AN outrageous effort from the byline by Stephen Gleeson handed Dons a well earned point as they drew 1-1 with Huddersfield Town at the Galpharm Stadium on Saturday.
Town had the better of the action in the first half and probably just deserved to go in ahead at the break – Jamie McCombe heading home in stoppage time from a free-kick in the centre circle.
Dons though were by far the better side in the second half and were rightfully level on the hour mark when Gleeson’s free-kick sailed over Ian Bennett’s head to equalise.
Alan Smith was handed his first start in an MK Dons shirt as he replaced Jay O’Shea in the starting 11. Tom Flanagan also made way, dropping to the bench as Shaun Williams took over alongside Gary MacKenzie, as Darren Potter returned to the centre of midfield. Deadline day signing James Tavernier took over at right-back but there was no room for Celtic winger James Slane.
Similarly to the start on Tuesday against Sheffield Wednesday, Dons started nervously against another one of their promotion rivals. The visitors looked content to play the ball around in their own defence rather than sending passes up to Charlie MacDonald and invited a number of early crosses from the home side, which evaded the defence as well as the Huddersfield attack.
Dons’ first real attack of the half came in the 10th minute when Smith exchanged passes with MacDonald before sending in an early ball to Gleeson. But the Irish midfielder’s strike was blocked out for a corner.
Tavernier, making his first appearance since signing on loan from Newcastle, endured a torrid opening 15 minutes against the experienced Danny Cadamarteri. The Town man looked to have a speed advantage over the Premier League loanee, and was the main source of attack for the home side.
But it was a lucky deflection which forced David Martin into the first save of the match. Cutting inside onto his left foot, Jack Hunt’s tame effort looked to be bread and butter for the Dons keeper, but a deflection off Shaun Williams forced Martin into a full-stretch dive to keep the ball out – MacKenzie mopped up, hoisting the ball away.
Dons began to get the ball down on the ground and enjoyed a decent spell of play approaching the half hour. A good passing move between Gleeson, MacDonald and Dean Bowditch allowed space for the latter to shoot on goal, but his tame effort was straight at Bennett in the Huddersfield goal.
As half time approached, Town had the best chance of the game. When Smith, who was booed by the home fans with every touch, missed a challenge with Scott Arfield. It allowed the winger to break into the Dons half, and with Williams backing off him, he raced into the area but failed to pull the trigger, allowing MacKenzie to make the challenge.
Just as it looked like the two sides were going to go in level at the break, Dons’ vulnerability at set-pieces once again let them down. A soft free-kick in the centre of the field in stoppage time was lofted into the box and McCombe rose highest to nod into the top corner, giving Huddersfield a 1-0 advantage going in at half time.
Dons came out with intent at the beginning of the second half and pressed in the early stages as they searched for the equaliser. They had the better of the midfield play, and with Tavernier encouraged forward, he added another attacking threat on the right flank. The full-back seemed to have a better understanding of his role in the second half.
Dons were rewarded for their brilliant start to the second half with an equaliser on the hour mark – though there was an element of luck to it. Gleeson stood over a free-kick on the touchline, nearly 40 yards from goal and pitched the ball into the box. And it evaded everybody, including Bennett, as it sailed into the top corner.
Smith picked up a silly booking for a foul on the Huddersfield byline and as the home crowd’s animosity grew towards him, he was withdrawn and replaced by Jabo Ibehre with 25 minutes remaining.
The visitors could then feel hard done by when Bowditch laid off to MacDonald in the penalty area and his quick shot appeared to hit a Huddersfield hand but the referee wasn’t moved.
Dons though looked the more likely to add to the scoring – the home side looking all at sea in the midfield. The return of Potter gave Dons the stability and direction they missed so dearly in his absence.
Despite dominating second half proceedings, there was still a scare for Dons when with 10 minutes to go a loose Tavernier touch allowed Kallum Higginbotham a sight of goal, but his effort was blocked by Luke Chadwick with Martin committed to diving the other way.
Just as it looked like plain sailing to draw, Town clicked into gear in stoppage time. First, Hunt hit the underside of the bar before Arfield’s low shot made it through a sea of bodies and just wide of the post as the home side sought out the winner.
But on the balance of play, both sides will be pleased with a point. Dons remain fifth in League 1.
Referee: Graham Salisbury
Attendance: 15,898 (302)
Huddersfield Town: Bennett, Hunt, Naysmith, McCombe, Morrison, Arfield, Miller (Robinson, 76), Gobern, Cadamarteri, Higginbotham, Rhodes
Subs not used: Smithies, Woods, Novak, Lee
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Tavernier, MacKenzie, Williams, Potter, Gleeson, Chadwick (Powell, 86), Smith (Ibehre, 65), Bowditch (O’Shea 76), MacDonald
Subs not used: Flanagan, McLoughlin
Booked: Naysmith, Miller, Smith