IT was probably a fair result as MK Dons and Notts County shared the points with a 1-1 draw at stadium:mk on Tuesday night.
Neal Bishop’s 25-yard shot that dipped into the bottom corner after 27 minutes was nothing more than the away side deserved from the first half, but the second 45 was all Dons.
After a tactical change – which saw Antony Kay sacrificed in defence for a switch to playing with two strikers – Dons immediately benefitted as Jay O’Shea curled one in after 68 minutes.
But try as they might, Dons couldn’t break down the stubborn County defence, who seemed more keen to leave with a draw than to go after a victory.
After scoring his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Yeovil, Charlie MacDonald was handed only his second start of the campaign at the expense of Ryan Lowe. Dean Bowditch dropped to the bench for Kay, allowing Shaun Williams to move up into midfield alongside Darren Potter and Stephen Gleeson.
There was little to pick from between the two sides in the early stages as both fought well in midfield. Both looked dangerous but for the final killer pass.
County came to stadium:mk, like Yeovil before them, unbeaten away from home. In fact, they’d scored two in every away game so far this season. So it was no surprise when Jamal Campbell-Ryce forced David Martin into a full-stretch save after 10 minutes. Dean Leacock nearly converted the corner too, heading just wide.
MacDonald was looking lively up front and seemed to have a yard of pace over the County centre halves as he sat annoyingly between the pair. Williams’ vision let him loose through the middle and he rounded keeper Bartosz Białkowski, but the striker had no support as he stood on the byline with no clear sight of goal – forced to play back and away.
After three relatively quiet home games, Martin was in for a busier evening. Alan Judge’s free-kick from 25 yards nearly slipped out of his hands, but the ball fell safely behind for a corner.
And there was nothing he could do when County skipper Bishop’s ambitious strike from range beat him all ends up as it sailed wide of the keeper and into the bottom right-hand corner after 26 minutes.
And it was probably no more than they deserved. As has been the case on so many occasions, Dons found themselves in great positions but dallied on the ball far too often, allowing chances to filter down to half chances, or just frittering them away with one pass too many.
Dons were let off the hook when Campbell-Ryce again beat Dean Lewington for pace after another home attack broke down, but fortunately Joss Labadie’s shot was closer to the corner flag than it was to troubling Martin.
Another Judge free-kick forced the keeper into another fine save though, this time from the opposite side as County continued to look good value for their lead at half time.
Dons’ best chance of the game came just 30 seconds after the restart when Williams tried a pot-shot from range, forcing Bialkowski into a finger-tip save to put it out for a corner. But that was as close as Dons came in the opening stages.
The new look midfield for Dons just wasn’t sparking. Gleeson, Potter and Williams are arguably three of the best midfielders in the division, but together they just didn’t gel. Ironically though, the man to suffer most was Kay, who made way for O’Shea after eight second half minutes, with Williams falling back into defence.
But after another 10 minutes without a decent scoring chance, Karl Robinson rolled the dice again, replacing Luke Chadwick with Lowe and switching to 4-4-2. The formation had only been seen briefly this season – 20 minutes at Bournemouth before Alan Smith was sent off.
While Dons threatened to threaten, County offered little either. Yoann Arquin and Labadie both headed well over the bar, and boss Keith Curle strangely took off their most potent looking threat in Campbell-Ryce with 26 minutes to go, letting Lewington in particular off the hook.
But just when things were looking lost for the home side, Robinson’s substitutes came up trumps. Lowe broke through the middle, and after a touch from MacDonald, O’Shea cut inside his man on the edge of the box to curl the ball past Bialkowski to equalise with 22 minutes to go. Robinson looked like a tactical genius.
Dons looked the better side for the remainder of the game as they chased a winner. County meanwhile seemed content to come away from stadium:mk with a point in their back pockets, time-wasting at every given opportunity.
Smith replaced MacDonald with nine minutes to play as Dons began to turn the screw. Lewington, unleashed from the responsibility of tracking back with Campbell-Ryce, could have netted the winner after O’Shea’s neat hold-up gave the defender some time to strike, but some brave defending from Dean Leacock blocked his goal-bound shot.
On reflection, a draw was probably a fair result. County dominated the first half, while Dons controlled the second. But with Tranmere picking up yet another victory, Robinson’s men are now six points from top spot, although their points means they do climb a place to seventh.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton
Attendance: 7,235 (322)
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Otsemobor, MacKenzie, Kay (O’Shea 53), Williams, Potter, Gleeson, Chadwick (Lowe 63), Powell, MacDonald (Smith 81)
Subs not used; McLoughlin, Bowditch, Chicksen, Bullard
Notts County: Bialkowski, Kelly, Bishop, Leacock, Liddle, Judge, Zoko (Lee Hughes 77), Arquin (Showunmi 86), Labadie, Campbell-Ryce (Geoff Hughes 64), Regan
Subs not used: Bencherif, Spiess, Wholey, Hollis
Booked: Lewington, Otsemobor, Labadie