MANAGER of the Month Karl Robinson was left to rue ‘individual errors’ as Dons’ unbeaten start to the season came to an end at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, knocking them off the League 1 top spot in the process.
Gary Madine’s second half double put the Owls 2-0 up before a brilliant individual effort from Angelo Balanta gave Dons hope with 13 minutes to play.
But Liam Palmer scored Wednesday’s third in the final minute, and the curse of the Manager of the Month award had it’s newest and youngest victim.
More concerning than the result for Robinson though were the two horror tackles from Wednesday players in the first half – one on Stephen Gleeson and the other on Darren Potter.
Robinson said: “I thought we looked by far the better team for the first 25 minutes. We passed it well and got into good areas, but we didn’t punish them enough in the final third.
“The tackle on Stephen Gleeson was above the knee – we don’t know how long he will be out for.
“The tackle on Darren Potter just before half time was as bad as you’ll see in the Football League this week and he struggled with a knee problem through the second half.
“So going into the second half we were missing one midfielder and one struggling to make it to second balls, which isn’t like us.
“Their (Wednesday’s) style of play was difficult, but their goals came from individual errors.”
The opening 10 minutes flew by, with Dons very much on the front foot earning the lion’s share of possession, but Wednesday weren’t to be counted out either.
Ben Marshall twice found space down the Wednesday right as Dean Lewington was caught up field, but his crosses both narrowly missed Clinton Morrison’s outstretched leg around the six yard box.
Potter and Gleeson were dictating the play for Dons in the centre of the park, but there was an early threat to the team’s nucleus when Gleeson went down holding his knee after that vicious challenge from Julian Bennett.
Gleeson hobbled on for five minutes before signalling to the bench that he could take no further part in the game. He later said on Twitter that he had a “hole in (my) knee” stitched up as a result of the challenge.
He was replaced by Angelo Balanta, moving Luke Chadwick into the centre alongside Potter. Gleeson’s injury allowed Wednesday to get a foothold in the game as Dons adapted their style to incorporate Balanta on the right.
Morrison was chasing down every ball over the top with energy, but was finding it frustrating that none of his team-mates were showing as much desire to get ahead in the game against the league leaders.
And his frustration was justified when Lewis Buxton, a known Dons transfer target in the summer, put the ball into the box from the right, and with Morrison shaping to shoot, strike partner Madine slipped in front of him, blocking the former Crystal Palace man’s strike as the crowd became ever more vocal about their displeasure.
Dons made a bright start to the second period though and looked the more likely to open the scoring. Potter, making his first return to Hillsborough since his move in the summer, was at the heart of a brilliant move involving Balanta, but the former Wednesday man fired well over the crossbar from the edge of the area.
Jabo Ibehre forced Richard O’Donnell into his first save just moments later too, with a low right footed effort. But despite Dons’ early pressure, it was Wednesday who took the lead in the 53rd minute. Morrison found himself with time and space on the edge of the area after collecting Palmer’s pass. And with Adam Smith caught up the field, Morrison spotted Madine beyond the defender, and he had the simple task of firing past David Martin with their first real shot of the game, putting the Owls 1-0 up.
And it wasn’t long before the home side doubled their lead just after the hour mark. After Bennett’s long throw was cleared wide, Palmer whipped a terrific ball into the danger area just in front of Martin and Madine was there to power a header past the keeper and put Wednesday two goals to the good.
Charlie MacDonald, up front alone for Dons, was struggling to make any impact on the overshadowing figure of Wednesday skipper Rob Jones and his defensive partner Danny Batth, and was eventually replaced by Daniel Powell with 20 minutes to go.
Just when the game looked wrapped up, Wednesday were in for a nervy last 13 minutes when Balanta pulled a goal back for the visitors. Picking the ball up on the flank 35 yards out, he weaved past three Wednesday defenders before bending the ball around O’Donnell’s finger tips and into the far corner of the net, pegging the score back to 2-1.
Dean Bowditch could have pulled the visitors level a minute later when his right-footed effort was brilliantly saved by O’Donnell as Dons sensed a point was still on offer.
But a mix-up between Lewington and Shaun Williams allowed Palmer to play a quick one-two with Madine to slot home Wednesday’s third in the final minute to secure the result.
To add insult to injury, Ibehre received a dubious second yellow card deep into stoppage time, allegedly for a foul on Owls keeper O’Donnell, reducing Dons to 10 men for the remaining seconds.
After the game, Robinson said he was disappointed by the lack of clear cut chances his side created, but had to take the result on the chin and move on.
He said: “I don’t think we tested them enough. We got into the right areas, good shooting areas too. People who have seen us a lot will know we generally do hit the target, but you have those days. We didn’t have that killer instinct in front of goal. But if you keep knocking on doors long enough, they tend to open.
“Today was just one of those days when we didn’t create enough for the possession that we had and second half, we gifted them three goals, which isn’t like us.
“We huffed and puffed, got the ball down and played, got the goal at the right time, but neither did they. It was a dull affair, but they didn’t have to work hard for their goals. They were gifted them and that’s the most disappointing thing.”
Ibehre’s sending off was cause for some controversy though. He was booked nearly a minute after the initial infringement, much to the confusion and frustration of the forward.
And Robinson questioned the decision by referee Phil Gibbs, when nothing was given for earlier and much more serious fouls, on his players.
“I’ve seen it again,” he said. “The keeper was wasting time, and quite rightly. Jabo goes to tackle him but looks like he withdraws. The keeper took a little knock, but he carried on. And he was sent off for that?
“And yet the tackles on Gleeson and Potter got nothing, and they could’ve broken their legs. I’m not saying they went out to break their legs, but they were tackles that were very high.
“But that’s English football – we love it. I like the fact that there’s an edge to games, but the referee has to protect you in the right way.”
Dons slip to third in League 1 behind Charlton and Sheffield United, with a tough game against Huddersfield Town at stadium:mk on Saturday.