AFC Wimbledon 1 Northampton Town 3 – match review, player ratings and highlights

BACK IN FRONT: Matt Crooks his mobbed by fans and players after restoring Town's lead against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. Pictures: Sharon Lucey
BACK IN FRONT: Matt Crooks his mobbed by fans and players after restoring Town's lead against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. Pictures: Sharon Lucey

Accomplished, convincing and clinical are not words that have been associated with the Cobblers too often this season but all three could be used to describe their efforts in beating AFC Wimbledon on Saturday when they produced perhaps their most complete performance of the campaign so far.

If the first-half was a slog, the second was a cruise as Matt Crooks and Daniel Powell put on a finishing exhibition to add to Matt Grimes’ confident early penalty and secure three points that were as deserved as they were important.

Town not only won this game, they did so with room to spare and scored good goals in the process. Even when Deji Oshilaja’s headed Dons level two minutes into the second-half, there was no sense of panic. Instead, they regained their composure, reclaimed the initiative and proceeded to enjoy their best spell of the game during which they scored the two match-winning goals.

Like last weekend, this was supposedly a game between two sides of similar quality and in similar strife at the bottom of League One but, on the day, one team was vastly superior and ran out emphatic winners, except this time it was the Cobblers.

After being outplayed and subsequently beaten by second-bottom Rochdale last time out, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and his players turned the tables on Wimbledon to emerge with three points that sees them leapfrog their London counterparts and climb up to 18th, three points clear of the drop zone and with a very winnable home game against an admittedly rejuvenated Gillingham to come on Tuesday.

Now with four wins in six games and only one defeat in the same period, the Cobblers seem to have finally got things moving in the right direction on a permanent basis. Remarkably, they currently sit fourth in the six-game League One form table, one point behind the top two, and what bodes particularly well for the foreseeable future is the way they played as a unit on Saturday: controlled at times and clinical at others.

The ground work for this win was done in the first 45 minutes when Town, confronted by a strong headwind, contained and nullified Wimbledon’s threat – Joe Piggot’s inexplicable early miss aside – while always posing a threat on the break as Matt Crooks surged from deep and Sam Hoskins and Daniel Powell picked up clever positions in wide areas.

John-Joe O’Toole, predictably, was the link man and knitted everything together. Frustratingly, however, those promising positions that Town took up too often failed to materialise into a chance on goal with Hoskins’ acute shot the only time Dons goalkeeper George Long had a save to make.

Crooks, Hoskins, O’Toole and Joe Bunney were all guilty of overplaying, making the wrong decision or over-hitting passes at the crucial time, although it was something that they would later rectify as Wimbledon did not heed any their many warnings.

Before that, Northampton both took the lead through Grimes’ superbly-taken penalty, awarded for a soft foul on O’Toole, and then saw it wiped out by Oshilaja’s header just 90 seconds after the restart.

From there, the game could have gone either way but it was Northampton who took it by the scruff off the neck. Crooks found the bottom corner from O’Toole’s pass shortly after the hour mark and Powell was even more precise with his low finish, threading the eye of a needle to bend a shot around the defender’s legs and find the net via the far post.

Wimbledon didn’t give up without a fight and they had a sustained spell of pressure in the final five minutes but Richard O’Donnell was not to be beaten for a second time, denying Lyle Taylor and Liam Trotter to calm nerves heading into stoppage-time, ultimately enough to see out a comfortable away win.

There were elements of a new, more mature Cobblers side at various stages here, most notably in the first-half when they battled both the elements and their opponents’ direct approach and also immediately after Wimbledon’s leveller which might have been the signal for them to crumble earlier in the campaign. Instead, they went on to score three goals – only the third time they’ve managed that in the league this season – and notch a thoroughly deserved victory.

Northampton were also far more comfortable and at ease back in Hasselbaink’s preferred 4-4-1-1 after looking all at sea playing 3-5-2 against Rochdale last week. The system suits the players and gets the best out of them.

If the first-half was a slog, the second was a cruise as Matt Crooks and Daniel Powell put on a finishing exhibition to add to Matt Grimes’ confident early penalty and secure three points that were as deserved as they were important.

