Dons entered Thursday’s League Cup second round draw after a thrilling 2-1 victory against Northampton at Sixfields on Tuesday night.
New boys Ben Reeves and Jason Banton hit the mark for Dons to give them a 2-0 lead which could have been significantly higher but for the heroics of keeper Matt Duke. Roy O’Donovan nicked one back for Northampton 15 minutes from time as Dons had to weather a late storm to hold on for victory.
Karl Robinson made a whole host of changes to his side following Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury - most notably, Ian McLoughlin replaced David Martin in goal, while Jon Otsemobor and Tom Flanagan would start at centre back and Ben Reeves replaced Darren Potter in midfield. Patrick Bamford started up front.
It was a breathless opening 10 minutes, and one which could have seen Dons take a 2-0 lead but for the heroics of Matt Duke between the sticks for Northampton.
First, he made a brilliant flying save to keep out Jason Banton’s fifth minute disguised cross-shot as it curled and dipped late, forcing the keeper to dive high to his left to tip over.
And then two minutes later, Patrick Bamford beat Lee Collins to Lee Hodson’s cross from the right, but Duke once again was a match, getting down low and getting just enough on it to push it wide.
But there was nothing he could have done about Ben Reeves’ strike 13 minutes in as the midfielder jinked past his man to find some space before rifling in a low drive, clipping the inside of Duke’s left-hand post on its way into the net.
It wasn’t all Dons though as Cobblers looked dangerous down the right flank in particular, with Gary Deegan and Kevin Amankwaah doubling up on Shaun Williams, though the ball into the danger zone was always lacking and their handful of corners fizzled out to nothing.
Duke was single-handedly keeping Northampton in the tie as he made yet another stunning save. Williams ghosted in at the far post as George Baldock sent a deep ball into the box, and he met it left footed on the volley, but Duke flew across his line to get the block in. Alli blazed the rebound over.
Slowly but surely, Northampton edged their way back into things and should have been level after 34 minutes with an opportune moment of skill from Roy O’Donovan saw him attempt to lob keeper McLoughlin, who’d come out as far as his 18 yard line. Hapless, McLoughlin could only watch it sail over his head, but could thank his lucky stars as it dropped onto the roof of the net.
Two minutes later at the other end, there were handbags in the penalty area as Alli went down softly under pressure from Matt Heath - something the defender took exception to. Bamford then added his two cents and a melee ensued, but one that referee Christopher Sarginson dealt with well, without having to pull out any cards.
It was real end-to-end stuff as the first half drew to a close, and after failing to score at one end, Williams made an essential interception to keep out JJ Hooper after McLoughlin made the initial block to O’Donovan’s shot. The defender reacted quickly to his keepers’ save, putting himself on the line to beat Hooper to the ball, knocking it over for a corner.
Heath, clearly harbouring a grudge from Alli’s earlier collapse, then took out his frustrations on the teenager 40 yards from goal. After being slid through by Reeves, Alli looked clear on goal. But a cynical foul from the defender scythed down the Dons man. Incredibly, he only picked up a booking.
The firey nature of the clash continued into the second half. Alli was the subject of yet another brutal tackle on halfway, this time from Deegan who escaped with a booking.
Duke too carried his fine form into the second half, first saving from Bamford and then Banton as Dons pressed forward. But there was nothing he could do when Dons doubled their lead eight minutes after the restart. Reeves’ deep corner made its way to Alli at the far post, and Duke was unsighted until late but reacted brilliantly to keep out his strike. But unfortunately for the keeper, and fortunately for Jason Banton, it fell to his feel and he sent it high into the net for 2-0.
George Baldock should have wrapped things up not once but twice in the space of two minutes, but couldn’t make Duke work on either occasion. First, his brilliant jinking run had Lee Collins twisted into a knot, but Heath recovered to block Baldock’s strike. And then moments later, an unmarked Baldock was inches away from Banton’s cross with the open goal begging to be hit.
Some of the pace and exuberance was taken from the game with the second goal, and with the substitutions when Alli and Bamford made way for Luke Chadwick and Izale McLeod as Dons went direct.
Ian McLoughlin nearly had egg on his face again 15 minutes from time when his scuffed clearance went straight to substitute Ivan Toney, but the Northampton man shot straight at the keeper. The rebound then fell to Deegan, but his strike was blocked by Williams before O’Donovan fired just wide.
It was a huge let off for the keeper, but he couldn’t quiet get to O’Donovan’s low effort two minutes later as Northampton got back into it at 2-1.
It was real back-to-the-wall stuff for Dons in the remaining 10 minutes as Northampton desperately tried force the game into extra time.
Collins headed just wide of the mark, Flanagan bravely blocked a fierce Ishmel Demontagnac shot which looped harmlessly to McLoughlin and David Moyo rattled just wide seconds after coming on as Dons held on.
Referee: Christopher Sarginson
Attendance: 3,486 (1,138)
Northampton: Duke, Amankwaah (Demontagnac 70), Widdowson, Collins, Morris, O’Donovan, Tozer, Hooper (Toney 75), Deegan, Emerton (Moyo 84), Heath
Subs not used: Snedker, Artell, Dias
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Otsemobor, Flanagan, Hodson, Williams, Gleeson, Reeves, Alli (Chadwick 62), Banton (Galloway 79), Baldock, Bamford (McLeod 68)
Subs not used: Martin, Smith, Kay
Booked: Heath, Deegan, O’Donovan, Reeves