MK Dons 5 Northampton Town 3 – match review, player ratings and highlights

PAINFUL FEELING: There was more anguish for the Cobblers on Saturday. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
PAINFUL FEELING: There was more anguish for the Cobblers on Saturday. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
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If Justin Edinburgh wasn’t aware of the seismic task he faces as Cobblers boss before Saturday, this defensive horror show which led to another damaging defeat will leave him in no doubt as to the magnitude of the challenge he has taken on.

A defence in tatters, confidence at an all-time low and a team tumbling towards relegation, Edinburgh must wonder what he’s stepped into.

Saturday’s performance at Stadium MK, from a defensive viewpoint, was about as bad as it gets.

In a game contested between two sides who have seemingly forgotten how to defend, it was the staggering extent of Northampton’s ineptitude which just about edged out Dons, who themselves struggled with the basic art of defending, in the conceding-soft-goals stakes.

In truth, the final scoreline flattered Northampton. Dons, a cut above their visitors for much of the game, were comfortable winners and only a fraught second-half packed full of incident, fine finishes and slapstick defending gave the result a tighter look.

Now with the third worst defensive record in League One, Northampton are on a one-way street to relegation.

It’s simply not good enough. For a team who romped to promotion only last May and for a team who were fifth in League One only last October, their fall from grace has been spectacular.

What boggles most about their current predicament is just how messy things have become and how quickly it has happened.

Naive, brainless and frankly embarrassing, it’s now difficult to see where the Cobblers go from here. Whoever the manager, whatever the formation, the problems are deep-rooted and cannot be fixed overnight.

Defending is as much about structure and discipline as it is about players. You can compensate for individual shortcomings with good organisation, likewise outstanding individual quality can overcome suspect structure, as Gabriel Zakuani has proved several times this season.

At the moment, Northampton have neither an effective system nor a set of in-form individuals. It’s a recipe for disaster and opposition teams are gleefully exploiting the space and time they are getting.

Whether it’s remedied through signings or hard graft on the training field, Edinburgh needs to seek a swift solution.

The absence of Zakuani has of course been a major factor. He was always going to be a big miss but having conceded 12 goals in the three games he’s been away, it’s fast becoming apparent just how crucial he is to this otherwise vulnerable defence.

A game between two low quality, defensively-suspect teams often makes for an entertaining watch and that was very much the case at Stadium MK on Saturday.

In truth, the final scoreline flattered Northampton. Dons, a cut above their visitors for much of the game, were comfortable winners and only a fraught second-half packed full of incident, fine finishes and slapstick defending gave the result a tighter look.

Initially, though, the opposite seemed true. For 35 minutes, all seemed well. The Cobblers started promisingly and more than held their own in a low quality yet intriguingly compelling first-half.

The presence of Alex Revell and Marc Richards up front caused Dons problems and with Northampton edging possession, the home side were limited to few opportunities to get at that vulnerable Cobblers back four.

At that point, there was little indication of what was to come, and based on the evidence so far, Edinburgh would have been quietly encouraged by what he saw.

But one mistake and one clinical finish later, off came the wheels.

Matty Taylor hesitated, Kieran Agard pounced and Dons never looked back.

A defence built on creaky foundations, it was somewhat predictable that as soon as one crack appeared, everything would crumble.

Such was the vulnerability of Northampton’s defending thereafter it seemed Dons would score with every attack, and having become the second successive team to score five goals against Northampton in a home game, that’s effectively what they did.

Five minutes after Agard’s opener, Chuks Aneke rolled home a penalty after Lewin Nyatanga’s inexplicable handball and Dons were suddenly 2-0 ahead and in cruise control at half-time without breaking sweat.

The second-half became a competition to see who could defend worse. After ending 3-3, the spoils were shared.

The teams traded blows. Aneke’s thunderous strike was bettered by Greg Wylde’s screaming volley before Darren Potter and Marc Richards continued the scoring spree, followed by Harvey Barnes and then Richards again.

A masterclass in defending this was not.

And for Northampton, it was more than just a back four issue. The flawed midfield structure meant the defence was given very little protection, with Dons often afforded too much space and given a free run at the back four.

Stationed at the base of a midfield diamond, Matty Taylor, at fault for the crucial first goal, does not have the legs to play that role.

Nothing could portray the extent of Northampton’s defensive nightmare better than the comical fashion of Dons’ fifth, which was something you wouldn’t see even in Sunday league football. With one simple throw of the ball, George Baldock took out four Cobblers defenders, and Barnes somehow found himself with a clear sight of goal before firing beyond Adam Smith.

Prior to Wylde’s introduction, a lack of pace and width hurt the Cobblers at the other end, and when a rare opportunity did arrive, the finishing was wayward, with Harry Beautyman slicing horribly wide and Keshi Anderson taking one touch too many two examples.

Yes, they scored three. But one was a 20-yard stunner, one was from a set-piece and the other was a penalty.

That aside, few clear-cut chances were created from open play.

They did at least show plenty of heart and there were positives for Edinburgh to take – such as the performances of Hiram Boateng and Greg Wylde – but they were overshadowed by the shortcomings at the other end.

There are injury concerns too. Sam Hoskins, arguably Northampton’s best player this season, will play no further part while Alex Revell suffered a calf injury midway through the first-half on Saturday.

This defeat, their 11th in 13 games, leaves Cobblers languishing in 18th, four points above the drop zone.

Bottom of the table Coventry City visit Sixfields next. Games don’t get much bigger.

How they rated...

Adam Smith - Beaten far too easily for the first goal but was given little chance for the other four on another day when his defence left him exposed. Made a fine late save from Maynard to prevent a sixth... 6

Neal Eardley - Far from the worse culprit and probably the only Cobblers defender to emerge with any credit. Was helpless to stop the onslaught, however... 5

Zander Diamond - Brilliant early block denied Aneke but that was as good as it got for him and the defence which crumbled as soon as Dons hit the front... 4

Lewin Nyatanga - A game to forget. For someone who looked so assured earlier in the season, he looked all at sea here, summed up by the brainless handball for Dons’ killer second, the half-hearted block for the fourth and the lapse in concentration for the fifth... 3

David Buchanan - Most of the damage stemmed from the channel between him and Nyatanga, indeed four of MK’s goals came from either crosses or shots down Town’s left side... 4

Matty Taylor - Stationed at the base of a diamond but gave the defence little protection, and it was his poor judgement when challenging for a midfield ball that led to the floodgates opening... 4

Harry Beautyman - Not the worst player on the pitch but was ineffective for much of his 61 minutes... 5

John-Joe O’Toole - Started well and didn’t lack for effort but was wasted on the right where he struggled to get himself into the game... 6

Hiram Boateng - A real powerhouse at times with his pace and strength. Got plenty of joy in the left channel and put himself about. Unquestionably Town’s best player on the day, a cut above the rest... 8 CHRON STAR MAN

Alex Revell - Return to his old club lasted all of 23 minutes due to a calf injury. Perhaps a telling moment in the game... 6

Marc Richards - A towering header and an emphatic penalty, he did what he’s paid to with two well-taken goals. Even that couldn’t salvage his side though... 8

Substitutes

Anderson - Promising debut... 7

Wylde - Brought the Cobblers to life in a vibrant cameo, the highlight of which was his superb goal scored within 10 seconds of coming on. Deserved to be more than a consolation... 8