THE record books will show a 3-2 victory for Dons against Carlisle United on Saturday, April 9, 2011, but for those who were there, that doesn’t tell half the story.
The match was one of those that reminds fans of why they love football so much, partly because for lengthy periods it reminded them of why they often find it so frustrating.
Carlisle looked on course to ruin what had the makings of being the perfect afternoon for Dons when James Berrett fired home from the penalty spot with 20 minutes to play. But a dramatic final 10 minutes saw Dons produce an extraordinary comeback, leading to boss Karl Robinson saying he’d never seen a celebration like the one which greeted Adam Clayton’s 94th minute winner in front of the Cowshed.
Some of the most dramatic and memorable moments in football are made so because they come out of nowhere, and for the vast majority Saturday’s game was pretty uneventful. Daniel Powell fired Dons into a 13th minute lead when Keanu Marsh-Brown’s deep cross landed at his feet and he lashed past keeper Adam Collin, just seconds after Liam Noble had missed a glorious opportunity to put Carlisle ahead.
However, he made amends on the half hour as he took aim from nearly 30-yards and his rasping strike was too quick for David Martin. That came as the Cumbrians were starting to dominate the first half after Dons had been in cruise control in the opening stages. It really was a first half of two halves, with the short-sleeved fans in the crowd beginning to wonder whether they should have brought a jacket as half of stadium:mk enjoyed the sunshine and the other half sat in the shade.
Robinson returned for the second half with a jumper on, but wouldn’t have been too pleased with the way his side were playing as Dons were unable to create any scoring chances against a very well organised Carlisle side.
And it looked like being a day to forget for the home fans when Sean O’Hanlon tripped Francois Zoko in the penalty area and Berrett beat Martin.
But after huffing and puffing to no avail, Dons eventually came to life in the closing stages, and for those of an MK persuasion it was well worth the wait. Carlisle had only themselves to blame as they left Angelo Balanta unmarked from Peter Leven’s free-kick and he headed in at the far post.
There was only going to be one winner now as Dons surged forward with the fans in good voice. Clayton and Marsh-Brown both went close as the pressure continued to build, and deep into injury time Carlisle eventually caved in.
Dean Lewington’s perfect ball across the face of goal was crying out for a Dons foot to tap the ball home, and it was former Carlisle loan player Clayton who obliged to beat Collin from barely a yard out, cuing wild celebration, including keeper Martin who charged the length of the field to join in.
It was that spirit, and that from the fans, which got Dons three points said Robinson, as his side further strengthened their League One play-off place going into the last month of the season.
“At 2-1 down we weren’t playing great - I’ll hold my hands up,” he said. “But from somewhere the fans got their voice and drive and we got the goal. It was electrifying for the last five minutes. This is a very special place when you get a group of fans like that and a team that’s willing to die for them.
“It’s something we need to bottle because it’s the only way that we’re going to get anywhere, by creating a very intimidating environment but also one that is a pleasure to play in front of. You have seen what it meant to the players when he scored and it’s a moment I won’t forget for a long time.
“I said to the chairman after that I don’t think I have seen a celebration like that - ever.”