DONS slipped to their third defeat of the season, and with it out of the play-off posoitions, as they went down 2-1 against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Dons looked on top until Richard Cresswell’s 22nd minute opener, and United really were in the ascendancy until the half time whistle. The visitors came out fighting in the second half and equalised quickly through Stephen Gleeson as Dons looked to be on top. But the influential Stephen Quinn danced through the defence to put it on a plate for Matt Phillips to put United back in front just after the hour mark. Dons continued to pour forward even after Adam Smith was sent off late in the game, but it wasn’t enough as Dons winless run continues.
Gary MacKenzie picked up a knock in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Scunthorpe and was replaced by Tom Flanagan. And with Clinton Morrison returning to parent club Sheffield Wednesday, Jabo Ibehre lead the line up front and Shaun Williams replaced Angelo Balanta.
Both sides started brightly, getting into promising positions in the early stages. Richard Cresswell fired in a shot straight at David Martin and Jabo Ibehre hit the side-netting after six minutes in the frantic opening.
Adam Smith could think himself lucky though when he collided with Stephen Quinn as he raced through on goal after 11 minutes – and as last man referee Salisbury had every right to send Smith back to the changing room, but opted for just a yellow card.
Dons were beginning to get the upper hand in the battle in midfield, with Potter, Gleeson and Williams allowing Dean Bowditch and Adam Smith freedom on the flanks. And it was a run and cross from Bowditch that
But despite their pressure, it was United that took the lead after 22 minutes. With Flanagan caught narrow, Cresswell had acres of space to run into behind the defence, and when Quinn put him through he had the simplest of tasks of slotting low past Martin to put the Blades 1-0 up.
And the goal came just at the right time for United as they began a period of pressure of their own. With Smith eager to get forward, Quinn, who spent time on loan with Dons back in 2006, was left to his own devices on the United left. And but for a deflection off Flanagan, he could have set up a second for the home side, with two players lined up at the far post to head home though the ball never made it there.
Matt Phillips tested Martin just after the half hour with a fizzing effort just inside the area, and nearly picked up the rebound, but the keeper held on at the second attempt.
And when Harry Maguire headed narrowly wide just before the break, United could well have felt hard done by not going in further ahead at half time.
Dons came out in the second half with renewed vigour, and equalised within seven minutes of the restart. Pulling the defenders narrow, Ibehre held up the ball brilliantly before slipping it into the path of Gleeson in space on the right. And the Irish midfielder made no mistake with his shot, firing it low into the opposite corner past George Long for 1-1.
The goal gave Dons some momentum in the game, something they distinctly lacked after conceding in the first half. And with the notoriously fickle home support growing restless, United began to stutter, misplacing passes, loose touches and giving away silly fouls.
But it didn’t take them long to find their feet again as they retook the lead in the 68th minute. Quinn did brilliantly in the area to see off Flanagan before squaring across the face of goal for Matt Phillips to easily fire home from point blank range, putting United 2-1 up.
Robinson made a triple substitution with 20 minutes remaining to try and change the complexion of the game, replacing Bowditch, Williams and Ibehre with Balanta, Daniel Powell and Charlie MacDonald.
Dons were lucky not to have a penalty given against them when the ball flicked up and caught Luke Chadwick’s hand on the goal line as United pressed to put the result beyond doubt.
But the visitors didn’t let their heads drop and kept the pressure up. Balanta was seeing a lot of the ball and was his usual bag of tricks – a potentially late thorn in United’s side as he forced Long into good save. United though looked dangerous on the counter, with Quinn involved in everything.
Adam Smith was given his marching orders with six minutes remaining after a needless foul on half way, picking up his second booking as time ebbed away from Dons’ potential fightback.
But still they continued to commit men forward and didn’t look like they were missing a man in the final stages, keeping the ball well in midfield though the crosses from wide were often too short, finding a United defender. Despite five minutes of stoppage time, much of which was spent in the United half, Dons lacked that killer ball and had to settle for their third defeat of the season. They also fall from the play-off positions - now seventh, replaced by Tranmere Rovers.
Referee: G Salisbury
Sheffield United: Long, Lowton, Montgomery, Collins, Cresswell (Evans, 63), Maguire, Clarke (Flynn, 75), McDonald Doyle, 83), Quinn, Williams, Phillips
Subs not used: Simonsen, Jean-Francois
MK Dons: Martin, Smith, Lewington, Beevers, Flanagan, Gleeson, Potter, Williams (Balanta 69) , Chadwick, Bowditch (Powell 69), Ibehre (MacDonald 69)
Subs not used: Chicksen, McNamee
Booked: Smith, Cresswell, Marcus Williams, Balanta, Evans
Sent off: Smith