MK Dons 1 Northampton Town 0 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Keith Curle's first defeat in charge of the Cobblers was inevitable somewhere along the line but, nevertheless, Saturday's battling loss to in-form MK Dons was still a reminder that his work at Northampton has only just begun.
Kieran Agard’s tap-in late in the first-half, the product of a poorly-defended set-piece and a curious lack of an offside flag, deservedly handed Dons all three points and left Curle to reflect on defeat for the first time during his short time at the helm.
The scoreline was kinder on Northampton than the game itself. Agard’s close-range goal just shy of half-time may have been the only difference between the sides on the scoreboard but, in reality for anyone in attendance, this was a contest played between two teams at very different stages of their recovery process following relegation.
On one hand, Dons were excellent, about as good a team as the Cobblers have faced all season. It would be a surprise if they do not ending up occupying one of League Two’s top three spots come May, at least based on this showing.
They were unruffled at the back, tidy in possession and a constant threat in attack with Baily Cargill and Rhys Healey particularly impressive. Only some erratic finishing stopped them from racking up a more comfortable victory.
But, at the same time, it could be argued that life was made a little too easy for the home side by their disjointed visitors who struggled to strike the right balance, caught between sitting back and playing on the front foot.
The problem was not so much the defence itself or even the individuals within it, rather it was the make-up of the midfield. With Sam Hoskins deployed in the free role and therefore stationed in an advanced position, Sam Foley and John-Joe O’Toole became overrun in the middle, asked to cover oceans of ground and Dons duly popped the ball around them without much fuss.
That left the defence exposed to a lively forward line with Agard, Healey and Chuks Aneke frequently picking up dangerous areas and finding shooting positions as Town’s three central defenders, Hakeem Odoffin, Aaron Pierre and Jordan Turnbull, took it in turns to make goal-saving blocks.
Town struggled to function as one unit and, without the suspended Matt Crooks, didn’t possess the creativity to seriously worry an in-form Dons back line, substitute Daniel Powell denied by Lee Nicholls in their clearest chance late on.
What we witnessed on Saturday was an accurate reflection of the current league table. Dons and Town were in a similar position when they both came down from League One last season but the evidence at Stadium MK suggested they have reacted very differently to the demands of League Two.
While the Cobblers continue to thrash around at the deep end, Paul Tisdale is showing his work at Exeter was no fluke. His experience and expertise has Dons on the right track. Curle will need more time to do likewise at the Cobblers.
There were positives to come out of Saturday despite the result, particularly at the back. David Cornell, bar one fumble, produced two fine stops and Turnbull continued his resurgence with a steady display slightly out of position as the right of Town’s three centre-backs.
But it was Pierre and Odoffin whose brave, sometimes desperate defending at least kept their side in with a shout. The latter, especially, impressed after a shaky first 20 minutes, enjoying a good tussle with the in-form Aneke and producing numerous goal-saving blocks as he too often became the last line of defence.
One defeat certainly does not undo the progress Curle has made in his first month at Town, all the more so when said defeat was inflicted by a well-oiled, well-coached MK Dons side that will surely be among the promotion tussle this season.
For Town, their own rebuilding process will be more gradual and sometimes more arduous, and Saturday was a reminder that Curle has plenty of work ahead of him.
How they rated...
David Cornell - He didn’t exert himself too many times despite Dons’ abundance of chances, though reacted sharply to deny Walsh and then stood up well to block from Healey. Went up for an injury-time corner and almost scored a sensational equaliser... 7
Hakeem Odoffin - Moved into the middle of Town’s back three having started on the left and, after a nervous opening 20 minutes, seemed to relish the battle against Aneke. Was often the last line of defence as Town left themselves exposed when chasing a winner and stood up when needed, making at least three outstanding, goal-saving blocks... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Jordan Turnbull - Continued his good form with another solid outing slightly out of position as the right centre-back. Won his tackles and pulled off one miraculous block from Healey just yards out... 7
Aaron Pierre - His defending has somewhat gone under the radar given his antics at the other end but he’s settling nicely into his role at the back, no doubt enjoying being a regular pick under Curle... 7
Billy Waters - Had some bright moments but the pattern of the game meant he was more of a full-back than winger, which goes against his natural instincts. Sacrificed late on as Curle chased an equaliser... 6
David Buchanan - Not sure it was a deliberate tactic for him to mark Moore-Taylor but it always looked a mismatch as the Dons defender won his header to set up Agard’s winner. Defended solidly and was limited in attack. Withdrawn on the hour... 6
Sam Foley - Was a busy man in Town’s overworked midfield, pulled all over the place as Dons made full use of the space and freedom they were afforded in the middle of the park. Never stopped running though... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Did his defensive duties but was too deep to influence the game in an attacking sense, negating his strengths. Was pushed forward late on and immediately played a fine part in Powell’s chance... 6
Sam Hoskins - The decision to play him in a deeper role behind the front two failed to bear much fruit as his team became disjointed and the ball often bypassed him. Led a couple of counter-attacks that came to little... 6
Kevin van Veen - Lovely cushioned header sent through Powell for his late chance but hard to recall too many more influential moments. Subdued for the majority as his threat was snuffed out... 6
Andy Williams - Cut a frustrated figure up front as the impressive Moore-Taylor restricted him to no more than bits and pieces. Drew a decent save from Nicholls in the first-half... 6
Shaun McWilliams - 6
Jack Bridge - 6
Daniel Powell - Missed Town’s best chance of the game... 6