KARL Robinson may have signed a new contract just hours earlier, but it didn’t bring any luck as Dons lost at home for the first time this season, going down 1-0 to Preston.
Paul Parry’s first goal in two years after 11 minutes was enough to seal all three points for the visitors as Dons dominated proceedings but simply couldn’t find a way past North End keeper Thorsten Stuckmann.
Kicking off later than usual, Sheffield United’s win over Bournemouth meant Dons slipped to fourth in League 1, but the fans had a spring in their step walking into stadium:mk after hearing news that Karl Robinson and John Gorman had signed extended deals to stay with the club. In Robinson’s only change, Stephen Gleeson replaced Shaun Williams in the starting line-up after last week’s 2-0 win over Tranmere Rovers – Williams suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season at Prenton Park.
Manager-less North End, who sacked Phil Brown on Wednesday, started on the front foot and looked the more lively in the opening exchanges. Iain Hume sent an early header just over David Martin’s crossbar, and Paul Coutts was adjudged to have dived in the area in a bid to win a penalty – the North End skipper collecting a booking from referee Andre Mariner.
But the visitors eventually made their pressure count in the seventh minute when Paul Parry arrived late and unmarked at the far post to head in Danny Mayor’s cross, putting North End into the lead.
Preston really should have been two goals ahead four minutes later when Coutts raced clean through on goal, but put under pressure by Gleeson, he could only hit the outside of Martin’s post.
And they could have been home and dried by the 15 minute mark when Mayor ‘s cross beat Martin and found Neil Mellor two yards out, but somehow the former Liverpool man, who scored a hat-trick on this ground for Sheffield Wednesday last season, put the ball back across the face of goal and out of play.
Dons began to work their way back into the tie and Dean Lewington forced Lilywhites keeper Thorsten Stuckmann into a fine save low to his left with a well-taken free-kick from the edge of the area. Dean Bowditch put a shot narrowly wide after another spell of decent play from the home side, and Charlie MacDonald couldn’t quite latch on to Lewington’s through ball, but Dons never looked like creating solid a goal-scoring opportunity in the opening half hour.
But Preston were dealt a blow on 30 minutes when powerhouse forward Mellor was forced from the pitch and was replaced by Adam Barton.
This gave Dons a boost both in defence and going forward as they began to turn the screw, penning Preston into their own half. Bowditch sent a free-kick just over and Mark Beevers saw a header deflected wide as the clock ran down towards half-time but nothing Dons were trying was working, and Stuckmann remained relatively unchallenged as Preston took their lead into the break.
Dons carried their momentum into the second half, but continued to struggle to create concrete chances. A long ball from the back skipped just out of reach of Jabo Ibehre’s lunge and Gleeson did brilliantly control his volley but Stuckmann was a match for it as the home side piled forwards.
Slowly but surely, Gleeson and midfield partner Darren Potter were beginning to have more of an influence on the game and that coincided with Dons’ increased dominance on the game, and their crisp play in the centre of the park led to the best chance of the half when Ibehre and MacDonald combined to allow Chadwick space to shoot, but Stuckmann punched clear.
Preston were lucky not to have Jamie McCombe sent off just after the hour mark when he pulled back MacDonald who was racing through on goal – the defender had earlier picked up a booking for a similar infringement on the striker.
Robinson rolled the dice in replacing Ibehre, who looked out of sorts, and Bowditch with Powell and Balanta to add some spice to the midfield. But it was right-back Adam Smith who looked most dangerous for Dons going forward as he whipped countless threatening balls into the area to no avail. And when Gleeson fired narrowly wide with five minutes to go, it looked like it just wasn’t going to be Dons’ day.
Preston had a rare chance to break with a minute remaining, but a hopeless touch from Juhvel Tsoumou gifted the ball to Martin, when the visitors had two men over.
Another break in stoppage time saw Conor McLaughlin hit the outside of Martin’s post with a fierce drive, but Parry’s early strike was enough to wrap up all three points.
Dons fell to fifth in the table and face a tough game against Leyton Orient on Boxing Day next time out.
Referee: Andre Mariner
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington (c), Adam Smith, Beevers, MacKenzie, Gleeson, Potter, Chadwick (O’Shea, 86), Bowditch (Powell, 73), Ibehre (Balanta, 65), MacDonald
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Doumbe
Preston North End: Stuckmann, Gray, Morgan, Hume (Tsoumou, 65), Coutts (c), Steven Smith, Mayor, Parry (McLaughlin, 82), Mellor (Barton, 31), Doyle, McCombe
Subs not used: Turner, Carlisle,
Booked: Coutts, McCombe, Steven Smith, McLaughlin