Curle's Cobblers suffer first loss as Agard delivers all three points for Dons

NO WAY THROUGH: Kevin van Veen finds his path to goal blocked. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds
NO WAY THROUGH: Kevin van Veen finds his path to goal blocked. Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds

Cobblers suffered their first defeat under Keith Curle when deservedly beaten 1-0 by Milton Keynes Dons in a niggly local derby at Stadium MK on Saturday.

Although Curle named an attacking line-up that included four strikers, the greater threat throughout the contest came from the home side who made it four straight league wins thanks to Kieran Agard's first-half tap-in.

Billy Waters

Billy Waters

That was only one of numerous opportunities that fell for the home side but a combination of wayward finishing, desperate defending and good goalkeeping kept Cobblers in with a chance of nicking something, although in truth they rarely ever gave Dons much to worry about at the other end.

Agard's scrappy opener just shy of the break meant Town would have to come from 1-0 down at half-time for the third game running but, despite a more open, stretched second-half, they were unable to make it three successive comeback wins as Dons ended their mini-revival under Curle.

Curle was forced to change a winning team as Matt Crooks missed out through suspension and Shay Facey picked up an injury in training, meaning Hakeem Odoffin came in at centre-back and Kevin van Veen led the line in attack.

Van Veen partnered Andy Williams up front and Sam Hoskins dropped into a deeper role in Northampton's now-familiar 3-5-2 formation, but the visitors were thankful for an early offside flag which ruled out Rhys Healey's goal just two minutes in.

Sam Hoskins bursts forward

Sam Hoskins bursts forward

Sam Foley fired straight at Lee Nicholls from 25 yards but Cobblers were doing most of the defending in the opening moments and only a loose first touch cost an unmarked Alex Gilbey the chance to shoot when picked out in the middle of the penalty box.

Town were struggling to deal with Dons' lively front line as the home team dominated possession and territory, winning a succession of corners, free-kicks and attacking throw-ins and gradually turning up the heat on their visitors.

Despite fielding four strikers in their team, Northampton rarely worried the home side's defence with their only real chance of the first-half falling to Andy Williams on 25 minutes, Nicholls sprawling away to his right to beat away the shot.

Agard controlled and scuffed wide from Chuks Aneke's knockdown as the game simmered on the edge without really sparking into life, though Aneke's influence was growing and he forced David Cornell to tip over from 20 yards following a slick counter-attack.

The Dons opener came just a minute shy of half-time when Northampton got in a muddle from a corner and Agard was able to poke into the net after Jordan Moore-Taylor won the initial header, with Town's subsequent shouts for offside falling on deaf ears.

It continued to be too easy for Dons to find space in dangerous areas and hurt Town after half-time, and only John-Joe O'Toole's important covering tackle prevented Healey from making 2-0.

With the visitors unable to get a foothold and Williams and van Veen feeding off scraps up front, Dons remained much more of a threat with Gilbey fizzing fractionally wide of the far post.

Curle made the decision to change things up on the hour-mark when he sent on Shaun McWilliams and Jack Bridge for David Buchanan and Andy Williams, but Dons again almost doubled their advantage through Joe Walsh's first-time flick that drew a fine reaction stop from Cornell.

Cornell was counting his lucky stars just moments later, fortunate to get away with a fumble as Aneke couldn't turn home in the following scramble, and then Odoffin produced a goal-saving block to somehow keep out Healey.

Cobblers were fortunate not to be further behind at this stage but, while it remained at just one, they had a sniff of salvaging a point and an excellent chance came their way with 14 minutes to go, however substitute Daniel Powell was thwarted by Nicholls having been slipped through on goal by van Veen.

Dons could and should have made the points safe with a series of opportunities around the 80-minute mark, two of which fell for Healey but he was denied by Cornell before clattering the crossbar, and then Aneke headed over.

Despite throwing bodies forward and winning several late corners, there was to be no dramatic last-gasp goal for the Cobblers this weekend and the full-time whistle ensured Curle tasted defeat for the first time since taking charge.

MK Dons: Nicholls, Williams, Lewington (c), Walsh, Gilbey, Moore-Taylor, Houghton, Cargill, Healy (Watson 90), Agard, Aneke

Subs not used: Moore, Hancox, Simpson, D'Ath, Thomas-Asante, Brittain

Cobblers: Cornell, Odoffin, Turnbull, Pierre, Waters (Powell 75), Foley, O'Toole, Hoskins, Buchanan (McWilliams 58), van Veen, Williams (Bridge 58)

Subs not used: Ward, Jay Williams, Whaler, Iaciofano

Referee: Brett Huxtable

Attendance: 9,618

Cobblers fans: 2,186