Desperate defence costs Dons dearly

Gary Roberts levels for Chesterfield - Pic By James Williamson
Gary Roberts levels for Chesterfield - Pic By James Williamson

On Tuesday night, Dons’ promotion ambitions could have taken a significant battering as they slumped to their second defeat in three days. But it didn’t.

The manner of their third home performance against Chesterfield this season left little to be desired - as it did in the previous two encounters at stadium:mk - but far from wrecking their dreams of playing in the Championship next season, it could galvanise the already tight-knit squad even further.

MK Dons vs Chesterfield - MK Don's Dean Lewington receives his marching Orders after a second Booking - Pic By James Williamson WEL-150403-081516009

MK Dons vs Chesterfield - MK Don's Dean Lewington receives his marching Orders after a second Booking - Pic By James Williamson WEL-150403-081516009

The nature of the 2-1 defeat to the Spireites shared little other than the scoreline in common with Saturday’s reverse against Coventry City.

At the Ricoh Arena, in front of nearly 1,700 travelling fans, Karl Robinson will still be scratching his head as to how his side didn’t come away with double figures, let alone a defeat.

The nature of the goals conceded in a sloppy opening 15 minute spell though was something that had echoes in Tuesday night’s loss, and it’s something that needs to be rectified immediately if Dons are to harbour a serious threat to second spot.

Defensive frailty isn’t something many would associate with a team flying high in League 1, and particularly one that has kept 15 clean sheets this campaign.

But the unnerving displays shown among the back five in the last few weeks have given Robinson food for thought.

Both goals on Saturday were down to defensive lapses, not picking up where they should be and, for the second goal in particular, shambolic decision making.

The key difference since the run began has been goalkeeper Ian McLoughlin, though after a torrid afternoon in the 4-2 defeat to Gillingham, he has been fairly stable, distribution aside.

However, his lines of communication with centre half pairing Antony Kay and Kyle McFadzean were as clear as mud against Chesterfield.

On two occasions, neither centre back nor goalkeeper were willing to commit to dealing with a ball in behind, though fortunately, neither chance resulted in a goal.

However, Jordan Spence gifting Gary Roberts the ball just outside the box allowed the Chesterfield man to rattle home an equaliser, cancelling out Lewis Baker’s sensational first half opener.

And after captain Dean Lewington’s sending off for a second booking which could easily have been avoided, Caolan Lavery popped up unmarked in the six yard box to divert the ball into the net in the final minute to earn the Spireites all three points.

While Dons’ defensive frailties were highlighted in the defeat, they weren’t the only problem, which points towards an bad day at the office rather than a genuine cause for concern.

In front of the defence, nothing went to plan either. Darren Potter was unusually anonymous for a game at stadium:mk, while playing partner Lewis Baker, goal aside, made little impact as the industrious Sam Morsy and Jimmy Ryan put the press on in the centre of the park.

George Williams played a role in setting up Lewis Baker’s goal, but hobbled off after half an hour. His replacement, Carl Baker, also failed to fire despite being Dons’ usual outlet for creativity.

Ben Reeves was similarly powerless, while up front, Will Grigg barely had scraps to feed on. It made a cold evening feel even colder.

However, while Bristol City race towards the title, the pack of Dons, Preston and Swindon continue to slip and slide their way towards the sharp end of the season.

The Robins’ shock 3-0 home reverse against Gillingham, twinned with Preston’s last-ghasp equaliser to draw at home with Doncaster mean, leaders aside, there’s still barely anything between the three chasing teams chasing second place.

And with Preston coming to stadium:mk on Saturday, it’s still all to play for.