment but can - and will - do much more.
Clive Platt has no shortage of detractors and in a sense it is easy to see why, as a lot of his work is the unglamorous link-up play around the box that does not get supporters on the edge of their seats. But Platt’s start to life at Sixfields has been totally acceptable and physical improvements should ensure the curve moves upwards in the new year.
Clarke Carlisle has recently started to show the form of last season after a decidedly dodgy spell during which he was sent off at Oxford United. Brings vast experience and matchless leadership skills to the table but knows he is capable of more than he has produced during his second spell so far.
Ben Tozer was emerging as a decent central defender when Carlisle was brought back to the club and since then he has had to make do with a right-back role. Is developing his game all the time and the long throw has turned into a real weapon for the team.
Every game feels like a rebuilding block for Jake Robinson, who is gradually restoring his reputation one game at a time. If nothing else, the striker is proof that the correct attitude will always gain favour with the manager (and can even have career-changing consequences).
CAN DO BETTER
Emyr Huws looked great on his debut and although he has started to have an influence on games lately, he has struggled to repeat the initial heights and to live up to his billing as a Manchester City prospect of great promise.
How do you solve a problem like Ishmel Demontagnac? The winger looks great in brief moments but makes bad decisions, appears lazy and seems to treat defending as some kind of abstract concept. Without doubt, there is quality there but it is not coming to the surface regularly enough at the moment.
Anthony Charles is a reliable squad player who will need to improve his game if he is to force his way past any of the preferred starting 11. Was unfortunate to be sent off at Bristol Rovers and has filled in for a game or two here and there, but little more.
Danny East can consider himself a little unlucky to have slipped out of first-team contention recently because he looks a good, tough little nut of a player who loves a challenge and is fit enough to get up and down the right wing. But he’s not in the side even with regular right-back John Johnson out injured and that speaks volumes.
Louis Moult was progressing very nicely as a first-team player until his sending-off at York City. Touted at that time as a potential replacement for Alex Nicholls, the three-game ban was just the start of the punishment for Moult, who has not started a game since.
Henoc Mukendi’s loan spell expires in January and there is little evidence to suggest it will be extended. Even with Nicholls out injured, the Liverpool teenager has found it hard to get into the side and appears to have fallen between the two stools of winger and striker.
OUT ON LOAN
Lewis Wilson is enjoying a loan spell at Kettering Town that is proving productive for all parties. He scored a Boxing Day hat-trick to take his total to seven goals in seven games and the implication now is that the Cobblers will want to test his skills at a higher level. Paul Turnbull’s loan spell at Stockport has now expired but he is even further down the midfield pecking order than he was when he was first seconded to Edgeley Park.
THE SICK ROOM
Luke Guttridge is the first of the injured players due back and he will provide excellent competition for the central midfielders, notably Lewis Hornby. David Artell and John Johnson will do likewise in defence - especially Artell, who is vastly experienced and who will put pressure on Clarke Carlisle and Kelvin Langmead, as well as providing tactical options for manager Aidy Boothroyd. Alex Nicholls was on course for an excellent season before the double leg-break that ended it prematurely in October. Nana is due back imminently but faces stern competition to get into the side, especially in his preferred right-back position.
Twelve months ago the Cobblers were bottom of the league and it was still another six weeks or so before Aidy Boothroyd’s influence started to tell and the fight against relegation began in earnest.
Given the depths to which the team had sunk at that point it was always going to be unrealistic for them to instantly transform into promotion contenders but Boothroyd has manipulated them into a position where, if they can avoid too many more injuries and come through the transfer window without too much upheaval, they could challenge for a play-off place.
Some supporters will always want a more instant success but the vast majority accept rebuilding a team who were staring into the non-league abyss a year ago is going to take more than a few months and a handful of new players.
The club is going in the right direction but surgery is still required on the playing front. As it stands, Boothroyd is probably on about a B grade. The next couple of months will give some guidance as to whether that will be promoted to an A or slip down to a C.