If there were any doubts left as to the raw ability that Matt Crooks possesses, they were extinguished during 20 remarkable first-half minutes at Macclesfield Town on Tuesday evening.
The Cobblers were in the rare position of favourites heading up to Cheshire given Macclesfield’s well-documented troubles this season, but they do not often make life easy for themselves, irrespective of the opposition and irrespective of the circumstances.
So instead of leaving it to chance or relying on someone else, Crooks took it upon himself to win this game all on his own with a dazzling exhibition of finishing, scoring three times across 10-minute intervals, and all before half-time.
On 23 minutes, with Town firmly on top but the game goalless, he caressed a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards. On 33 minutes, he turned in Jack Bridge’s cross from close-range. And on 43 minutes, after Daniel Powell had made it three for the rampant Cobblers, he scored the pick of the bunch, majestically curling into the far corner having left a hapless Macclesfield defender for dead.
It was a spectacular 20-minute blitz.
Having struggled all season long to locate the back of the net, suddenly Town could not miss as all of their previous problems miraculously vanished in an instant – and it was Crooks who took centre stage.
It was an amazing first-half. As soon as I got my first I felt whenever I picked up the ball I could hurt them so I tried to find pockets and spaces and get on the ballCobblers midfielder Matt Crooks
“It’s hard to sum it up really,” said the midfielder as he clutched the match ball afterwards. “It was a funny one – I wasn’t exactly expecting to score a hat-trick!
“I’ve never even scored two in a game before, never mind three! It’s a great feeling and I think I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.
“It was an amazing first-half. As soon as I got my first I felt whenever I picked up the ball I could hurt them so I tried to find pockets and spaces and get on the ball.
“The first goal gave me confidence. I’ve missed chances and missed the target a few times this season when I probably should have scored, so this evens it up a bit and hopefully I can get some more.”
The Cobblers have become accustomed to being on the wrong end of heavy beatings and humiliating defeats over the past 12 months, so Tuesday’s rout at Moss Rose felt particularly sweet.
After Crooks’ first-half onslaught, further chances came in the second 45 minutes before Aaron Pierre’s injury-time toe-poke put the gloss on a spectacular night for Town and their 339 delighted travelling fans.
“It was a really good team performance and it’s what we’ve needed,” added Crooks. “I know we said we could put teams to the sword since the start of the season, and we did it.
“We played well and we took our chances when they came.
“As soon as the first one went in, we got the second and that always helps your confidence – now we need to make sure we kick on from this.”