The final shot count does not paint a fair picture because while Dons had more efforts – 12 to Town’s nine – it does not take into account the amount of times the visitors worked themselves into potential scoring positions only to be let down by a poor final pass or bad decision.

Crooks has been something of an enigma this season. He’s clearly a good player with bags of talent but that talent has not always been evident. On Saturday, though, the 24-year-old showed everyone what he’s capable of with an outstanding, powerful midfield performance that left Dons with too many problems to solve.

He led the charge forward time and time again, dragging his team up field with his surging runs from deep, something which he was allowed to do by the discipline and hard work of midfield partner Matt Grimes.

Crooks’ crisp finish restored the lead and he also started the move that led to Powell’s game-clinching third, but he was far from the only excellent performer. Ash Taylor was his usual dominant self at the back and his efforts were the chief reason that O’Donnell’s goal came under so little strain, bar the final five minutes when Dons’ rally came too late.

Hoskins and Powell were a nuisance in the wide areas and of course O’Toole shone in an advanced role behind Kevin van Veen. He did not get a goal this time but he did grab three assists, taking his tally to four in six games to go with four goals. O’Toole’s importance to the team can be summed up in this stat: Town’s win percentage when he starts this season is 53%. When he does not, it drops all the way down to 8%.

As for van Veen, he did not get a clear sight of goal but he showed intelligent movement and handy link-up play and that should only improve once he adapts to his new team-mates and they adapt to him.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Wimbledon were poor here but the Cobblers have played many poor teams this season and not always punished them. On Saturday, they did that. There’s still work to be done but with more performances like this one, Town can soon start planning for another year of League One football.

How they rated...

Richard O’Donnell - Confident off his line to claim crosses but it was only late on when he really earned his stripes, repelling Taylor twice and Trotter once to ensure there was no nervy finale despite Dons’ best efforts... 7

Brendan Moloney - An assured return to the team. Combative and tenacious on his first start for a month as he kept Dons relatively in check down his side. Didn’t get forward too often but a very useful option to have in reserve... 7

Ash Taylor - This type of game was made for him and he duly stood up to Wimbledon’s direct and physical approach with a typically dominant performance at the back. Headed and cleared away many of the countless crosses that came into the box... 9

Jordan Turnbull - Rarely seem rattled or under pressure as he played with composure and assurance, a huge improvement on last week. Did the small things without fuss while also making the odd crucial intervention. Seems more settled in a back four... 7

Joe Bunney - A busy man on Town’s left as Dons did the bulk of their attacking down that side. Limited the damage though and forced the hosts to cross from less dangerous positions. Tried to forage forward when the opportunity arose, though crossing was hit and miss... 7

Matt Grimes - His early penalty, which was well-taken, seemed to give him the confidence to take the game by the scruff off the neck. Calm on the ball and dogged off it, and his work gave Crooks and others the freedom to bomb on... 8

Matt Crooks - Showed everyone what he’s capable of with a classy, powerful midfield performance and Dons had no answer. Carried the ball forward brilliantly as he led the charge up field countless times. Crisp finish restored Town’s lead and was also integral in the third, again leading the break out from inside his own half... 9 CHRON STAR MAN

Sam Hoskins - Time and time and time again he picked up fantastic positions. At the heart of Town’s best moments and did the hard yards up and down the right side. Didn’t always make the right decision, and could have an assist or two himself, but was a constant outlet for his team-mates... 8

Daniel Powell - Only his second start since November and that showed at stages in the first-half. Touch was iffy and didn’t make best use of the ball but improved markedly after the break. A livewire on the left flank and capped off victory with a classy finish, threading the eye of a needle... 8

John-Joe O’Toole - No goal this time but the main man once again. Involved in all three goals, winning the early penalty, squaring for Crooks for the second and slipping in Powell for the third. Link-up play was second to none as he once again demonstrated his importance to the team... 9

Kevn van Veen - Nothing fell for him in front of goal but he nonetheless showed good movement and a more accurate pass or better timed run might have set him through on goal several times. Should only get better as he adjusts to his new team-mates and vice versa... 7


Chris Long - 6

Sam Foley - 6

Hildeberto Pereira - 6