There was a moment during this remarkable evening in Cheshire when the terrific 339 away fans in attendance at Moss Rose politely asked if it would be possible for their team to play Macclesfield every week. Given Town’s knack for racking up big wins in this part of the world, it was a fair request.
Four of their past six visits to Macclesfield, prior to Tuesday, have ended in victory, scoring at least three goals on three separate occasions. So after a night when Matt Crooks delivered a finishing masterclass and the Cobblers romped to their biggest away win in over three decades, you can see why they would not mind a swift return.
The FA are unlikely to grant such a request, sadly, but that will do little to dampen Town’s enthusiasm after an evening that came entirely out of character with their season as they scored four goals before half-time for the first time in 14 years. The Silkmen were also on the receiving end on that occasion.
Watching a team dispatch their hapless opponents with ruthless efficiency has become an all-too regular occurrence for Cobblers fans recently, but there was an important difference on Tuesday: this time, amazingly, it was their team doing the dispatching. This time, the shoe was on the other foot.
Phrases like ruthless efficiency are not normally associated with this Northampton side, neither are they particularly known for being defensively sound or midfield dominant, but all of those adjectives and more apply here.
It was clear from a very early stage of Tuesday’s game that Town had the beating of their beleaguered, rock-bottom hosts who did not look a team that were coming off their first win of the season just three days earlier.
The shuffling continued as Keith Curle ditched 3-5-2 and opted for 4-4-2 while also making four personnel changes and immediately his decisions paid off, although when Sam Foley headed wide and Aaron Pierre side-footed over, you wondered if the visitors might end up ruing another tale of poor finishing and missed chances.
Enter Crooks. On 23 minutes, he picked up possession in a harmless area, side-stepped his defender and then picked out the bottom corner. On 33 minutes, he turned in Jack Bridge’s excellent cross. And on 43 minutes, after Daniel Powell’s well-taken third, he scored the pick of the bunch, exquisitely curling beyond the despairing dive of Rhys Taylor after again showing quick feet to beat a defender.
It was a spectacular 20-minute blitz. Having struggled all season long to locate the back of the net, suddenly Town could not miss. The goals do not even account for the fact that goalkeeper Taylor was arguably Macclesfield’s man of the match as the Cobblers registered 21 shots in all, 11 on target.
And it could have been more after half-time, many more in fact as the Cobblers did not settle on their commanding half-time advantage. Taylor denied Andy Williams and Kevin van Veen while John-Joe O’Toole blasted over, Jack Bridge’s shot deflected wide and Billy Waters’ poor first touch prevented him from having a free shot on goal.
Watching a team dispatch their hapless opponents with ruthless efficiency has become an all-too familiar occurrence for Cobblers fans recently, but there was a somewhat key difference on Tuesday: this time, amazingly, it was their team doing the dispatching.
Eventually, the visitors did add a fifth. It came in stoppage-time when Pierre netted his third in four games, poking into the bottom corner to put the gloss on a fabulous evening for the Cobblers.
While this was an impressive team performance and every player deserves praise, there was, of course, one outstanding individual display.
Crooks has not always reached his full potential during an indifferent 15 months at Northampton but there can be no denying his raw talent, especially after this dazzling display as he put on a finishing exhibition
Back from missing Saturday’s defeat at MK Dons through suspension, the midfielder took it upon himself to win this game with three goals in 10-minute intervals, twice beautifully, almost nonchalantly, caressing the ball into the far corner. He had not even scored two in a game before Tuesday so a 20-minute hat-trick was quite something.
Above all, this was a reminder of Crooks’ importance to the Cobblers this season. The two games he has missed have ended in 4-0 and 1-0 defeats, with his absence at MK Dons on Saturday particularly keenly-felt as Town laboured in the final third and struggled for creativity. The 24-year-old, whether he plays on the right or through the middle, is the team’s creative hub; everything goes through him.
But while Crooks will rightly get all the plaudits, there were many other fine performances. Jack Bridge enjoyed his best game for the club from the left-wing where he regularly had the beating of his man, Daniel Powell showed why he wants to play up front and Aaron Pierre capped off another fine display at the back with his third goal in four games.
Further back, David Cornell was only seriously tested once in keeping just his third – and easily his simplest – clean sheet of the campaign, completing the perfect evening for the Cobblers when there were many positives and very few, if any, negatives.
For anyone who had the misfortune of witnessing last month’s humbling at Mansfield Town, a performance and result like this felt a awful long way off, but it only underlines the sterling job Keith Curle is doing so far.
He’s gradually rebuilt confidence and has the players buying into his methods. Three wins from his six games in charge, compared to one win in the previous 12, represents an excellent first month.
The league table did not lie in Macclesfield’s case on Tuesday but the standard of the opposition is of no relevance to the Cobblers. They have played many poor teams over the last 18 months and not put them away. This time they did. The key now, clearly, is to make it just the start.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Tipped over from Rose late in the first-half and that was about the sum of his night’s work. A stress-free but no less satisfying clean sheet, his third of the season... 7
Shaun McWilliams - Hardly put a foot wrong as he returned to the team as a makeshift right-back. Slotted in well, both defensively when called upon and as an extra outlet in attack... 7
Jordan Turnbull - Mopped up the few bits of danger competently and without fuss but in truth he barely broke sweat during the 90 minutes. This was one of his easier evenings at the heart of Town’s defence... 7
Aaron Pierre - Macclesfield’s toothless front line were meat and drink for a defender in such fine form at present. Defended excellently when he had to and then scored his third goal in four games, poking into the bottom corner with virtually the last kick, wrapping up a memorable evening... 8
David Buchanan - Looked to get forward down the left in support of Bridge, helping make it a tough night for Macclesfield’s poor right-back. His testing set-pieces continue to be a bonus too... 7
Jack Bridge - His marker didn’t know whether he was coming or going as he constantly drove at the home side’s back four. Supplied the cross for Crooks’ second and might have had one or two more assists with better finishing from team-mates. Also shot wide himself in what was his best game for the club... 8
Sam Foley - Provided an excellent barrier in front of the back four as the home side got very little change out of Town’s dominant midfield. His flick-on gave Crooks a simple tap-in... 7
John-Joe O’Toole - Quietly effective in midfield where he and Foley bossed things, giving Cobblers the platform to take control of the game. Didn’t give his Macclesfield counterparts an inch all night, playing his part in Crooks’ hat-trick goal... 7
Matt Crooks - Simply sensational. Took it upon himself to have the game sewn up by half-time with three goals at 10-minute intervals. Pinpoint placement for the first, right time right spot for the second and an exquisite curling finish for the third. Also displayed tidy footwork in slippery conditions to create the space for the first and third. Sensibly withdrawn shortly after half-time, but his work was done... 9 CHRON STAR MAN
Daniel Powell - Put Saturday’s miss behind him with a cool finish here, using his pace and strength to beat the defender before rolling under the onrushing Taylor. Was a real threat all evening up top... 8
Andy Williams - Valuable in Town’s link play and winning back possession high up the pitch, though will be frustrated not to have got on the score sheet himself. Was twice thwarted by Taylor’s flying stops and also fired off target... 7
Billy Waters - 6
Kevin van Veen - Had three half chances to add to the team’s total and his personal tally for the season, but it was not to be... 6
Jay Williams - Given a league debut by Curle and his pace caught the eye during a bright cameo... 7