Opportunity knocks but Dons don’t answer

Pic: Jane Russell
Pic: Jane Russell

It’s a footballing cliché of the highest order, but it’s a statement that will have been ringing in the ears of the 147 MK Dons fans on the way home from Glanford Park on Tuesday: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Dons travelled to Lincolnshire with the opportunity to go top of League 1 for the first time this season dangling like a delicious carrot on the end of a stick.

A few hours and a 1-1 draw later, Dons were left to ponder what might have been.

On the positive side of things, Dons have been beaten just once in 17 league encounters. Kyle McFadzean’s equaliser with 13 minutes to go cancelled out Tom Hopper’s opener to rescue that record, in the process moving Dons to within two points of the summit.

The performance against the Iron was another positive point. At times, it resembled a training game. So comfortable were Dons, their game was played at a canter for much of the first half, Darren Potter barely breaking a sweat as he pinged balls left and right to get things going.

Detractors will point to Scunthorpe’s league position and claim Dons should have run over them like a freight train.

But Scunthorpe have even more games in hand than Dons when it comes to the teams around them. And with one league defeat since October coming against Bristol City last time out, their position in the league is something of a smokescreen. If they win their games in hand, they’ll be a point off the play-offs.

The training game procession though bred a confidence that did in fact act as a detrimental factor - it looked like Dons expected to win.

Neatly stroking the ball around, carving half chances, blasting shots over the top, trying from tight angles; ultimately, they didn’t find the back of the net, and it would haunt their quest for top spot.

The usually assured David Martin rushed his 57th minute goal kick to set up yet another attack for the visitors, gifting possession to the home side with the defence napping.

Hopper had time to bring the ball under his control, turn and fire into the bottom corner to put the home side into the lead.

After the game, manager Karl Robinson, serving the second of his four match touchline ban, admitted his side went to sleep for the next 10 minutes, and only Martin’s finger-tips prevented Paddy Madden, consistently a thorn in Dons’ side since his Yeovil days, from doubling the lead shortly after the opener.

Despite going a goal down, there wasn’t a sense of urgency among the Dons ranks as patient build-up play continued, as did the wayward shots into the stand behind the goal.

Cometh the hour, though, cometh the man - or teenager in this case.

Dele Alli has been heavily linked to a move away from stadium:mk in this transfer window, and he showed his Premier League suitors exactly why they should pounce at the soonest opportunity.

Carving a chance out of nothing with an elegant twirl and a fierce shot darting in towards the near post, Alli forced the corner which McFadzean emphatically headed home to rescue a point.

Make no bones about it though, Tuesday night was a missed opportunity for Dons. If they have title aspirations this season, they’ll need to be the team at the top of the tree, defending shots fired in their direction.

But with 1,800 minutes of football still to be played before the final standings are set in stone, there will undoubtedly be more opportunities to do so. At some stage though, they’ll have to take one.