The Imps take a relatively quick run down the A46 tonight to take on Northampton Town for the first time since 2021, writes Tom Morton.
The Cobblers snapped up the third automatic promotion spot from League Two last season to see them return to the third tier after two seasons. It continues their flip-flopping from mid-table League One to top-table League Two which has been going on for a decade or so.
It’s fair to say theirs has been a rough start to the season, having lost three straight games across all competitions – including an opening day home fixture against other promotees Stevenage. To compound this they already seem to be suffering an injury crisis, with four first-team players on long-term injury and a further four having various recent knocks.
The most difficult for manager Jon Brady is Goalkeeper Lee Burge, who struggled with injury at the end of last season. At that time they brought in a replacement, Tom King, on a short-term view but he rejected a contract over the summer leaving the squad very light between the sticks. As a result, one of the few pieces of business the Cobblers have done is bring in youngster Max Thompson on loan from Newcastle. This is Thompson’s first experience of senior football and a big ask for the 19-year-old.
Beyond that, very little has changed for Northampton in the summer window. They released a number of bit-part players, presumably due to the promotion and to free up cash. Since then they’ve signed two players from league two (who I suspect have been on their radar for a while) and brought in three other loans (besides Thompson) from Championship and Premier League teams.
A key loan figure is Kieron Bowie who rejoined for a second season from Fulham. Bowie played thirty-seven games for the Cobbler’s last year and scored five times; he’s highly rated by the club and Fulham clearly are keen to develop his talent. It was an early signing so at a guess this was a mutually beneficial arrangement, with Bowie moving up a level but sticking with an outfit he knows and likes. Either way, Brady and the fanbase were clearly pleased to have him back.
The Cobblers have pulled the same trick with midfielder Marc Leonard, on loan from Brighton, as well as bringing in Tyreece Simpson from Huddersfield. Simpson has started both league games so far. He’s fairly untested at senior level having really only had a single season on loan with Swindon in 20/21. However, Northampton must see something in the 21-year-old to start him up front.
I sense this could be a tough season for Northampton. They are coming into a tough league with several key injuries and having barely strengthened the squad. There will definitely be ghosts of the 20/21 season to put to bed; returning to the third tier after two years out they went straight back down again. Brady will be keen not to emulate the same outcome.
Tactically the Cobblers could line up 4-3-3, given the injuries they are facing. But it’s too early in the season to see a pattern. They come across as a team who likes to compete for possession and aren’t willing to let an opponent sit on the ball. That said the defence looks uncertain, collapsing in on itself under pressure and seemingly not willing to challenge for the ball. That should give us lots of space to play on the edge of the box and exploit their young keeper.
Everything about tonight screams Imps win. We’re potentially starting a good run and playing some nice football, Northampton are clearly on a shaky start and lacking key players. Head-to-head in previous years has very much gone our way – you have to go all the way back to 2011 (when we were on our way down) to find a Cobblers win – and the last time we visited Sixfields stadium we ran off with a 4-0 rout. That was something of an exhibition game for Brennan Johnson (who, if you believe the accounts, could be sold to another premier league club for £35M+ this window). Could tonight feature a future multi-million-pound performance?