DONS had to come from a goal behind to rescue a point against Hartlepool at Victoria Park on Saturday.
The home side took the lead against the run of play in the first half through James Poole’s header, but Dons fought back and were on level terms five minutes into the second period thanks to a Jay O’Shea header. Both sides had half chances to win the game late on, but on reflection, a 1-1 draw was probably fair.
Dons were down to barebones for their trip to Victoria Park. They were already without inured Darren Potter and Charlie MacDonald and suspended Stephen Gleeson and Gart MacKenzie going into the game before Dean Bowditch fell ill, ruling him out of the tie. It meant Karl Robinson could only name four substitutes on the bench, but there was room for new recruit Paul Slane after he proved his fitness in a training game with Wycombe on Tuesday.
Neither side took much time to find their feet on the pristine Victoria Park pitch, with both having good chances to take the lead in the opening 10 minutes. James Brown’s free kick from the right missed everyone in the box but dropped just wide of the post, while Dons had a decent shout for a penalty turned down when it appeared Peter Hartley handled in the area as Jabo Ibehre tried to barge his way through.
And the away side were unlucky not to go in front after 14 minutes when Luke Chadwick picked up a stray pass in the middle of the field and fired on goal from the edge of the area. His shot took a deflection on the way through, completely wrong-footing Pool keeper Scott Flinders. Fortunately for the stopper though, he watched the shot come back off the base of the post, and just out of reach of the on-rushing Ibehre.
Dons were left feeling hard done by again when Daniel Powell raced clear, only to be pulled back by Sam Collins. Referee Haines appeared as though he was going to give a free kick on the edge of the box, and would have to send Collins off, but instead checked with his linesman on the far side of the pitch, and waved play on.
Dons looked by far the better side going forward, and were winning the physical battle in the midfield, but were finding it hard to create anything in front of goal. They were almost gifted the opening goal when a mix-up between Flinders and Hartley nearly saw the defender head into his own net, but the keeper managed to scramble back in time to collect.
For much of the half, David Martin was a spectator, but he was beaten five minutes before the break as Hartlepool took the lead. Brown’s deep cross from the right was headed back across the face of goal by Andy Monkhouse to James Poole unmarked in the centre. He made no mistakes with his powerful header on goal, clipping the underside of the bar on its way into the net, beating Martin all ends up.
He did his part as the clock struck 45 minutes to keep Dons in the game though, diving at full stretch to keep out veteran Richie Humphrey’s shot from the edge of the box, ensuring the deficit was just one goal at the interval.
But it didn’t take long after the break for Dons to get back on level terms. Shaun Williams bent in a brilliant right-footed free kick to the unmarked O’Shea at the far post, who had the simple task of heading in the equaliser from two yards.
With Dons now looking the more likely to go on and win the game, they began to roam forward with ease and Chadwick was unlucky to hit the post again from range with Flinders well beaten.
Robinson threw caution to the wind with 20 minutes to go by introducing teenager George Williams to the fray, replacing Chadwick.
Much like in the first half, Martin was left a spectator for much of the proceedings, though did have to be alert keep out Monkhouse’s header early in the half, while substitute Adam Boyd’s quick shot went wide as the home side stuttered in the second 45 minutes.
The atmosphere lifted with 10 minutes to go as both sides sensed that the next goal might win it and there was some frantic action in the middle of the field as they fought for possession. Paul Slane was given a late introduction to the game, entering with six minutes remaining to add some extra pace and freshness to the attack.
Hartlepool were reduced to 10 men late in the game when substitute Sammy Adeji pulled up with a hamstring problem – Neale Cooper having already used all three substitutes.
Jay O’Shea had the best chance to win it for Dons in the closing stages as he collected Lewington’s neat chip on the edge of the box and raced into the area, but his shot was rushed and sailed into the stand behind the goal.
The draw still leaves Dons fifth in the table.
Referee: A Haines
Attendance: 4,955 (145)
Hartlepool United: Flinders, Austin, Collins, Hartley, Horwood, Sweeney, Murray, Humphreys (Baldwin, 62), Monkhouse, Poole (Adjei, 54), Brown (Boyd, 73)
Subs not used: Rafferty, Haslam
MK Dons: Martin, Tavernier, Lewington, Doumbe, Flanagan, Smith, Shaun Williams, Chadwick (George Williams, 70), Powell (Slane, 84), O’Shea, Ibehre
Subs not used: Chicksen, McLoughlin
Booked: Chadwick, Smith