A tired looking MK Dons were send packing from the FA Cup at the second round stage on Saturday as they lost 1-0 to Chesterfield.
Armand Gnanduillet’s header eight minutes into the second half turned out to be enough to separate the sides at stadium:mk in a game the home side struggled to get going in.
It is the first time Dons had failed to make the third round of the FA Cup since 2010/11, and the second time this season Dons have gone out of a cup competition to League 1 opposition.
Captain Dean Lewington returned to the starting line-up after missing the last three, with Lee Hodson making way. Will Grigg kept his place in the side after the gruelling 1-0 win at Sheffield United on Tuesday, but with Ben Reeves suffering from a tight hamstring, he dropped into the hole, with Benik Afobe leading the line.
With back-to-back wins under their belt, Dons were unusually the slower to start as the visitors staked their claim on the game. Some off passing in midfield gifted Chesterfield possession all too often, and played the defence into trouble at least three times in the opening 15 minutes.
Armand Gnanduillet surprisingly slowed as he was sent through on goal, allowing Jordan Spence to out-muscle the striker with relative ease. Spence could do nothing about Gary Roberts as he jinked his way down the flank, only to see his shot hit the side netting.
Dons didn’t really threaten the Chesterfield goal until the 18th minute, when Afobe managed to worm himself some space through the middle, but couldn’t round keeper Tommy Lee who’d rushed out to the edge of his box. The loose ball fell kindly to in-form midfielder Dele Alli, but he couldn’t make it three goals in as many games, blasting over the top with the open goal looming.
With that, Dons began to ebb their way back into the game. Carl Baker, who was named League 1 Player of the Month for November on Friday, forced Lee into a decent diving save when he cut in from the left to bend one towards goal, and Lewington hit the post behind the net with a free kick which whistled just over the bar.
Alli again was knocking on the door when he was unleashed on goal by Grigg’s neat through ball, but a sensational tackle from Georg Margreitter, who was on a booking and was last man, took the ball out of his reach.
Chesterfield should have taken a 35th minute lead courtesy of a chance created by the Dons defence. Martin’s pass out to McFadzean asked a lot of the defender, and allowed Gnanduillet to get in behind. With men over, he looked to pull the ball back but only as far as Antony Kay, whose touch beat Martin all ends up, but rustled the wrong side of the net.
They were in trouble again barely two minutes later, but could be thankful that full-back Tendayi Darikwa was on the end of the loose ball, lobbing over Martin and over the bar in the process.
It left the game finely poised for the second half, but it was the visitors who took first blood seven minutes after the restart. Baker lost the ball on the edge of the box, allowing Sam Clucas, up from the back, to cross deep into the area. Gnanduillet rose highest six yards out to power his header past Martin to put the Spirites 1-0 up.
Eoin Doyle thought he’d doubled the lead five minutes later when Martin could only parry a shot into his path, though Dons’ cup hopes were kept alive thanks to the offside flag. Doyle had another chance minutes later when once again he managed to get clear, but this time Martin was able to deflect his effort into Kay, who put it out for a corner.
Martin again needed to be on his toes when Jay O’Shea’s clever free kick caught the defence napping, but Clucas’ effort was at a nice height for the keeper, who dived to his left to fist it away.
With fairly little in the way of attacking options on the bench, Karl Robinson threw on George Baldock and Giorgio Rasulo with 19 minutes to go in a bid to spark some more life into the attacking third. And Rasulo almost made an immediate impact, with a few step overs on the flank, followed by a shot that went just wide of Lee’s goal.
But there simply wasn’t enough bite going forward. Dons’ midfield looked unusually lackluster, with loose passes the makings of their own undoing. And without chances, Afobe cut an isolated figure.
While dropping out of the cup probably won’t have a huge bearing on their season, the big financial carrot of a third round place goes begging.
Referee: Keith Stroud
MK Dons: Martin, Spence (Baldock 71), Kay, McFadzean (Flanagan 77), Lewington, Potter, Alli, Powell, Grigg (Rasulo 71), Baker, Afobe
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Hodson, Tilney, Tshimanga
Chesterfield: Lee, Darikwa, Morsy, Ryan, Gnanduillet (Humphreys 80), O’Shea (Boco 65), Roberts (Hird 87), Clucas, Raglan, Doyle, Margreitter
Subs not used: Wright, Gardner, Evatt, Ariyibi
Booked: Margreitter, Alli