United kick off their 2018/19 campaign with an away game against Exeter City on Saturday afternoon and manager John Sheridan had special praise for the fans who will make the 694-mile round trip to cheer on their team at his weekly press conference.
“For a club that has to travel so far the away support is marvellous,” he said. “Hopefully those who travel will get there safely and they’ll be coming back happy with us having given them a good performance and taken something from the game.
“I keep repeating that the supporters at this club are one of the reasons why I wanted to come here. I’ve been at Brunton Park when they’ve been behind their team and it’s good to see.
“I’ve also seen them make some unbelievably long trips, in big numbers, and they’ve backed their side through every kick. I want to win games so that the fans come along, home and away, feeling confident in what we’re doing so that they know they can get behind us.”
With the work on the training pitch having been completed it’s now down to the selected eleven to put the sessions into practice once they cross the white line at St James Park on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve talked about targets, and the main thing I want from our players is for them to believe in themselves,” he confirmed. “I want us to be competing in every game. I know we won’t win every game, but the minimum is for us to do things properly and to have given ourselves every chance.
“If we’re talking targets, we want to be around the play-off places and I think we’re good enough to be in there. Probably just like 15 or 16 other teams in this division, we think we’ve got a chance.
“We’re definitely one of them who should be up there. Teams will take points off each other because this is a division full of inconsistency, and every game will be hard because it’s an evenly matched league. It’s the teams who find the consistency and set the high standards who will come through. I expect us to be one of them.”
With every player looking to stake a claim for the big kick off, he told us: “I said last week that I had in my mind what I would start with against Exeter, but the pleasing thing for me is that some players have changed my mind and given me something to think about.
“They’ve all worked their socks off to try to get a place and that’s why I want them all to feel part of what we’re doing, because I’m going to need all of them. It isn’t just about Exeter, it’s about Northampton and the other games to come.”
“If I look at my midfield I have five players who could play in there and I’m comfortable with every one of them,” he added. “I’d be happy for any of them to start. Unfortunately I can only play three of them.
“Of the first team professionals we have available I feel as if every one of them could play, but I can only pick 11. That’s the manager’s job and leaving players out isn’t something I like doing, but it has to be done.
“You can tell with every single one of them that they’re all chomping at the bit to get started. They’ve worked hard to get to this point and it’s credit to the staff and everyone involved for getting them fit and keeping them there.”
With a high tempo expected for the first game of any season, the manager revealed that he’ll be warning the players about the expected high temperatures with a second heat wave set to engulf the country ahead of the weekend.
“It’s going to be a boiling hot day, I think it’s expected to hit 30 degrees, so we need to deal with that,” he said. “We’ve worked on what Exeter will do, we’ve prepared in the best way we can, and now it’s down to the players.
“Come 3 o’clock there’s not a lot else I can do. The players go out and hopefully they take care of the business for us. I’ll be looking to them to get a grip of each other and push each other on. What I do know is that they’ll know their jobs and hopefully they’ll get us the result.”
And as the curtain comes up on the new season, every team will be looking to take the points and pick up some momentum as they take their first steps on a long nine-month journey.
“Getting off to a good start helps to put confidence in the team and it brings a bit of belief,” the boss told us. “It’s not the be-all and end-all if you lose the first game, but it does give you a lift if you’ve won it for when you then come into your first game at home.
“Maybe people aren’t expecting us to go and get something from Exeter, but I am. Whatever the result, it’s important for us to go out and try to start well. Hopefully all of the hard work that’s been done will pay off.”
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