A LATE Bailey Wright header spared Preston North End’s blushes as they celebrated Sir Tom Finney’s 90th birthday as Dons drew 1-1 at Deepdale.
Darren Potter opened the scoring for Dons after a brilliant move between Jay O’Shea and Alan Smith and looked good for their lead throughout. But perhaps they were victims of their own conservative tactics and looked the better side for the duration. But Wright’s 90th minute header rescued a point for North End in front of the stand which bares the face of one of Preston’s finest.
With a squad still riddled with injury, Karl Robinson had to make do without Dean Bowditch, Mathias Doumbe and the recalled James Tavernier. But he had Gary MacKenzie fit to return to the heart of the defence, and Luke Chadwick also overcame injury to make the starting line-up. Alan Smith started up front for Dons.
There was a superb atmosphere in Deepdale as North End celebrated Sir Tom Finney’s 90th birthday and looked to get the party started in style, testing David Martin’s eye a couple of times as they had the better of the opening exchanges.
Dons though quickly got the ball down on the good looking Preston playing surface and began to pass the ball well, looking to catch the home side out with the pace of Chadwick, Jay O’Shea and Daniel Powell.
Both sides were looking dangerous going forward, but neither really made the keepers work in the opening 25 minutes. Martin was challenged to with a few high balls into the box, though at the other end, Thorsten Stuckmann saw an O’Shea shot sail high over the crossbar.
And it was the visitors who began to rain on Sir Tom’s parade, as Dons took the lead after 27 minutes. And it came from a fantastic move which saw the ball spread across the pitch to the right flank where O’Shea had time to shape, before playing the ball in low to Alan Smith. But the striker showed his experience by cleverly leaving the ball for the on-coming Darren Potter who touched the ball through the defence and nearly chipped the ball over Stuckmann and into the net.
Preston’s best chance of the half came 10 minutes before the break when skipper Andy Proctor rose highest to meet Danny Mayor’s corner, and Adam Chicksen on the line could only head it up against the bar. But Martin was on hand to pluck the dropping ball before any further threat.
Karl Robinson was left with his head in his hands when Alan Smith was adjudged to be offside despite breaking from his own half – yet another refereeing decision to add to the ever-growing library this season.
There was another late scare for Dons when Chris Holroyd found space on the right to cross with Iain Hume lurking in the six yard box, but Martin bravely threw himself to ground ahead of the striker to gather the ball at his chest.
But after the goal, Dons looked comfortable, passing the ball around freely and controlling the tempo, all the while zapping the atmosphere of the home crowd in the process as they took the lead into the break.
And they nearly doubled their advantage seven minutes into the second half when O’Shea’s neat turn gave him time and space on the edge of the box, but his shot was always rising, but was close enough to frighten Stuckmann, who was at full stretch to watch it just over the bar.
Preston came close to equalising on the hour mark when Danny Mayor was able to head back across goal to Andy Proctor, but the ball was just behind the North End skipper as MacKenzie recovered to clear away.
The Scottish defender seemed to show no signs of ring rust, despite not playing a competitive game for Dons since his sending off at Charlton on Valentine’s Day – his performance epitimised by keeping Holroyd unusually quiet throughout.
At the other end though, despite only being a goal ahead, Dons showed no real urgency. On two occasions, the visitors had a great opportunity to cross and get men in the box. But they seemed to prefer to hold on to possession, playing back to Martin if necessary in order to keep the ball.
They did carve a great opportunity with 20 mintues to go though when Smith broke clear and spotted O’Shea unmarked in the centre, but his cross was brilliantly headed wide by Bailey Wright. From the corner, Lewington saw his free header bounce just wide.
Limited in their chances, Preston came closest to equalising with a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, but Paul Coutts really should have done better as his shot sailed high into the face of Sir Bill Shankley made of seats behind the goal.
The clock ran down with little of note as both managers used up their substitutions late in the day. And two of Robinson’s changes nearly paid off when MacDonald crossed to Jabo Ibehre but he couldn’t direct his header as it went well wide.
And they were made to pay for their lack of ambition going forward as the clock ticked over to 90 and Bailey Wright rose up above the Dons’ defence to nod home Mayor’s free kick to level things up with stoppage time to play.
And the home crowd were lifted for the final four minutes, but they couldn’t urge their side onto a late winner, as Dons had to settle for another 1-1 draw in 2012.
Referee: Mr C Sarginson
Preston North End: Stuckman, Robertson, Hume, Coutts, Mayor, Parry, Wright, Ehmer (Jamie Proctor, 68), Holroyd, Andy Procter (Aneke, 83), Hunt (Arestidou, 78)
Subs not used: Miller, Cummins
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Chicksen, MacKenzie, Williams, Potter, Gleeson, Powell, O’Shea (Slane, 80), Powell, Chadwick (Ibehre, 59), Smith (MacDonald, 75)
Subs not used: Flanagan, McLoughlin
Booked: Chicksen, Wright, Chadwick