AN INCREDIBLE comeback from Brentford saw Dons blow a three goal half time lead to share the spoils at Griffin Park in a remarkable 3-3 draw.
Things looked comfortable at half-time, as Dons cruised in with a 3-0 lead, Darren Potter scoring the opener within four minutes of kick off before Angelo Balanta rifled in a second two minutes later. Charlie Macdonald scored a third just before the break, but the drama was to come in the second half. Brentford’s Gary Alexander capitalised on some lacklustre defending to smash in from close range before Balanta gave away a penalty with 17 minutes remaining, which Alexander put home with just as much force to peg Dons back to 3-2, setting up a nervy ending. With the wind in their sails, Leon Legge was on hand to head in Sam Saunders’ late free kick to complete the comeback.
Karl Robinson made just one chance to the side that cruised to victory on Boxing Day against Leyton Orient – Angelo Balanta returned to the starting line-up in place of the suspended Luke Chadwick. Charlie MacDonald made his first return Brentford since moving to stadium:mk in August.
Fresh from scoring from 30 yards on Boxing Day, Adam Smith was quick to find his range again inside two minutes, this time racing into the penalty area but his shot was deflected just wide of the post and into the side netting.
But it didn’t take long for Dons to find the right side of the net though, when Darren Potter collected Dean Bowditch’s pass on the edge of the penalty area to lash home past Richard Lee after just five minutes.
In last season’s encounter, Angelo Balanta suffered a season-wrecking ankle injury after a shocking challenge on him. But he put to rest the ghosts of last year by doubling Dons’ lead just two minutes later. Dean Lewington’s throw found the Colombian in the penalty area, and he cleverly let the ball run across him before volleying home into the far side of the goal, leaving Lee with no chance, but the score at 2-0.
Not satisfied with just two, Dons kept up the pressure, penning Brentford in their own half. Bowditch could have added a third when his sweetly struck shot swerved through the air, but Lee did well to keep his eye on it and punch it to safety with MacDonald lurking dangerously for a sniff of a rebound.
Brentford finally had their first sight of goal in the 19th minute. Stephen Gleeson lose possession to Marcus Bean in the centre circle and the midfield slipped through Gary Alexander but the front man opted for an early effort, shooting from the edge of the box and putting it wide of David Martin’s post.
This led to a patch of pressure from the home side, swinging crosses into the Dons penalty area, but despite their efforts, Martin wasn’t called into action as too many shots and headers flew wide of the target.
Darren Potter got another sign of goal just past the half hour after a good passage of play involving MacDonald and Ibehre, but the midfielder couldn’t recreate the strike which put Dons into the lead – this time Lee was a match for it, diving to his left.
But the keeper could do nothing about Charlie MacDonald’s strike three minutes before the interval. Bowditch raced down the right flank and spotted the former Brentford man unmarked in the centre, picked him out and he had the simple task of slotting home. Despite going three down, the home supporters had the grace to applaud their former striker as he muted his celebrations, but his side were still 3-0 up at the break.
In a frantic opening to the second half, Dons could have extended their lead further when Bowditch found himself unmarked in the penalty area, only to have Lee palm the ball to safety, while at the other end Brentford looked to have men over but Shaleum Logan chose to go it alone, allowing Gleeson back to avert the danger.
Sam Saunders had a great chance to get the home side back in it with a dangerous free kick on the edge of the box, but his strike was straight at Martin – his first real piece of action.
But he was left helpless when, with 26 minutes to go, Gary Alexander pounced on some iffy Dons defending to lash in from close range to pull the score back to 3-1.
The goal gave Brentford a new lease of life, and they fought their way back into the game earning more possession and territory, but struggled to create anything meaningful. That is until Balanta was adjudged to have handled Saunders’ corner with 17 minutes to go, with referee Gavin Ward pointing to the spot after the assistant flagged. Alexander smashed the penalty straight down the middle to bring the home side back within a goal.
Recognising Brentford’s new spirit, Robinson rolled the dice by removing Bowditch and Macdonald and replacing them with Daniel Powell and Shaun Williams, opting to smother the Bees in midfield while leaving Ibehre up front on his own.
But the home side just kept coming, winning a succession of corners in the final 15 minutes to keep the pressure up. And the unlikely comeback was complete in the final minute as Leon Legge headed home Saunders’ free kick after an initial effort had come back off the cross bar.
The result sees Dons slip back to fifth in League 1 with wins for both Sheffield clubs earlier in the day. But Dons will have the chance to make amends in just two days time as they welcome Colchester to stadium:mk on January 2.
Referee: G Ward
Attendance: 5397 (420)
Brentford: Lee, Bean, Eger, Saunders, Douglas, Weston (Forrester, 82), Logan (Dean, 83), Bidwell, Oyeleke (Donaldson 45), Alexander, Legge
Subs not used: Moore, Diagouraga
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Smith, Doumbe, MacKenzie, Gleeson, Potter, Balanta, Bowditch (Powell, 79), Ibehre, MacDonald (Williams, 79)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Flanagan, O’Shea
Booked: Bean, Smith, MacKenzie, Gleeson