A GOAL at the death from Jabo Ibehre spared the blushes as Dons twice came from behind to draw 2-2 with Hartlepool United at stadium:mk.
Manager Karl Robinson described the draw as disappointing after he watched his side dominate the game but fall behind twice to goals from Adam Boyd and James Poole against the run of play.
Dons were guilty at the other end, wasting chance after chance to score, although Pools’ keeper Scott Flinders was on top form as he kept the home side at bay.
The result could and should have been completely different though had referee Andy D’Urso given what looked like a stone wall penalty after a foul on Stephen Gleeson in the final minute of added time.
But just days after Robinson was fined £1,000 by the FA for an altercation last season, the Dons boss remained tight lipped about his opinion of the officials after the game.
“I saw it the same way the Hartlepool staff, players, our players and every fan in the stadium saw it,” he said. “I got fined £1,000 by the FA last week, so I won’t say much, but at least he was consistent.
“The disappointing thing for me is that mid-way through the second half we weren’t clinical enough.
“When we got back on level terms, I thought we sat back and thought the next goal was going to come.
“When you have a team against the wall, you have to be ruthless, but we didn’t finish them off.
“We let them get back off it, but we are learning. We’re a young team, but we completely out-played them and if you ask anyone from Hartlepool, I’m sure they’ll agree.”
Angelo Balanta went straight into the starting line-up to face Hartlepool after completing a loan move from QPR, and created the first chance of the game for Dons in just the third minute.
His brilliant cross field ball skipped off the damp surface, catching out Peter Hartley and falling kindly for Dan Powell. He raced into the area, but Flinders was quick to rush out and save with his feet.
That early attack was a sign of things to come as Dons remained on top for the whole game. Particularly in the first half, Powell was the main threat as Dons surged forward, but even when he did beat Flinders with a shot, a deflection took the ball up and onto the top of the crossbar.
Another deflected effort, this time by Balanta, also had Flinders scrambling to get back on his line, but again the ball cleared the bar and landed on the roof of the net. Dons could have been three goals to the good after 15 minutes.
Robinson is still searching for a right-back and a central defender to cover for the injured Mathias Doumbe, and Dons’ defensive frailties were exploited with Pools’ first meaningful attack of the game. Evan Horwood found space on the left flank to cross after doubling up on Adam Chicksen, and Adam Boyd rose high to powerfully header home 20 minutes in.
Dons were attacking with every opportunity, but as has been seen at stadium:mk many times before, the visitors were playing with a deep defensive line with up to eight men behind the ball in a bid to keep Dons at bay.
Tempers flared on the stroke of half-time when Balanta jumped in to a challenge with Horwood right in front of the Dons dugout. The defender stayed down, though both Robinson and assistant John Gorman furiously protested with the referee that the Colombian only made contact with the ball. Fortunately for Balanta, he escaped with a booking.
The scores really should have been level just 30 seconds into the second half when Powell fed Sam Baldock, who in turn laid off to Gleeson, but the midfielder was taken somewhat by surprise and shot high and wide from close range.
But it didn’t take long though and Dons were back in the game eight minutes after the restart. Chadwick found space on the left flank, cut inside his defender and curled beautifully into the far corner, beating Flinders all ends up.
And Dons could easily have taken the lead two minutes later when Chadwick again found Balanta in space in the middle of the pitch, and the winger unleashed a rocket shot from the edge of the area, but with Flinders beaten again, the ball grazed the top of the bar.
Hartlepool offered little going forward, and David Martin was a redundant figure in the Dons goal, but he was left to pick the ball out of his net with just six minutes to play as the visitors once again took the lead. James Poole, who replaced the ineffective Colin Nish just minutes earlier, went on a weaving run, brushing past Williams and getting a lucky deflection off Gary MacKenzie before rifling past Martin from only their second attack of the game, but most importantly scoring their second goal.
Makeshift right-back Chicksen was sacrificed for Jay O’Shea as Robinson used up his final substitution in search of the now essential next goal. And the substitution paid dividends as the clock struck 90 minutes. From the right flank, O’Shea cut inside onto his left foot and crossed into the box. A deflection took everyone by surprise but fellow substitute Ibehre was first to react, heading past the hapless Flinders.
And D’Urso’s refusal to give a late penalty could have changed the result completely, but ultimately the home supporters had to settle for a draw snatched from the jaws of defeat.
Robinson said: “I wanted the win. You could see by my substitutions – I put on two forwards at 1-1. I wanted the three points, I demanded the three points, but we never got them.
“It’s disappointing to take, but we will have to take the chances. A number of the players could have got on the scoresheet, but it wasn’t to be.
“Funnily enough, the only break we got was the deflection that ended up with Jabo (Ibehre) for the goal.
“The possession count and the passing and crossing completely favoured us, but you have to show respect for Hartlepool for the way they defended.
“I know the fans get frustrated because we can’t get forward all the time, but when you have 11 men behind the ball it makes it difficult, you have to be patient and you have got to hope that you can capitalise on a mistake or a moment of genius.”
Goal-scorer Ibehre echoed his manager’s thoughts, and was convinced that Gleeson was fouled deep in stoppage time.
“From where I was, it looked clear cut. But again the decision didn’t go our way. It’d be nice for us to get a decision here, but these things happen and hopefully our luck will change through the season.
“We showed great character in the end. It was disheartening when they scored the second goal. We got into the groove a bit more in the second half, passed the ball well, and were dominating in their half.
“Hartlepool were trying to drag out the time as often as they could, but we were pleased that we didn’t lose and got a point on the board.
“You have to take the positives out of the game. There are always nerves, and we’ll take a point, but the first game at home, we’d have all liked a win.”