THE DUBIOUS sending off of Stephen Gleeson late in the game took the shine off what should have been a fantastic win for Dons over Peterborough in their League One play-off semi final first leg.
With the home side 3-1 up, Gleeson’s challenge on Posh’s Mark Little just 10 minutes from time was clearly outside the penalty area, but referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot and gave the Irish midfielder a straight red card, despite Luke Chadwick and Gary MacKenzie both back covering.
Grant McCann slotted home the penalty to pull the deficit back to just a single goal, leaving the tie on a knife edge ahead of Thursday night’s second leg at London Road.
Karl Robinson said he had spoken to the referee about the incident after the game and that Dons have appealed the decision to send Gleeson off.
He said: “Gleeson should really have brought him down earlier, but he didn’t because he’s honest.
“It was a clash of legs on the edge of the box, and Gary MacKenzie and Luke Chadwick were coming around to cover.
“I had a productive chat with the referee, and I hope the FA can look at it because he’s a wonderful talent, and for him to miss out on the next leg would be criminal for us. We will support any decision they make.
“It was a foul, and a yard or two outside the box, but that’s football and it was a great spectacle.”
Dons will now await the FA’s appeal process, though an unsuccessful appeal could see Gleeson miss the final against either Huddersfield or Bournemouth should Dons make it.
The mood after Sunday’s game could have been totally different as Peterborough started quickly and went a goal up after just eight minutes.
Little’s cross from the right found Nathaniel Mendez-Laing in space in the box. He had time to control and fire a decent shot at Dons’ stopper David Martin, but the keeper could only parry into the path of the lethal Craig Mackail-Smith who had the simple job of tapping home to give Posh the lead.
But despite having the lion’s share of possession deep in Peterborough territory, Dons hardly tested keeper Joe Lewis - although Daniel Powell made his mark on him when the pair clashed early on, forcing Lewis off at the break.
And it was to be a baptism of fire for replacement stopper Paul Jones as two minutes after the restart, Dean Lewington’s deep cross into the box was poorly headed back across goal by Tommy Rowe and Jones failed to punch clear, allowing Powell to stab home from close range. Three minutes later, Baldock rifled home a spectacular low free-kick to put Dons into the lead before Angelo Balanta fired home from Adam Clayton’s clever pass with 56 minutes played.
Posh looked shell-shocked when Charlie Lee was sent off for a second booking, but with Dons committed forward, Little picked up the ball inside his own half and ran the length of the field with Gleeson in tow before the pair tangled on the edge of the area.
But on the whole, Robinson was pleased to have come away from the game with a lead, but isn’t booking his hotel in Manchester just yet.
“I would have gone to London Road happy with any lead, but we knew it wouldn’t be finished here,” said the Dons boss.
“But with the quality we have in this team, we know we can score goals.
“But 3-2 up going to London Road - we can’t wait. At half time, we felt we were the better team. I thought for the whole 90 minutes we were excellent.
“And I did say not to concede a second, but the boys went out and scored three instead, so they obviously don’t listen to me!”
Robinson is still wary of the threat of Posh on home soil, and feels his side should have capitalised on Lee’s sending off to add to their tally.
He said: “Peterborough can score goals at will, even if we had a four or five goal lead it wouldn’t have been all over.
“But when we had a man advantage and a two goal cushion, we shouldn’t have taken our foot off the pedal.
“Some of our younger players tried to antagonise them and draw them out. We had one or two chances in that period and it would have been a different game.
“Our set-pieces were excellent, even without Peter Leven in there. It’s going to be a fantastic tie and I wish it was tomorrow.”