THE Johnstone’s Paint Trophy holds a lot of great memories for MK Dons writes Toby Lock. Well one anyway.
As the first piece of silverware the club won since their move to Milton Keynes, it’ll always be held with fond memories for the 33,000 who were there at Wembley in 2008, seeing Keith Andrews lift the first of two trophies Dons would win that year.
Fast forward four years, and feelings towards the competition are slightly different. Dons have far bigger fish to fry this season, so the 1-0 defeat to Northampton Town on Tuesday night probably won’t be of any great concern to Karl Robinson, despite it being one of their more frustrating nights at the office.
The rules of the competition state that at least seven first team regulars must be part of the starting 11 in the tournament, but that didn’t stop the manager making five changes to his starting line-up following Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Carlisle. This included recalling Alan Smith and Antony Kay after their suspensions ended, and handing debuts to Jimmy Bullard and 17-year-old right-back Mason Spence.
The teenager showed no signs of nerves as he defended his flank, in fact he even showed great confidence in his own ability by joining Daniel Powell in the attacking third, over-lapping the winger to whip in some dangerous looking crosses - it looks like Academy coach Mike Dove has done it again.
Northampton’s winner came in the 11th minute, courtesy of the man who shares a name with the Dons boss.
Jake Robinson won’t have struck a sweeter volley as he met Henoc Mukendi’s knock down 35 yards out, catching David Martin stranded as the ball sailed over him and into the net.
And his ambitious effort was as close as Cobblers would come for the rest of the tie. More intent on defending their lead than adding to it, the home side bunkered down for the night, inviting wave after wave of Dons attacks for the remaining 79 minutes of the game.
There was no real urgency shown by Dons though. Content in keeping possession, at times it resembled a training game rather than an occasion offering a place at Wembley waiting at the end of the road. It didn’t stop the visitors from creating some half decent chances though.
Dean Bowditch had the best chance of the first half in stoppage time when his well-struck shot hit, rather than was saved by, keeper Lee Nicholls and it bounced out for a corner. It was that sort of luck that would be with them for the rest of the night.
Half chances came and went. Shots were sent high over the bar, blocked on site or skimmed slowly through to Nicholls. Passes were over hit or slightly awry, finding maroon shirts and promptly stopping what looked like a promising move.
Charlie MacDonald wasted two good chances in the first half but could have sent the tie to penalties with moments to go when he was slipped through by Jay O’Shea, but his shot took two deflections, which on any other night would have taken it in but on Tuesday saw it bounce just out of Jabo Ibehre’s reach and out of play.
Afterwards, Robinson put the result into context.
“I respect the competition immensely. It’s disappointing not to go through to the next round… but the rest will come in handy.”
Perhaps the result is a blessing in disguise - maybe not so much for local bragging rights but if it means playing fewer games and helping win promotion, the 1-0 defeat is just fine.