It all went horribly wrong for Northampton Town and Stuart Gray last season as they managed to snatch relegation from the jaws of safety on the final day of the seson. Defeat to Leeds United to confirm their demotion was perhaps expected, but the Cobblers should really never have allowed it to get to that stage. It all started so promising for Stuart Gray and his side with an opening day win and a Carling Cup run which saw the Cobblers pick up a Premiership scalp away at Bolton Wanderers. That ended at Sunderland on penalties, despite the Cobblers being 2-0 up with 4 minutes of normal time remaining and it was all downhill from there. After Christmas Northampton were particularly disappointing in the league, but 7 points from Leyton Orient, Scunthorpe United and Hereford United left two games for Northampton to get the points to keep them in the second tier. Defeat to MK Dons (we're not going to patronise the Cobblers by calling it a derby) and a hammering at Leeds meant that Carlisle United had to beat Millwall to stay up, which they did so.
Keeping top scorer and goal threat Adebayo Akinfenwa fit was always an issue for Northampton last season and had he been able to play a full season then it could have been so different. That said, Gray still had a number of talented players at his disposal and failure to keep the side in the division has to go down as a massive failure and means that he is under immense pressure at the start of this season. As of yet, Jason Crowe and Mark Hughes are the only important players to have left this summer but a transfer request handed in yesterday by Danny Jackman is a serious problem for Northampton.
Former Nottingham Forest and Barnsley player Stuart Gray is the man in charge at Sixfields and it is the first time he has been given a proper shot at management. He spent a spell at Southampton but was only given 19 games to prove himself before being sacked by Rupert Lowe. He has also had caretaker spells at Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but it's fair to say that Northampton is the first 'proper' management job that Gray has held down. He did fairly well at Sixfields for a season and a half, ensuring the Cobblers managed two consecutive mid-table finishes in League One, but last season was one to forget for Gray and the whole club.
He made some intelligent signings with the likes of talented midfielder Luke Guttridge, but his side never gelled and he failed to get to the bottom of the enigma that is Leon Constantine, meaning the side was overly reliant on the injury prone Adebayo Akinfenwa for goals. That said, Northampton really should've saved themselves and were given more than enough opportunities by the other strugglers to cement their place in League One, but each and every time they messed it up meaning that Gray will need to lead the Cobblers back to the third tier to keep his reputation in tact this season.
Undoubtedly one of the most impressive squads in the division, Northampton bost a number of players who would be perfectly at home in League One. In goal young 'keeper Chris Dunn initially struggled to replace the impressive Mark Bunn after his move to Blackburn, but began to settle and has undoubted potential. At right back, former Arsenal trainee Paul Rodgers is a quality player and will be a huge asset providing he can be kept fit. John Curtis has also found a home at Sixfields having spent the past year failing to win a contract at Meadow Lane. In the centre, new club captain Craig Hinton has joined from Bristol Rovers and is a perfectly solid defender for this level despite a slight lack of pace. He is likely to be partnered by Dean Beckwith, who struggled to make the step up to League One with Hereford United last season but is proven to be a good defender at this level. Gray will be desperately hoping to persuade talented full back Danny Jackman to stay at Sixfields, with his sweet left foot and all round play being far above League Two. Former Crewe Alexandra man Chris McCready has also been signed after a trial and provides much needed competition for places, as does Andy Holt who has played over 100 league games for the Cobblers.
In midfield, youth team prospect Ryan Gilligan is a useful attacking midfielder who could be more at home a level down. Luke Guttridge is one of the most talented players to ply his trade at this level and is likely to be the fulcrum of most of Northampton's play, whilst former Gretna man Abdul Osman will be looking to establish himself. The Cobblers have been dealt a blow by news of an injury to left winger Liam Davis picked up in pre-season but younster Alex Dyer will be looking to use this to his advantage to gain a place in the team. Upfront Northampton have plenty of options, with ex-Torquay striker Adebayo Akinfenwa the focal point. The man mountain is unlikely to be fit enough to feature in every game but guarantees goals when he is in the line-up. Hereford United player of the season Steve Guinan has joined on a free and will provide an old head and, of course, some goals against Notts. Gary Mulligan is hardly free scoring but will work hard and Seb Harris has joined after a trial from an American college side. Most impressive in NCM's opinion is young Scotsman Billy McKay however, someone who i've seen play a number of times and who has the pace and skill to really trouble defenders after his move from Leicester City.
The Cobblers have bought wisely on the whole with just one or two questionable purchases (Curtis, Mulligan..) and Stuart Gray has added well to a squad who's backbone was already too good for this level. Keeping the likes of Jackman, Guttridge and Akinfenwa fit and interested will be vital, but Northampton have the squad to rival any side in this division and it is up to Gray to ensure that they all live up to their potential.