GARY MacKenzie apologised for letting “the club, his manager, his team-mates, and the fans” down after he was sent off in the first half of Dons’ 2-1 defeat at The Valley on Tuesday night.
The big 26-year-old defender clashed with Charlton striker Yann Kermorgant late in the first half of the League 1 game, and while both players appeared to throw ‘headbutts’ at each other, only MacKenzie was shown a straight red card, giving away a penalty in the process.
Addicks captain Johnnie Jackson slotted home the penalty before he was fouled again in the box – this time by Luke Chadwick – in first half stoppage time.
He then stepped up to double the lead before the break, leaving Dons with a near impossible task to get anything from the game.
Dean Bowditch scored a late consolation for Dons, but despite an admirable second half display, the visitors couldn’t take a point.
“I would like to apologise to the manager, players and fans alike,” said MacKenzie after the game. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.
“I made a good clearance but I was kicked to the ground. When I confronted the player about it he then headbutted me. I retaliated, which was wrong.
“I should have alerted the ref if he didn’t see it, or at least the linesman who also conveniently didn’t see it. That’s my take on it.
“I shouldn’t have retaliated but I find it hard to understand how half the stadium saw the incident but the referee and linesman did not.”
Dons boss Karl Robinson said MacKenzie let everyone down by reacting the way he did, but added that he was proud of the defender for explaining his actions to the media immediately afterwards.
The incident has even led to some fans calling for MacKenzie to never play for Dons again.
“I accept the good, the bad and the ugly about the game, and as a club we accept it,” said Robinson.
“Their player can not headbutt ours – that’s the first point. I’m disappointed the referee did not see that. But I can not accept what happened afterwards.
“You can’t do that. I’m proud of him in a weird way for coming out and explaining himself. But he will learn from it.
“If you take the aggression out of Gary, you lose half the player. But he needs to curb that anger and I’m sure he will.
“He will learn and get better, but he has let us down tonight. He knows that and I can’t defend the indefensible. He will be dealt with behind closed doors.”
Robinson named the same side against the League 1 leaders that drew away at Huddersfield 10 days previously, and Dons quickly got into their stride, as did the hosts in what was shaping up to be a very tight-knit affair.
Chadwick tried an audacious dipping volley from 25 yards after five minutes which was coolly dealt with by keeper Ben Hamer, and Charlie MacDonald tested the Charlton stopper again from range four minutes later as he dove to his left to keep the ball out – Dons having the better of the early chances.
Charlton too looked dangerous though, as they quickly zipped the ball around in the attacking third with ease but didn’t really test Dons keeper David Martin in the opening 20 minutes. In fact, they struggled to create a clear cut opening throughout.
MacKenzie became referee Keith Stroud’s first booking of the game when he and Kermorgant challenged for an aerial ball – the Athletic man ended up flat out in the home dugout, though the Scottish defender could feel a little hard done by for the severity of his punishment, though the defender would see red shortly after.
MacKenzie breathed a sigh of relief two minutes later when he and Bradley Wright-Phillips chased down a long ball forward. Beating the Charlton striker to it, MacKenzie played the ball off Wright-Phillips and it looped towards goal.
Martin took the ball above his head, but had both feet behind the goal line, prompting appeals for a goal from the home fans, but the linesman didn’t budge – with Martin allowing himself a cheeky smile at the Charlton fans behind the goal.
The Londoners began to take the upper hand as the half wore on, getting the better of the midfield battle. Addicks skipper Jackson sent a free-kick narrowly wide of Martin’s post, but their best chance was yet to come.
Dons had their best chance of the half 10 minutes before the interval and really should have taken the lead. James Tavernier broke down the right before slipping the ball back to Darren Potter to cross.
His deep ball found Bowditch at the far post, who headed the ball back across goal to the unmarked Smith, but his header from point blank range was brilliantly saved by Hamer before MacDonald put the rebound well over the bar.
Then disaster struck for Dons three minutes before the half time whistle when MacKenzie was shown a straight red card for head-butting on Kermorgant, though MacKenzie protested that it was in fact the Charlton man who was the offender.
Jackson claimed the ball and coolly slotted it home past Martin, who guessed the right way but could do nothing to keep it out as Charlton took a 1-0 lead.
And incredibly Stroud pointed to the penalty spot again deep into stoppage time as Chadwick was adjudged to have fouled Jackson in the area after his shot came back off the crossbar – a soft decision, but the skipper got up, dusted himself off again, and blasted in his second goal of the evening, leaving Dons with a huge uphill task in the second half.
MacDonald was withdrawn at the interval with Mathias Doumbe replacing him, filling the void in the centre of defence, while Alan Smith was left to lead the line.
Credit to Dons though – they came out fighting in the second half and for the early part looked the better side.
They played with a high line and penned the home side into their half in the opening 10 minutes, but they struggled to break down a dogged Charlton defence and couldn’t really create anything clear-cut in front of goal.
Captain Dean Lewington was leading by example, desperately trying to drag Dons back into the game by the scruff of the neck as he and fellow full back Tavernier became genuine attacking threats in the second period.
In a rare second half Charlton attack, Wright-Phillips should have put the game to bed in the 69th minute when Shaun Williams slipped to allow him a clear sight at goal. But astonishingly the striker put his shot wide from 10 yards out, leaving Dons still with a glimmer of hope as they entered the final 20 minutes.
The level of control Dons had in the second half was epitomised by the fact that Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips hardly touched the ball, while Smith, Bowditch and later substitute Daniel Powell were by far the busier front men.
Stephen Gleeson forced Hamer into a top stop with 10 minutes remaining – the keeper at full stretch to tip the midfielder’s long-range shot over the bar. He was needed three minutes later too when Powell cut inside from the left, but his low shot was comfortably parried.
Robinson threw Jay O’Shea into the mix with seven minutes to go to add another attacking option late in the game, and he slipped through Bowditch with four minutes to play to pull it back to 2-1 and give Charlton a pretty uncomfortable finale, but their first half penalties proved enough to see them over the line.
Dons remain fifth in the League 1 table, but have seen the gap to Stevenage below them closed to one point following their victory at Sheffield Wednesday, while Sheffield United moved up to second courtesy of their win at Huddersfield.
Dons are now without a win in seven games, but have looked in impressive form. And Robinson isn’t panicking yet ahead of this Saturday’s game against Oldham.
He said: “It was a performance of men. We created a number of chances with 11 men, and with 10. We are a really good team in this league. We have come here and proved we can mix it with the big boys.
“We’ve now played everybody in the top six twice, except Sheffield United. We’re the only club to do that. We showed a lot of class, we passed the ball well. The pitches are starting to improve, and our fitness levels are improving too.
“Smith was excellent and showed he’s a class act. We’re getting stronger as a team, but we’ve got a long way to go.
“I thought we were excellent. Charlton had a lot of set-pieces, but we both had a really good go, giving everything we had.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t win though. Even with 10 men I thought we could get a draw.”