DONS go into their League One play-off semi-final double-header against Peterborough this weekend, knowing that victory over the two legs will set them up for the biggest game in the club’s short history.
Dons have been involved in many huge games during their eight years in Milton Keynes, but none will compare to the importance of the play-off final they now have in their sights, with only Posh standing in the way of a trip to Old Trafford and the potential of playing Championship football next season.
So with that in mind, we thought we’d look back at Dons’ top five ‘biggest’ games in the club’s history. This is our opinion, if you disagree, tell us below.
5) Saturday, April 25, 2009: Dons played host to Walsall in their last home game of the League One season, knowing that a win was crucial in giving them a chance of securing a top two finish. Roberto Di Matteo’s side had given themselves a chance of catching second placed Peterborough after four straight wins, but it proved to be an extremely frustrating day as a certain Mr Jabo Ibehre scored the only goal of the game for the Saddlers on the hour mark.
Jabo would sign for Dons on a free transfer that summer after helping Walsall to a highly respectable mid-table finish. But Dons would end up being left disappointed at having to play them again after losing in the play-off semi final on penalties to eventual winners Scunthorpe
After that defeat to Walsall, Dons won their remaining two league fixture going into their clash with Scunthorpe, but were on something of a downer after going so close to a top two finish, while champions Leicester and Posh looked forward to life in the Championship.
4) Tuesday, August 24, 2010: Premier League new boys Blackpool were the visitors to stadium:mk in the second round of the Carling Cup, and the game proved to be an absolute thriller. Ian Holloway’s men were riding the crest of a wave in their first month as a top flight side, but made several changes to the team that had lost 6-0 at Arsenal just three days earlier.
However, it still turned out to be a memorable night, for Dons fans at least, although Pool boss Holloway was in fact absent from the game - thought to be on a scouting mission while rumours circulated that he’d left the seaside club. A remarkable game was eventually sealed by Lewis Guy’s extra time strike to make it 4-3 after Sam Baldock and Jermaine Easter had twice put Dons ahead.
Dons eventually bowed out of the Carling Cup with a 3-1 defeat at Birmingham City, but victory over Blackpool gave them their first ever win against Premier League opposition. And at least they could say they lost to the competition’s eventual winners. That night was also a very significant one for rookie boss Karl Robinson. His side had just lost 4-1 at Carlisle, but they bounced back in style to give fans one of those ‘I was there’ moments.
3) Saturday, May 7, 2005: Danny Wilson’s Dons went into their final game of the League One campaign knowing that victory over third placed Tranmere Rovers wasn’t enough to keep them up. Torquay, playing against Colchester, also had to lose for Dons to ensure they’d avoid relegation. Everything would have been done and dusted had Wrexham not been penalised 10 points earlier in the season though, which made the circumstances even more vital in the side’s first full season in Milton Keynes.
Gareth Edds puts Dons into the lead with an early strike, lifting fans at the National Hockey Stadium. With Torquay trailing, they began to believe that the great escape could actually be achieved. But on the hour mark, Tranmere broke Dons’ hearts as Dave Beresford equalised from the edge of the penalty area - a point was not enough to keep Dons in the division.
Beresford continued to terrorise Dons’ defenders, creating several chances but not beating keeper Matt Baker. But just as hopes were fading, the announcement that Gareth Edds was named man-of-the-match spurred on the Australian as he crashed in a 25-yard strike to light up the Hockey Stadium six minutes from time. Full time prompted a full-scale pitch invasion in celebration as the final whistle went at Plainmoor, with Torquay losing 2-1, consigning them to League Two.
2) Saturday, December 15, 2007: Dons went to London Road sitting pretty at the top of League Two, but with Peterborough hot on their heels in the push for promotion. A Posh win would have seen them move to within a point of Paul Ince’s men, but goals from Kevin Gallen and Keith Andrews saw Dons take a 2-0 lead.
Aaron McLean pulled one back to set up a grandstand finish, but Dons - down to 10 men after the sending off of Drissa Diallia - held on to take all three points. That left Dons with a seven-point cushion over Darren Ferguson’s side and five better off than second placed Hereford. After a superb first half of the season, the win cemented Dons’ intentions of challenging for promotion and installed the belief that saw them push on and secure a place in League One.
1) Sunday, March 30, 2008: Dons took on Grimsby Town in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final at the newly opened Wembley Stadium knowing that a win would set them up for a league and cup double. Paul Ince’s side went into the game level on points with Peterborough at the top of League Two, with promotion looking all but certain thanks to a nine point cushion over fourth placed Darlington. Backed by more than 33,000 fans in a 56.000 attendance, goals from Keith Andrews and Sean O’Hanlon were enough to give Dons their first piece of silverware.
The game will also be remembered for Willy Gueret’s penalty save from Danny Boshell with the score still at 0-0. The day was one of the most memorable for Dons fans, but was also extremely significant in raising the club’s profile, with the move from south London still fresh in the minds of critics. The win also gave Dons the confidence to push on and wrap up the double, going the rest of the season unbeaten and finishing five points clear of Posh.