DONS will face Queens Park Rangers in the fourth round of the FA Cup courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday.
With the first 25 minutes shaping up to be a repeat of the Hillsborough stalemate, Lewis Buxton took too much of Dean Bowditch’s shirt for referee Lee Collins’ liking, awarding Dons a penalty, duly dispatched by Shaun Williams.
A physical battle ensued in the second period, with Alan Smith starring in midfield for the home side. It took a bit of luck for Dons to wrap up the victory as Bowditch’s free kick from the touchline evaded everybody to drop in at the far post, booking his side’s spot in the next round.
With Izale McLeod cup-tied, Smith came in to the starting line-up along with defensive duo Gary MacKenzie and Jon Otsemobor – MacKenzie making his first start in 17 weeks. Shaun Williams was shifted into the centre of midfield, while Ryan Harley dropped to the subs bench.
Rumours were circulating around the ground surrounding Karl Robinson’s future, with Blackpool reportedly making an approach to the manager to bring him to Bloomfield Road.
The bitterly cold evening required a fierce, thrilling match to take the crowd’s mind off their freezing extremities, but it certainly didn’t come in the opening 10 minutes. Like at Hillsborough, the midfield battle was proving to be key but with both sides packing the centre of the park, it was looking like a stalemate.
It took nine minutes before the first shot was fired in on goal, and some in the away end could have been forgiven for thinking Paul Corry’s strike has nestled into the back of the net. At it opened out in front of him, Corry pulled the trigger but saw it go just wide, coming back off the support post behind the goal and rippling the wrong side of the net.
Dave Jones was forced into an early substitution when Jermaine Johnson pulled up after just 11 minutes. After receiving treatment, he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Danny Mayer.
For the large part, the Championship saw more of the ball than Dons did, but didn’t do an awful lot with it.
The home side enjoyed a short spell of pressure, which almost saw Dean Bowditch wriggle through on the left flank, but like Wednesday, struggled to create anything concrete to trouble keeper Bywater.
It was looking like another dull affair until the 26th minute when Bowditch burst into the area, but was pulled back by Wednesday defender Lewis Buxton as he made his way towards goal, with referee Lee Collins immediately pointing to the spot. Williams dispatched the penalty in spectacular fashion, darting it into the top corner, leaving Bywater no chance.
Robinson was incensed on the touchline five minutes later though, and quite rightly too. With so much made of diving in the modern game, Daniel Powell, who picked up a booking on Saturday for simulation, stayed on his feet despite being clearly fouled by Joe Mattock when he broke clear in the area. So when his tame shot while off balance was comfortably collected by Bywater, the whole Dons bench surged towards the fourth official, livid that a second spot kick wasn’t awarded for the foul.
After that though, normal service resumed. Wednesday just about had the better of play, and certainly saw more of the ball in their attacking third than Dons did, though neither keeper had much to keep them warm in their goal mouths.
There was a lot more fight shown by both sides in the second half. Dons, probably spurred on by the disappointment of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Bury, knew they would need a second to make sure of things, while Wednesday hardly wanted to travel back up the M1 having lost to lower league opposition.
And there were some tasty battles boiled under the surface too, with Ryan Lowe taking on former Dons defender Miguel Llera, and Shaun Williams clashing with Jose Semedo in the centre.
But after the excitement of the new half wore off, it became a game of attrition as the midfield battle recommenced. Alan Smith in particular looked like he was enjoying the physical nature of the game, and gave Llera a taste of his own medicine but incredibly avoided a booking.
Wednesday’s best effort came after 69 minutes Dons failed to properly clear after Michail Antonio’s break, and the ball dropped kindly to Corry on the edge of the area, but his strike was straight at Martin, who easily gathered up after palming the ball down.
Antonio had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned away two minutes later when he managed to pull off Otsemobor’s shoulder and go down under pressure from the former Wednesday full-back. His appeals weren’t as loud as those from the Wednesday supporters behind the goal though, but referee Collins was unmoved.
It was just the incentive Dons needed though, and with 15 minutes to go, Dean Bowditch put the final nail in Wednesday’s coffin. Stepping up to a free kick almost on the touchline, level with the penalty area, the winger swung in a ball which evaded everyone, including keeper Bywater as it dropped in at the far post for 2-0. There wasn’t much hiding his surprise as it nestled into the back of the net, not that it detracted from the scoreline a jot.
It would be Bowditch’s last involvement though as he hobbled down the tunnel two minutes later, replaced by Adam Chicksen.
The fired up home side looked good value to extend their lead too, with Lowe and Williams coming close to making it 3-0 five minutes before the end.
Dons were made to wait to find out their opponents for the fourth round – the game at The Hawthorns kicked off 15 minutes later than the stadium:mk clash. But Jay Bothroyd’s 75th minute strike was enough to secure QPR’s spot in the next round, setting up a repeat of last season’s third round tie.
Referee: Lee Collins
Attendance: 6,786 (1,309)
MK Dons: Martin, Otsemobor, Lewington, MacKenzie (Doumbe 71), Kay, Potter, Williams, Smith, Powell (Alli 88), Bowditch (Chicksen, 78), Lowe
Subs not used: Harley, Rasulo, Ismail
Sheffield Wednesday: Bywater, Buxton, Taylor, Semedo, Madine, Johnson (Mayer 13), Mattock, Pecnik (O’Grady 54), Lee (Antonio, 61), Corry, Llera
Subs not used: Davies, Sidibe, Jones, Coke
Booked: Buxton, Semedo, Kay