DONS’ FA Cup dreams were shattered at Loftus Road as Queens Park Rangers took an unconvincing 1-0 win on Tuesday night.
Despite looking the better side throughout, the visitors spurned chance after chance to put the tie to bed – the best falling to Jabo Ibehre early in the second half. But Danny Gabbidon’s header with 20 minutes to go was enough to put Mark Hughes’ men through to the fourth round – their first time there in more than 10 years.
Karl Robinson made two changes to the side that drew with Rangers 10 days ago, with Charlie MacDonald returning to the starting line-up after injury, and Mathias Doumbe replacing Gary MacKenzie at the heart of the defence. As expected, Hughes named a strong side for his first game in charge at Loftus Road.
Both sides quickly settled into the match with some crisp passing in the midfield very much the order of the day as both felt each other out in the opening 10 minutes.
The first chance of the game fell to Luke Chadwick 11 minutes in, when he found himself in space 30 yards from goal but his shot lacked power and Paddy Kenny was able to comfortably clutch it to his chest.
Two minutes later, Jay Bothroyd turned Shaun Williams in the box but his effort was wild and closer to troubling the corner flag than David Martin in the Dons goal.
Like in the original tie, Dons more than held their own against their Premier League opponents, and while they didn’t dominate as comfortably as at stadium:mk, they certainly were making QPR work in front of their own fans.
MacDonald nearly gave Dons a 27th minute lead when he beat Gabbidon to Adam Smith’s cross, but with Kenny flat-footed, MacDonald just missed the target.
And the visitors were nearly made to pay for the miss two minutes later when Shaun Wright-Phillips raced through on goal, but Chadwick’s sliding challenge put the ball out for a corner. QPR had the ball in the net from the resultant corner, but Shaun Derry was adjudged to have impeded Martin’s path to the ball according to referee Phil Dowd, despite turning the header in.
The disallowed goal gave QPR an extra impetus for a few minutes as they piled forward, but it was Dons who hit them on the counter-attack as MacDonald broke the offside trap and raced clear into the box. But with only the keeper to beat, his effort, with the outside of his boot, skidded just wide of Kenny’s far post – the best chance of the half.
Rangers really should have taken the lead with three minutes remaining in the half when Derry’s excellent ball through the centre found Wright-Phillips in behind, but Martin stood tall as the former Manchester City man tried to curl one around him, palming the ball away for a corner. From the resulting set-piece, the ball broke to the unusually quiet Dean Bowditch who ran from box to box, but with Stephen Gleeson and Ibehre in support, he blazed his shot high and wide. Despite having the chances to go in ahead, Dons had to make do with a 0-0 half-time score.
The second half started in the same vein as the first – very much end-to-end and Dons far from embarrassing themselves. In fact, it was Rangers midfielder Akos Buzsaky who looked red-faced when Wright-Phillips pounced on a Doumbe error, but the former Derby man slipped as he shot, sending the ball high and wide.
Dons had the best chance of the game in the 59th minute when Ibehre narrowly missed Smith’s brilliant cross from the right. From two yards out, it would have only taken a touch, and Ibehre should have done better.
With the wind in their sails, Dons continued to pour forwards and had another chance just past the post when MacDonald got a touch on Gleeson’s shot, with the ball bobbling just wide.
And when Smith shot just wide, the Dons pressure was enough for Hughes to withdraw the ineffective Federido Macheda, replacing him with Tommy Smith.
Martin was called into a terrific flying save with 20 minutes to go when Akos Buzsaky’s 35 yard free-kick looked to be dipping into the top corner.
And it was from that corner that Rangers took the lead. Wright-Phillips found Gabbidon at the near post and his header was enough to beat Martin, putting the Premier League side into an unconvincing lead.
And with that lead, Rangers began to flex their muscles, playing keep ball and making Dons chase around the park just for a sniff of possession. Luke Young forced Martin into a fine save with his feet after a good spell from the home side as they looked to see the game out.
As the lock ran down, Robinson threw caution to the wind, introducing Daniel Powell and Jay O’Shea in a bid to net the equaliser. But it wasn’t enough, and despite outplaying their top flight opposition for a second time, Dons were out of the FA Cup, missing out on a fourth round tie at home to Chelsea.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Attendance: 10,855 (1,916 away)
QPR: Kenny, Hill, Young, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Wright-Phillips, Mackie, Buzsaky (Helguson, 71), Derry, Macheda (Tommy Smith, 60), Bothroyd (Orr, 86)
Subs not used: Cerny, Hall, Campbell, Ephraim
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Adam Smith, Doumbe, Shaun Williams, Gleeson, Potter, Chadwick (Chadwick, 73), Bowditch (O’Shea, 83), Ibehre, MacDonald
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Flanagan, Baldock, George Williams
Booked: Ibehre, Young