Classy Crooks scores first-half hat-trick as five-star Cobblers demolish Macclesfield
Matt Crooks scored a first-half hat-trick as Cobblers spectacularly donned their scoring boots with a remarkable performance at Moss Rose on Tuesday evening when they emphatically dispatched bottom side Macclesfield Town 5-0.
While the Silkmen are undoubtedly the worst side Town have faced this season, what occurred in the the first-half was still a major shock to the system given what has gone before this season - and indeed last - as the visitors ruthlessly romped into a 4-0 half-time lead.
The majestic Crooks was the jewel of Northampton’s crown with three goals, two of which were superbly finished, both both curled into the far corner from 20 yards after he showed quick feat to escape some haphazard home defending, while the other was more scrappy, turning in Jack Bridge’s cross from close-range.
Daniel Powell also got in on the act in-between as Cobblers scored four first-half goals for the first time since 2004 when Marc Richards bagged all four, coincidentally also away to Macclesfield.
Despite more chances for the visitors, the second-half was something of a non-event until Aaron Pierre’s stoppage-time fifth, although the damage had well and truly been inflicted before half-time.
It was a performance totally out of character with the Cobblers of recent times but it represented a welcome change all the same, with Keith Curle’s side seemingly finding their groove at long last.
The win lifts Town to 18th in Sky Bet League Two and gives them a welcome five-point buffer over the bottom two while also boosting their goal difference.
There were four changes from the team that lost to MK Dons on Saturday with Crooks back from suspension and Shaun McWilliams, Bridge and Powell also returning to the side.
That meant more shuffling around on the pitch as Curle ditched his preferred 3-5-2 formation and went with 4-4-2 for this game as McWilliams started at right-back, Crooks right midfield and Powell partnered Andy Williams up front.
The switch in system could barely have gone any better in a stunning first-half, although it took a little while to warm up as Town had the better of a scrappy start with Sam Foley heading wide and then Pierre side-footing over when well-placed in the penalty box.
Michael Rose’s wayward long-range effort was all the home fans had to shout about in the opening quarter, and soon their team was behind through an exquisite finish from Crooks, who picked out the bottom corner from 20 yards having side-stepped the defender.
That was only the start of a remarkable 20-minute spell for the Cobblers as they were the ruthless beneficiaries of some careless Macclesfield defending to storm into a commanding lead.
Rhys Taylor was at full stretch to tip Andy Williams’ curling effort around the post after he robbed a sleepwalking defender, and then, from the subsequent corner, Bridge’s delivery was touched over the line by Crooks at close-range for his and the team’s second.
Better was to come within just 90 seconds as more lackadaisical defending allowed Powell to nick the ball back and get through on goal where this time, unlike on Saturday, he applied a cool finish under the body of Taylor, putting the Cobblers in dreamland with just 34 minutes on the clock.
Still Town were not done, however, as a scarcely believable opening period got even better for the hardy travelling support.
The board had not even gone up for first-half stoppage-time and Crooks had his hat-trick, this one an even better finish than his first, dancing around the hapless defender before curling a wonderful, pinpoint finish into the far corner, beyond the despairing dive of Taylor.
Macclesfield’s first meaningful attack came in injury-time but Pierre cleared from under his own crossbar before David Cornell was called into action for the first time, tipping over Rose’s sweet first-time strike.
Then came the sound of the referee’s half-time whistle, temporarily putting the unhappy home fans out of their misery while ending a sensational first 45 minutes for the visitors.
Macclesfield attempted to produce some sort of positive reaction in the second-half but their efforts when continually undermined by careless passing, though they were not punished to quite so devastating affect.
Crooks was replaced by Billy Waters just shy of the hour-mark, his withdrawal even applauded by some home supporters after an outstanding individual performance, however Town’s threat diminished only slightly without him; Williams’ effort simple for Taylor and then Bridge’s shot deflecting just wide of the near post.
Signs that Macclesfield were capable of launching a dramatic fightback were fleeting and the closest they came was via the right boot of Callum Maycock whose bending shot drifted a whisker wide of the target.
With his side in cruise control, Curle handed a League debut to young centre-back Jay Williams with 17 minutes remaining, which came after fellow substitute Kevin van Veen blazed over the crossbar.
Taylor beat away Andy Williams’ shot and O’Toole sent a thunderbolt narrowly over before the home goalkeeper also thwarted van Veen’s well-struck effort.
The game was rather petering out when Pierre rubbed salt into Macclesfield’s wounds in injury-time, poking into the bottom corner from a corner to give the delighted 339 away fans one final reason to cheer on a memorable evening.
Macclesfield: Taylor, Hodgkiss, Fitzpatrick, Lowe, Grimes, Marsh, Blissett (Smith 45), Napa (Stephens 45), Maycock, Vincenti (Wilson 73), Rose
Subs not used: O’Hara, Kelleher, Welch-Hayes, Pearson
Cobblers: Cornell, Turnbull, Pierre, Buchanan, McWilliams, Foley (J Williams 73), O’Toole, Crooks (Waters 57), Bridge, Powell (van Veen 63), Williams
Subs not used: Ward, Odoffin, Whaler, Hoskins
Referee: Seb Stockbridge
Cobblers fans: 339