DONS’ unbeaten home record came crashing down courtesy of Lucas Akins’ brilliant first half strike to hand a 1-0 victory to Stevenage.
In what is shaping up to be a familiar story, Dons dominated the possession stats, but once again failed to create anything clear cut until it was too late as a stout Stevenage side defended well and kept the home side at bay.
Akins’ strike came against the run of play, but they’ll feel they certainly did enough to edge it while Dons will be looking at their inability to find the back of the net again.
Dean Bowditch was the only absentee from the team which drew 0-0 at Deepdale last Sunday. This season’s top scorer picked up a knock in training on Friday forcing him out of the clash, with Jay O’Shea taking his place in the starting line-up. Ryan Lowe was named among the substitutes despite questions being asked about his future at the club throughout the week.
The first 15 minutes passed without much incident. Dons looked better in possession, played with a high line and didn’t allow Stevenage to see much of the ball as they passed it around swiftly.
On loan midfielder Scott Allan tested his range from 25-yard, forcing Steve Arnold into a routine save dropping to his left. And that was about as exciting as the goal-mouth action got until the 21st minute when Gleeson forced the stopper into an acrobatic save, diving high to his left to keep tip the ball over the bar.
The script was beginning to look familiar. Dons had all the possession, most of the territory, barely looked under pressure, but just didn’t want to pull the trigger.
And their fairly lacklustre approach came back to haunt them when, somewhat against the run of play, Stevenage scored with their first attack on 27 minutes. Picking up the ball on the edge of the box, Lucas Akins was given time to square up and bend the ball around a hapless David Martin at full stretch.
Things almost went from bad to worse three minutes later when a rejuvenated Stevenage attacked once more, and Akins found himself unmarked, this time on the opposite side, but Martin kept his low drive out with his feet.
Play settled again though, with Dons looking after the ball well, but creating precious little. Chadwick’s mazy run from the right flank almost wrong footed Arnold in the Stevenage net, but his low strike, hit as he was falling over, was just kept out by the keeper who got a strong palm to it.
But there was almost a howler from the keeper three minutes from half time as Chadwick raced clear onto Gleeson’s chip through, but Arnold could only parry the ball back into Chadwick’s path. As it bounced off the MK man and edged towards the empty net, skipper Mark Roberts was on hand to hoist it away before it could cross the line – a huge let off for the Stevenage keeper.
Dons came out of the blocks looking the better side again in the second half, and created some half-decent chances, all of which fell to Darren Potter.
First, he saw a header from Williams’ deep corner well saved by Arnold before the mishit a shot wide. He was then first to another Williams, but miscued his flick on, getting too much on it and sending it over the bar.
With his preferred system not breaking down the tough Boro defence as expected, Robinson rolled the dice with a triple substitution, introducing Ryan Lowe, Charlie MacDonald and Adam Chicksen as Dons risked the 3-5-2 system which worked so effectively against Portsmouth two weeks ago.
Such is the norm at stadium:mk, the away side barely created anything at the other end, but should have done better when they had a huge numbers advantage as they caught Dons on the break. With seven breaking at pace against three defenders, James Dunne dawdled and allowed Potter back to crucially intercept.
Taking up position on the left flank, Adam Chicksen was doing his level best to drive crosses into the box, and his enthusiasm raised the quiet home support more than any other player had in the game to that point. And it was his cross which forced Arnold into yet another save, punching clear with Lowe and MacDonald waiting to pounce at the far post.
Martin was called into action again with 12 minutes to go, diving to his right to save Greg Tansey’s 20-yard free kick as Stevenage looked to kill as much time as possible in the dying stages, while Dons desperately searched for an equaliser.
Allan, who had an indifferent game in midfield, forced Arnold into another fine save as his shot looked to be bending in at the far post with eight minutes to go.
Stevenage should have buried the game when they hit Dons on yet another break five minutes from time, but Robbie Rogers’ shot was tame, and Akins couldn’t recreate his strike from the first half as Martin regrouped to easily save low.
And when Haber had his header cleared off the line in the final minute, it was nothing more than a sign that it just wasn’t going to be Dons’ day.
Without a win in their last four, Dons have slipped six points behind the second automatic promotion spot, and sit eighth in the table.
Referee: Andrew Madley
Attendance: 9,190 (1,029)
MK Dons: Martin, Otsemobor (Chicksen, 62), Lewington, Williams, Doume, Potter, Gleeson, Chadwick, Allan, O’Shea (MacDonald 62), Smith (Lowe 62)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Kay
Stevenage: Arnold, Gray, Charles, Tansey, Dunne, Haber, Morais (Rogers 83), Akins, Roberts, Freeman (Risser, 72), N’Gala
Subs not used: Day, Ball, Iro, Lopez, Shroot
Booked: Charles, Chicksen, Lewington