TOM Flanagan played a part at both ends as he scored and gave away a penalty in Dons’ 1-1 draw with Notts County.
Flanagan’s spectacular 27th minute volley opened the scoring in a very even first half, but a spirited fightback from County saw them level from the penalty spot through Jeff Hughes – Flanagan adjudged to have used his hands.
Injury to Shaun Williams in training on Thursday meant Karl Robinson had to make one change to the side that lost to Queens Park Rangers in midweek, with Flanagan partnered alongside Mathias Doumbe at the heart of the defence.
The balding Meadow Lane pitch made for fast moving ball along the ground, and both sides started at a rapid pace. Lee Hughes raced through in the fourth minute after Doumbe gave the ball away in midfield, but the controversial striker dawdled on the ball, allowing Flanagan the chance to get back and make a tackle. From there, Dons countered and after some excellent hold-up play from Charlie MacDonald, Jabo Ibehre lashed his shot just wide from the edge of the box.
In typical Martin Allen fashion, County proved dogged and tough to break down, and looked dangerous going forward in the opening stages. Jeff Hughes sent in a dangerous cross which missed everyone and Neal Bishop strung David Martin’s gloves with a quick effort on the turn from the edge of the box. At the other end, MacDonald saw his low goal-bound effort tipped wide of the post by Magpies’ keeper Stuart Nelson in a breathless opening 20 minutes.
But a moment of magic from Flanagan put Dons into a 27th minute lead. County failed to clear Bowditch’s corner and the centre-back was able to control the ball with his chest before acrobatically volleying into the top corner for his second of the season.
Going a goal behind reignited the home side as got on top, winning a series of corners and near-misses but they struggled to make Martin work, forcing them in behind at the break.
Dons burst out of the box at the start of the second period and almost doubled their lead 30 seconds after the restart when Bowditch’s weaving run took him past Kieron Freeman and MacDonald met his low cross, but it was straight at Nelson.
And the County keeper was busy again five minutes later when Dean Lewington’s free kick looked to be curling into the bottom corner and the keeper could only parry it as far as Doumbe, but the defender couldn’t control his header and it sailed over.
Lee Hughes had the home side’s best chance of the game a minute later as he raced clear of Flanagan, but Martin did brilliantly to stand tall before diving high to keep Hughes’ effort out.
When Flanagan was booked for a nothing challenge on Alan Judge, tempers flared not on the pitch but on the side lines. As Robinson remonstrated with the fourth official, Magpies boss Martin Allen pushed the Dons boss. As the melee ensued, referee Stuart Attwell sent both Allen and Dons assistant John Gorman to the stands for the remaining 33 minutes.
The altercation lifted the home crowd into full voice as they urged their side forward, and it worked as County enjoyed more of the ball as they continued to look for the equaliser. Hamza Bencherif tested Martin from range with a low strike before Judge had the keeper at full stretch to keep Dons ahead.
County continued to look dangerous going forward, particularly through Lee Hughes – the striker playing just off the shoulder of Flanagan, allowing him the first yard in any ball over the top. On a number of occasions he looked to be in behind, but a combination of David Martin, inaccurate finishing and the offside flag got the better of him on each occasion.
Having ridden the County storm, Dons began to play their way back into the game. With the ball on the ground, Dons looked comfortable playing the ball across the midfield and making their opposition chase to get a touch. Adam Smith was enjoying acres of space to attack on the right flank as he and Luke Chadwick, later Daniel Powell, created a torrid afternoon for Jon Harley and Jeff Hughes.
It needed a huge slice of luck, but County were back in the game with 10 minutes to go from the penalty spot. Goal-scorer Flanagan appeared to handle a through ball to Lee Hughes, and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Flanagan was fortunate to not pick up a second booking and Jeff Hughes coolly sent Martin the wrong way to equalise – cue a tantalising finale as both sides went in search of a winner.
While it was County who had more of the ball, it was Krystian Pearce who had the best chance, albeit at the wrong end, as he deflected Gleeson’s cross narrowly over his own crossbar.
But despite a few minor scares and corners, Dons held on to for a valuable point at Meadow Lane. Next up is another vital clash, this time at Broadhall Way as they take on Stevenage on Tuesday night.
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Attendance: 6,123 (396)
Notts County: Nelson, Pearce, Bencherif, Jeff Hughes, Bishop, Judge, Jeff Hughes, Freeman, Harley (Burgess 54), Mahon (Demontagnac 54), Stewart
Subs not used: Mitchell, Hawley, Chilvers
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Smith, Flanagan, Doumbe, Gleeson, Potter, Chadwick, Bowditch (Powell, 65), Ibehre, MacDonald
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Baldock, O’Shea, McNamee
Booked: Flanagan, Burgess, Lee Hughes, Smith, Chadwick