DONS’ run in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy ended at the first hurdle courtesy of a spectacular volley from Jake Robinson as Northampton were 1-0 winners at Sixfields on Tuesday night.
In a tournament hardly given the highest of priorities by the club, it turned out to be a tight-knit affair throughout with clear cut chances hard to come by for both sides.
However, Robinson’s volley from an ambitious 35-yards came completely out of the blue – so much so that it took David Martin completely by surprise as it dipped in at the near post.
From there, Dons were the only side that looked like scoring, but it just wasn’t going to be their night. Half chances came in abundance, but only Charlie MacDonald had anything clear cut, one sailing over the bar in the first half and another taking two deflections before going wide deep into the second.
Ultimately, Karl Robinson probably won’t lose much sleep over the result.
There were a whole host of changes to the MK Dons line-up, including a return to action for Alan Smith after suspension, and a debut for 17-year-old right back Mason Spence. Jimmy Bullard too was making his first start for the club.
After a nondescript opening 10 minutes, which featured more battling among the fans as to who could sing louder than there was battling on the pitch, the game burst into life when Jake Robinson unleashed a volley from fully 35-yards which caught David Martin completely on the hop to give Cobblers the lead.
But the burst only lasted a matter of second, as the game reverted back to the fairly average encounter it had been before.
Dons were passing the ball nicely, but not really making in-roads into the Northampton half. Neither Daniel Powell nor Dean Bowditch were really having much of an impact on the tie, though the latter looked to have the best of full-back Danny East when given half a chance to run at him.
The closest Dons came was a thunderous volley from skipper Stephen Gleeson which sailed high and wide into the empty stand behind the goal eight minutes after Robinson’s wonder-strike.
Cobblers didn’t fare much better though, with only a Louis Moult shot to write home about as the game neared the half hour mark.
Mason Spence was enjoying a decent start to his Dons career at right-back, and remained relatively untested in defence, but looked to be a good attacking threat too. His cross in the 29th minute picked out Charlie MacDonald on the edge of the six-yard box, but the striker couldn’t keep his shot down.
Alan Smith was making his presence felt in midfield with some heavy-handed, albeit fair tussles, aggravating the home fans no end for his seeming lack of punishment.
As the half wore on, Dons began to have more and more of the play. But it wasn’t until stoppage time at the end of the half that Town keeper Lee Nicholls was forced into a meaningful save as Dean Bowditch found space at the far post. His volley rather hit the keeper than Nicholls actually making a save, but he kept it out all the same as the home side survived the late drive to go in at the break ahead.
Dons continued where they left off in the second half, enjoying more of the ball but ultimately creating little. Bullard’s impact on the side hadn’t been as effective as Robinson may have wanted with the home side doubling up on him at times. Luke Chadwick replaced him 11 minutes into the second half.
The first decent chance Dons had in the second half came after 63 minutes when Bowditch’s nod down found Gleeson breaking into the box, but his low shot was calmly scooped up by Nicholls.
Karl Robinson rolled the dice with 21 minutes to go, replacing Smith and the impressive Spence with Jay O’Shea and Jabo Ibehre to bolster the attacking threat, but the number chances didn’t really increase. Crosses continued to fall to maroon shirts, shots were still blocked by the ever retreating home defence – all the while Robinson stood and watched on the touchline seemingly nonplussed by the whole situation.
There were only a handful of scares for Dons in the second half as the home side bunkered down for the night – an Adebayo Akinfenwa header which he should have done much better with but put wide, and a Henoc Mukendi shot late in the game which nearly squirmed out of Martin’s hands.
It just wasn’t going to be Dons’ night – with two minutes to go O’Shea spotted MacDonald’s run in behind the Cobblers defence, and the striker screwed the ball across goal. On any other day it would have been deflected in, but it took two deflections and fell agonisingly wide.
Gleeson and Chadwick both had chances in stoppage time as Dons continued to try in vain to get a late equaliser and force the tie to penalties.
But at the full-time whistle, there weren’t too many disappointed faces among the players in white despite the road to Wembley ending almost before it started.
Referee: Carl Berry
Attendance: 3,444 (1,349)
Northampton: Lee Nicholls, Widdowson, Langmead, Charles, Demontagnac (Wilson, 70), Akinfenwa, Tozer, Mukendi, Robinson (Turnbull, 75), Moult (Alex Nicholls, 82), East
Subs not used: Snedker, Dias
MK Dons: Martin, Chicksen, Spence (Ibehre, 68), Kay, Williams, Bullard (Chadwick, 56), Gleeson, Powell, Bowditch, Smith (O’Shea, 68), MacDonald
Subs not used: Lowe, Galloway
Booked: Kay, Spence, Akinfenwa, Lee Nicholls