It’s doubtful that anyone connected with AFC Wimbledon was under the illusion that Terry Brown’s side would find life in League 2 easy. But just in case there were still a few stragglers who were yet to come to terms with the harsh realities of the game in England’s top four divisions, they can consider Tuesday night's game as something of a wake-up call.
If the Dons boss was angry and disappointed at how his charges had played on Saturday where they were only denied all three points at Aldershot by a 95th minute doubly defected equaliser, he would have taken little satisfaction from a showing that had elements of bad luck, poor finishing, over-playing and controversial refereeing.
The evening didn’t augur well for the Dons in the first couple of minutes when Adebayo Akinfenwa, Northampton’s centre forward, got the better of Jamie Stuart and set up Marlon Jackson for an effort that Sam Hatton did well to block. It was, as it turned out, the first of a raft of Cobblers’ attacks that caused the Dons backline some consternation, but it was the home side that came closest to taking an early lead when Kieran Djilali’s cross-shot narrowly evaded Sam Walker’s far post.
But that was as good as it got for Wimbledon as Northampton’s pacy midfield and slick passing sought to get Akinfenwa and Jackson in behind. The ploy very nearly worked on more than one occasion, only for Hatton and Gareth Gwillim to make timely interventions. On 17 minutes though there was nothing the home side could do to prevent Gary Johnson’s side from taking the lead – a long ball forward saw Seb Brown come rushing out of his goal with Jackson bearing down on him. The Dons keeper got to the ball a split second before the Town striker, the ball flying off Brown’s outstretched arms and out, it seemed, for a Dons throw. But to the dismay of the home supporters, players and coaching staff referee Adcock blew his whistle and pointed to the spot before going on to book the Dons keeper. Akinfenwa coolly slotted the spot kick home.
The Dons seemed visibly stunned by the referee’s decision and for the next 15 minutes were counting their lucky stars that the Cobblers were not more ruthless in front of goal. Jackson’s near post header from a Ben Tozer cross flashed just wide and then from a corner Ashley Westwood’s header struck the bar as the visitors pressed but couldn’t find the target from open play. Another Tozer cross was met by Akinfenwa’s towering header that appeared to be bulleting its way into the net until Brown produced a top-drawer save to prevent the lead from being doubled.
The Dons seemed short of ideas going forward and, Djilali’s early effort aside, caused the lanky Walker very few problems – a rasping drive from Max Porter was expertly handled, Luke Moore fired over from 10 yards and another Djilali piledriver was easily dealt with. The half seemed destined to end with a Jack Midson header that sailed well wide but a late, two-footed lunge by Nick McKoy earned the midfielder a straight red card in time added on. The Dons went in at the break a goal down and a man up knowing that with better finishing from the visitors, it could have been a lot worse.
The second half started with McKoy in the dressing room and Town seemingly content with a 1-0 lead that they deserved. The Dons set about taking the game to the visitors but despite over half an hour of constant battering at the Northampton door, Wimbledon mustered no clear cut chances, with Midson in particular starved of service. The build up play was admirably patient, with the play switching from side to side as Porter, Lee Minshull and both Moores looking for an opportunity to slip Midson and Djalili in behind the Cobblers’ well-marshalled defence, However, more often than not the final ball was easily cleared by the first defender, or it was overhit and sailed over everyone’s heads.
Two goalmouth scrambles aside, the nearest the Dons came was when a Sammy Moore chip into the box was narrowly missed by Minshull. Town were adept at getting eight men behind the ball, leaving Akinfenwa to plough a lone furrow up front by himself, and the Dons just didn’t have the guile to open them up despite being camped in the Cobblers half.
Even the introduction of in-form striker Christian Jolley didn’t alter Wimbledon’s fortunes as his trickery didn’t enable him to get his cross in when Midson and Minshull were in the box, waiting. When Jolley did get a shot away he ballooned his effort over the roof of the Tempest End, a far cry from his brilliant finish from a similar position against Port Vale 10 days ago.
Despite this, the Dons pressure was constant and just as it seemed as though the ten men would surely cave in, they did the opposite and doubled the lead with their first decent attempt of the second half with 17 minutes left. Michael Jacobs took aim from fully 30 yards out and his low effort looked a simple catch for Seb Brown, but somehow the ball squirmed through his arms and squirted over the line. And so Town were 2-0 up. Three minutes later they made it 3-0. Minshull was robbed by Jacobs who took three strides forward and hammered a 20 yard daisycutter past the outstretched fingers of Brown, the ninth goal that the Dons have conceded in four home games this season.
There was still time left for the Dons to try and fashion a consolation goal but a 20 yard curler from Djilali that drifted just wide and Minshull’s weak header apart they rarely looked likely to spoil Walker’s clean sheet. Chris Bush’s low effort into the side-netting and Charles Ademeno’s snap shot that Walker hacked away were the nearest they came to netting before Minshull summed up the Dons’ night when he sidefooted wide from 4 yards out after the tireless Sammy Moore’s cross found him unmarked at the far post.
Only a nasty injury to Town sub Nana Ofori-Twumasi, who crashed into the advertising hoardings after blocking a Hatton cross, threatened to take the gloss off what was undoubtedly Northampton’s night. The 10 men had trebled their lead when for large chunks of the second half it seemed as though they would do well to hang on to it. It was an evening to forget for Terry Brown and his side who now find themselves 15th in the League 2 table, and perhaps not looking forward to the return of one the play off heroes at the weekend quite as much as they might have been.