Internationals to the left, internationals to the right, and Dons stuck in the middle with little to do but watch on in awe.
Ignore the scoreline: Dons’ 5-1 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday afternoon wasn’t a surprise, but the budding partnership between the young midfield four of Jake Forster-Caskey, Samir Carruthers, Rob Hall and Josh Murphy leaves the knock out blow taste slightly sweeter.
The champions of England were in full flow and close to their scary best at stadium:mk, with all the pace, prowess and poise that saw them cruise to the Premier League crown last May.
Eight of the team who played in the game against Crystal Palace last season to secure that title took to the field against Dons, and though the FA Cup has been known to create a level playing field across the divisions, Sunday was certainly not the case.
But that was through no fault of the home side. Guus Hiddink has instilled a new-found hope and belief in the side which stuttered under Jose Mourinho, and it showed.
Oscar, from the opening minutes, floated around the field in seamless partnership with Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, pushing and pulling Dons around in a way few Championship teams have been able to do this season.
But for David Martin’s heroics, the game could have been over and done with before Oscar did eventually open the scoring after 15 minutes.
The home side though weren’t ready to roll over. Far from blinded by the bright shining spotlights focussed on the game, Dons’ midfield looked up to the task. As Carruthers and Forster-Caskey took on the physical battle, Murphy and Hall used pace and trickery to take on their full backs, all under the watchful eye of Darren Potter, who marshalled the quartet.
And it was the marshall who would threaten the status quo six minutes after Oscar’s first. Prodded the ball by Carruthers, Potter’s strike took a big deflection off his opposite number Nemanja Matic to loop up and over Thibaut Courtois for an unlikely equaliser.
It lifted the record-breaking crowd inside stadium:mk, giving one side hope and the other side the potential of a balanced cup tie.
The four young Dons are strong understanding between them, and it was starting to show. Carruthers, promoted up the field with the return of Forster-Caskey, is developing a radar to find his wingers without even looking, while the wide men are beginning to know where he’ll put the ball. It doesn’t always pull-off, and it leads to some undue criticism for the former Aston Villa man. But it’s a work in progress, as is he.
Dons’ promising patch wouldn’t last though, despite the positivity going forwards.
Hazard could have restored the lead, but his one-on-one was bravely kept out by Martin, and Oscar could have netted his second but was nobbled by his own team-mate as Diego Costa slid in ahead of him. While the midfield had threatened great things, the defence, albeit against the best in the country, didn’t live up to the bill - perhaps getting sunspots from the spotlights after all.
Oscar wouldn’t be denied as he restored Chelsea’s lead in the 32nd minute. From there it was a landslide.
The pick of the bunch came just before half time as completed his hat-trick, rounding out the game as a tie and spectacle by the interval.
While they took the pace off the game in the second period, Chelsea were just as killer in front of goal. Hazard won and converted his own penalty as he took centre stage for 20 second half minutes, teeing one up for Bertrand Traore, not long on the pitch to stroke home Chelsea’s fifth and final just after the hour.
The attacking quartet though would continue to drive Dons onwards. Even with the game dead and buried, they looked to counter at pace, looked to spark something for Dean Bowditch to use, looked to give the home fans something to roar about, even if it was in vain.
World class talent replaced world class talent for Chelsea as they comfortably saw the game out. But it was not a night for post-mortems and a demand for answers from Dons’ point of view.
It was a night for being part of the occasion, putting on a show and giving the fans something to carry on to what is shaping up to be an extremely nervous finale to the Championship season.
And if the front four can spark up a good working relationship with Nicky Maynard, it may turn out to be something of a life raft to save the season.