MK Dons drew 1-1 for the third consecutive game as their winless run extended to eight matches.
In truth, this was another game Karl Robinson will probably feel aggrieved not to have taken three points from, as his side failed to capitalise on their second-half dominance against Preston North End.
Dons made three changes to their starting line-up, with Jon Otsemobor, Chris Lines and Ryan Lowe replacing the certainly departed Gary MacKenzie, the seemingly departed Ryan Harley, and the misfiring Izale McLeod. Otsemobor’s inclusion in the starting line-up caused Adam Chicksen to be redeployed to left wing, and this tactical shift had an immediate impact as Chicksen put the home side in front inside the first two minutes.
Bailey Wright failed to deal with a long ball over the top, and the industrious Lowe robbed the Preston defender of the ball, before laying a chance on a plate for the on-rushing Chicksen, who capitalised on his team-mate’s efforts by rifling the ball into the roof of the net from ten yards.
Unfortunately for Dons their joy was short lived as Preston equalised just minutes later. Lee Holmes, a constant threat all afternoon, whipped a low ball across the six-yard box, and Ian McLoughlin and Dean Lewington both left the responsibility of dealing with the danger to the other, allowing Will Hayhurst to saunter in unmarked at the far post and thump home from close range, to draw the visitors level .
Preston were now in the ascendancy and the impressive Hayhurst, a product of the Preston youth system, continued to cause problems for the Dons back-line, alongside former Wycombe goal-machine Stuart Beavon, who twice managed to fashion openings in the box only for first Otsemobor and then Kay to block his goal-bound strikes. McLoughlin, partly at fault for the first goal, continued to look shaky, fumbling a routine daisy-cutter from Beavon, although thankfully no Preston player was able to capitalise on his error.
As the first half drew to a close though it was Dons who should have taken the lead when Lowe somehow failed to bundle the ball in from close range when teed up by Luke Chadwick, getting the ball caught under his feet, before firing directly at the keeper from no more than six yards.
The second half began far more cagily than the first, as both sides seemed keen not to give their opponents the upper-hand. Dons made notable efforts to utilise Chadwick – who penned a new two-year deal just hours before kick-off – more frequently after the break, and the former Manchester United player’s weaving runs threatened to unlock the Preston defence on several occasions, but to no avail.
Instead, it was from set-pieces that Robinson’s side came closest to fashioning a winner. Dean Lewington appeared to be pulled to ground from a Lines corner, but the Dons penalty appeals were waved away by referee Tony Bates, leaving Robinson in visible disbelief, and Lewington apoplectic – his protestations earning him a booking.
Late on a Lines set-piece delivery would again prove dangerous – this time a curling, dipping free-kick from 25 yards that had Preston’s on- loan Norwich keeper Declan Rudd worried – but his effort drifted wide.
For their part, the visitors provided some set-piece quality too; Hayhurst forcing McLoughlin to tip over the bar following a sweetly struck free-kick from the right hand corner of the box.
As the game wore on Dons’ play became more frantic, but no less frustrating, as the home side failed to provide Rudd with a serious test despite forcing Preston deep into their own half.
Dean Bowditch, returning from injury off the substitutes’ bench, sent a fizzing 30 yard drive just beyond the far post, while Daniel Powell, who endured a mixed afternoon, nearly forced an opening with powerful run into the penalty area before being let down by a heavy touch at the crucial moment.
Preston, meanwhile, periodically threatened to break Dons’ hearts, and Kay had to be alert to shepherd the ball away from Jack King after a gloriously lofted through-ball from the ever involved Hayhurst.
With the game at a stalemate, both sides unsuccessfully appealed for cheap penalties in a final push for three points. First, Powell threw himself down in anticipation of a tackle that never came, and was rightly booked for simulation, before Preston substitute Joe Garner tried the same trick at the other end – falling theatrically while being closely tracked by Shaun Williams –only to receive the same reward as his counterpart Powell: his name in the referee’s notebook.
On the second half performance, Dons did just about enough to win, and while the side have now avoided defeat in their last three games, a more clinical edge in front of goal could have produced nine points over the last seven days rather than a measly three.