IT may have only been a pre-season friendly, but it will go down as one of the greatest nights at stadium:mk as Dons and Tottenham played out a thrilling 3-5 in front of more than 16,000 fans.
Roman Pavlyuchenko put Spurs 2-0 up at the interval, but Luke Chadwick and Jabo Ibehre pulled Dons level early in the second period. A defensive calamity from Gary MacKenzie allowed Tottenham back into the lead through Harry Kane, before Nico Kranjcar scored a spectacular goal to restore Spurs’ two goal lead. Ibehre was back on the score sheet to bring the score to 4-3, but Kane scored in the final minute to end a thrilling showpiece.
Tottenham’s technical co-ordinator Tim Sherwood led his side out and named a strong starting line-up, boasting the names of Jermaine Defoe and Pavlyuchenko up front. But there were some more familiar faces in Spurs line-up too, with Andros Townsend and Jake Livermore returning after loan spells at Dons two years ago.
Karl Robinson was still without striker Dean Bowditch after he was ruled out with a tight groin muscle. As expected, Mathias Doumbe also missed out following a visit to hospital after Saturday’s defeat to Oxford United. Shaun Williams continued at centre back alongside MacKenzie.
The home side did not let the two division difference between the clubs affect them in the early stages as twice within the first five minutes they tested keeper David Button. First, Baldock found himself in acres of space on the edge of the box after a great interception from Chadwick, with Button forced low to his right to palm away. Daniel Powell kept the ball in play and passed back to Jay O’Shea, who again forced a good save out of Button before Tottenham eventually cleared.
However, Spurs found themselves faced with a great chance to open the scoring just two minutes later when Defoe was fouled on the edge of the area. But David Bentley could only hit his free-kick into the wall. It didn’t take long for the Premier League side to break the deadlock though, with the goal coming in the ninth minute. Pavluychenko broke the offside trap and didn’t need a second invitation to neatly clip the ball into David Martin’s net.
Dons continued to press though, playing some attractive football along the way. O’Shea tested Button again from the left of the area, but the keeper comfortably fell on it. At the other end Spurs looked certain to double their lead when Defoe was sent clean through on goal, but MacKenzie stuck out a long leg to play the ball off the England international as he raced though. Dean Lewington also timed a challenge to perfection as Pavlyuchenko turned inside Williams – the visitors looking extremely dangerous in the opposition half.
Back at the other end and only O’Shea was looking like getting near the score sheet for the hosts with Chadwick pulling all the strings in the midfield. After some tricky footwork from Baldock fed Chadwick wide, O’Shea was found unmarked in the centre but couldn’t direct his header and it sailed over the bar.
The fast tempo might not have pleased either manager on the touchline, considering the high stakes for both clubs in just a matter of week, but the large stadium:mk crowd were enjoying the terrific end-to-end nature of the game.
Pavlyuchenko was proving his quality on the pitch, and found an inch of space inside Lewington to produce a stunning strike towards goal, which Martin parried around the post for a corner. And the Russian’s quick thinking found Townsend on the edge of the area from the resultant set-piece, though his effort was blocked and cleared. Dons could well have been level though, as a quick free-kick and a quick touch from O’Shea found Baldock in the box, but his sharp strike came off the base of the post and across the face of goal to safety.
But it was Pavlyuchenko again who rifled Tottenham into a two-goal lead in the 36th minute. Racing clear of Lewington, he unleashed a rocket shot from the edge of the area which flew into the roof of Martin’s net – the Dons keeper pretty much helpless.
The half-time interval saw Robinson make a single change, with Darren Potter being replaced by Tom Flanagan, who slotted in next to MacKenzie, while Williams took up a central midfield role. And typically Dons were quick out of the blocks after the break and halved their deficit within a couple of minutes of kick off. Chadwick collected the ball from Baldock 18 yards out, and squared up against Corluka, but rather than take on the Croatian, he brilliantly bent the ball around him and into the corner of the Spurs goal for 2-1.
But Spurs continued to look dangerous going forward, as expected. Townsend was first to pounce on a high ball up from defence and quickly turned and fired on goal, though Martin was a match for the shot, diving low to his right. Dons could have been level after some defensive howlers at the back from Spurs. From a corner, MacKenzie rose highest to power a header on goal, but Baldock’s slight touch threw keeper Button who miscued his clearance. With the ball still pinging around in the six yard box, Baldock had another bite of the cherry but his shot was blocked on the line before Milos Veljkovic cleared.
Whether Spurs had been told to slow their tempo or whether Dons were simply out-playing them, the home side looked much the better in the second 45 minutes as they dictated the play with some quick midfield passing. And they made the pressure and advantage pay off when they drew level with 73 minutes on the clock. Baldock showed great nous to shimmy his way into the penalty area, but his shot was easily blocked, but fell kindly for Powell. He swung his right leg at it, and substitute Ibehre was in the right place for it to deflect off him and beyond Button, who had already committed himself to the dive.
However, a moment of madness from MacKenzie gifted Tottenham the lead again. As the big defender feigned to clear, sub Kane slid in-front to touch the ball into the empty net. Worryingly for Robinson, keeper Martin had to be substituted immediately, and went off down the tunnel.
Replacement Ian McLoughlin’s first piece of action was to pick the ball out of his net as Kranjcar scored arguably one of the best goals ever seen at stadium:mk. Stood 35 yards from goal, the Croatian struck a wonder-shot which dipped perfectly into the top corner of McLoughlin’s net – Spurs restoring their two goal advantage.
But Dons weren’t finished yet. While Ibehre’s first may have been contentious, there were no doubts about his second as he raced through on goal to neatly slot past Button with five minutes still on the clock. Kane put an end to any chances of a dramatic come back through when he peeled off the back of Flanagan and bent the ball around McLoughlin to bring the final score to 5-3.
Despite the defeat, Dons will be pleased to have put the ball in the net three times after they missed countless chances against Oxford, although the injury to David Martin will be a major cause for concern with the season opener less than two weeks away.
Dons: Martin (McLoughlin, 80), Chicksen, MacKenzie, Williams (G Baldock, 75), Lewington (c), Gleeson, Potter (Flanagan, 45), Chadwick (Guy, 62), Powell, S Baldock, O’Shea (Ibehre, 60).
Tottenham: Button (Archer, 86), Byrne, Rose, Livermore (c) (Luongo, 45), Veljkovic, Corluka (Carroll, 82), Bentley, Kranjcar, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe (Kane, 75), Townsend.