A LATE Hugo Rodallega strike saw Dons concede their first goal in their final pre-season match as they went down 1-0 to Premier League Fulham on Tuesday night.
In their last big warm-up game before the proper stuff begins on Saturday, Dons more than held their own against Martin Jol’s side and probably should have won the match in the second half.
Shaun Williams blazed a penalty high over the crossbar after Luke Chadwick was tripped by Fulham stopper David Stockdale, before Dean Bowditch hit the bar with five minutes to go after Rodallega tapped home Alex Kacaniklic’s corner.
It was a Dons team resembling that of last season as Karl Robinson threw experimentation out of the window and opted for tried and tested with his starting line-up against the Cottagers.
Williams took up the centre back role in the absence of Mathias Doumbe while Charlie MacDonald returned to the starting line-up in place of Alan Smith. He joined Ryan Lowe on the five-man substitutes bench, which also featured two academy players.
And it was a start to the game which resembled that of last season too – with Dons on the front foot from the off, closing and pressing the Fulham midfield and attacking with pace from the flanks.
Bowditch saw more of the ball in the opening 15 minutes than he did for an hour against Norwich, sending in three dangerous crosses towards MacDonald.
Fulham though forced the first save of the game when Marcello Trotta twisted and turned in the box before firing a low effort on goal, which David Martin could only throw a leg at to keep out. Rodallega couldn’t direct his header from the resulting corner.
From there though, it was fairly one-way traffic as the Premier League boys began to flex their muscles, dominating possession and pinning Dons back into their own half.
In a rare venture into Fulham’s half, Darren Potter probably could have done better with 10 minutes to go before half time when Adam Chicksen picked him out unmarked on the edge of the box, but last season’s player of the year scuffed his shot, resulting in a comfortable save for Stockdale.
And Chicksen nearly picked out Bowditch in the centre five minutes later, but the cross was just too high for him to direct a header towards goal as the sides went in 0-0 at the break.
Dons looked alive as the second half got underway, but so did Fulham as both sides looked keen to break the deadlock. Rodallega forced a low stop from Martin and Pajtim Kasami looked likely to test the keeper from close range before Chadwick made a vital interception as he was about to pull the trigger.
At the other end, Dons were enjoying some success down the right flank as Chadwick and Jay O’Shea doubled up on Matthew Briggs, but struggled in the middle as the giant Dan Burn loomed over MacDonald, giving him no chance in any aerial battle.
Martin was worked again on the hour mark when Rodallega’s free-kick looked to be sneaking in at the near post, but the keeper gathered it comfortably.
But it was Dons who had the best chance of the game on 69 minutes, and it came from a superb counter attacking move. Buomesca Tue Na Bangna looked certain to score for Fulham as he neatly rounded Martin, but Williams did brilliantly to intercept and spray the ball wide to Bowditch. He in turn fed Chadwick through the centre, but he was pulled back by keeper Stockdale, leaving referee Pat Miller no choice but to award the spot-kick. Williams stepped up to take it, but blazed it over the bar to ensure the game remained goalless.
Substitute Ronny Mikwitz had two minutes to forget when he first fired a shot straight at Martin and then seconds later, when he was first to a rebound, he smashed the ball high over the bar into the Fulham fans gathered behind the goal.
Dons fans may have wanted to see a goal at some point in the pre-season campaign, but they probably wouldn’t have wanted to see it from a man in a Fulham shirt as Rodallega opened his account with his new club, tapping in from close range after Dons failed to clear Alex Kacaniklic’s corner with 10 minutes to go.
Dons really should have pulled level though with five minutes to go when Lowe put in a perfect ball, again from the right flank, but Bowditch – sneaking in front of his man – couldn’t keep his shot down as it clipped the bar on its way over.
Dons can feel slightly hard-done-by with the result at stadium:mk, given that they created more in front of goal than their Premier League rivals – they just couldn’t hit the target.
But given that Rodallega’s goal is the only one they have conceded in six matches, Robinson will be confident going into Saturday’s League Cup clash with Cheltenham, ahead of the League 1 opener against Oldham a week later.
Referee: Pat Miller (Bedford)
Attendance: 4,727 (894)
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, MacKenzie, Williams, Chicksen (Hickford 88), Gleeson, Potter, O’Shea (Smith 77), Chadwick, Bowditch, MacDonald (Lowe 61)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Lobjoit
Fulham: Stockdale, Briggs, Burn (Grygera 70), Baird, Kelly, Sidwell, Kasami, Frei (Mikwitz 45), Rodallega, Trotta (Kacaniklic 61), Tue Na Bangna
Subs not used: Brister, Kavanagh, Somogyi