DONS will have to produce a spectacular second leg turnaround to reach the League 1 play-off final after falling to a 2-0 home defeat to Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
Goals in each half from Jordan Rhodes and Jack Hunt have put the Terriers firmly in the driving seat to Wembley, but with the return leg in West Yorkshire coming up on Tuesday night, Dons still have hope.
Boss Karl Robinson believes his side are capable of climbing the mountain now in front of them, but they will need to create far more in the way of goal-scoring chances than they did at stadium:mk to stand a chance.
Dons fans responded to the club’s calls for fantastic support, and they created a noisy atmosphere as the home side attacked the Cowshed in the first half.
But after an end-to-end opening half an hour that saw both sides create a handful of half chances between them, it was the visitors who began to dominate and they took the lead on 32 minutes when Rhodes’ glancing header from a Lee Novak cross found the far corner, with David Martin helpless.
The Dons keeper had only just palmed away a fierce strike from Kallum Higginbotham, but his defence failed to clear the danger and Novak’s centre was met perfectly by the prolific front man in front of the travelling fans.
With Dons pushing forward to try and find an equaliser in the second half, they were hit on the break several times by a Huddersfield side who always looked threatening going forward.
After Novak dragged his shot wide when through one-on-one against Martin, the visitors finally doubled their lead in the 73rd minute as Jack Hunt was gifted the freedom of the Dons penalty to fire home after some smart link-up play from a throw-in deep in the home side’s half.
Robinson was critical of the officials for allowing Novak back on the field after he had gone off to receive treatment for a knock. In his absence, Dean Lewington had pushed forward, but was then caught out when the Huddersfield man returned, forcing Shaun Williams to put the ball out for the throw-in from which the Terriers would score their second.
Dons almost pulled a goal back during seven minutes of added time, but Jabo Ibehre’s header was well saved by Ian Bennett and Huddersfield held on to take a two-goal lead into Tuesday’s reverse fixture.
And Robinson know his side will have to create far more in the final third to give Simon Grayson’s men a nervy night at the Galpharm Stadium.
“We huffed and puffed,” he said. “We didn’t create what we normally do. It was a different type of game today. They really got amongst us and made it difficult for us, especially in the midfield.
“I just know that wasn’t us at our best, and that was one of the best performance I’ve seen them play.
“We just didn’t perform. It wasn’t a lack of effort – we definitely tried, and tried to get in their faces – and we almost got the chances. We had enough, but didn’t turn them into goals.
“We can play better. That’s the best they’ve got.”
“It was a really weird game I thought. There was nothing in the game at all – it was a stalemate with lots of energy and passion. They didn’t have a chance, but then the next thing you see is Rhodes pop up with a chance and it’s 1-0.
“The second half was probably more in our favour, but they hit us on the break when the referee let a player on the pitch who shouldn’t have been on the pitch. And that has an effect on the throw-in. It was a sucker punch but there is a long way to go.
“The game is not over yet. We can still turn it around.”