Dons lost their third away game in a row on Tuesday night as they were knocked out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy by Stevenage 2-1.
Shaun Williams put Dons ahead from the penalty spot in the first half, but a spirited fightback from the home side saw them score twice in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, through Francois Zoko and Filipe Morais, to put Dons out of the competition.
Tom Flanagan was serving his one match suspension after his red card against Gillingham at the weekend, and with Antony Kay out injured, Karl Robinson could only field two recognised defenders in Dean Lewington and Shaun Williams. George Baldock and Ben Reeves filled in as full back. Ian McLoughlin replaced David Martin in goal, who picked up an ankle injury in the defeat at Priestfield.
Stevenage looked keen to make a better start than they did two weeks ago at stadium:mk, which saw them 3-0 in 23 minutes to Robinson’s men. And they certainly looked like they had more fire in them as they made use of the wide areas early in the game.
But the first chance went the way of the visitors as Shaun Williams arrowed his fifth minute freekick towards the top corner, but keeper Chris Day was a match for it, tipping it up onto the bar.
Unusually for Dons, they were giving the ball away a lot in the midfield, but they had the better of the early chances. Daniel Powell, making his first start since his return from injury, jinked his way past two defenders on his way through to goal, and almost did Day with his eyes, but the keeper, diving the wrong way, managed to get his feet to Powell’s low strike to keep it out.
Stevenage had the ball in the net after 20 minutes though, as their direct approach down the middle looked to bear fruit. But Francois Zoko was deemed offside when Michael Doughty played him through from the edge of the area.
But it was Dons who took the lead, and it came from the penalty spot after 25 minutes. After showing quick feet out on the touchline, Izale McLeod burst past Luke Freeman and in to the area. Freeman, keen to make up for his error, bundled the striker over though, leaving referee Frederick Graham no choice but to point to the spot. Shaun Williams made no mistakes in dispatching his third spot kick of the season, and his second against Stevenage this campaign.
After that, Dons seemed to click into cruise control. They seemed happy to pass the ball around in midfield, taking their time and sitting on their lead. The front trio of Bamford, McLeod and Powell rotated regularly to pull the Stevenage defence out of shape, but didn’t really create anything to trouble Day.
At the other end, Stevenage created a series of half chances but were ultimately let down by their final ball. McLoughlin, though beaten by Zoko’s offside effort, was barely troubled as the sides went in at half time.
But it took just five minutes of the second half for Stevenage to get back on level terms. After good work from Doughty on the right-hand side, he whipped a dangerous looking ball into the middle. Francois Zoko stuck out a long leg and got a toe to it, touching it just beyond McLoughlin.
And after barely troubling the keeper in the first half, Stevenage were ahead on the hour mark with a spot kick of their own. Filipe Morais pinched the ball from Lewington on halfway and burst clear. With support from Zoko and Lucas Akins, Morais sent in a low ball. In the melee, Zoko went down, and Akins whipped the ball into the net. But the referee had already pointed to the spot and awarded the penalty. Morais stepped up, sending McLoughlin the wrong way to fire Stevenage into an unlikely lead.
Robinson rolled the dice with a triple substitution, replacing Smith, McLeod and Powell with Giorgio Rasulo, Samir Carruthers and Jason Banton.
And it was the latter who almost pulled one back for Dons as they began to press forward - his strike keeping Day on his toes as it bounced just in front of him.
Bruno Andrade almost wrapped things up with 15 minutes to go with his first touch of the game. Replacing Akins, the ball sat up nicely for the substitute on the edge of the box, but his effort slammed flush onto the crossbar and over the top.
The deficit barely affected Dons though as they continued in their patient style. Bamford was having a quiet game by his standards, but had the best chance of drawing things level when be brilliantly brought down a long ball forward, turning defender Jon Ashton and firing left footed. Day though got down well to get a big, important hand to the shot, tipping it around the post.
Referee: Frederick Graham
Stevenage: Day, Ashton, Jones, Morais (Wedgbury 80), Akins (Andrade 72), Zoko (Cowan 72), Heslop, Freeman, Smith, Doughty, Hartley
Subs not used: Arnold, Burrow
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Lewington, Williams, Reeves, Baldock, Gleeson, Potter, Smith (Rasulo 63), McLeod (Carruthers 63), Powell (Banton 63), Bamford
Subs not used: Galloway
Booked: Potter, Freeman, Gleeson, Doughty