It’s amazing what a difference a week can make in football.
From down and out 10 days ago, three games and seven points later, fans leaving stadium:mk on Tuesday night were looking up the League 1 table once more.
After back-to-back victories against Walsall and Oldham, the 0-0 draw with Preston at stadium:mk on the surface may seem like a missed opportunity.
But considering Preston occupy one of the much-coveted play-off spots, and that Simon Grayson’s side didn’t out-muscle or out-gun Karl Robinson’s, Dons are still in with an outside chance in May.
It is easy to mistake a bore-draw with a bad performance. Neither side really put a foot wrong on Tuesday night, though the badly balding and bobbling stadium:mk pitch tried to throw a spanner into the works.
The defences were certainly on top though. For the home side, David Martin, Antony Kay and Jordan Spence in particular were stand-out performers, while captain Dean Lewington kept things very quiet down his flank as he found his attacking opportunities limited.
In the absence of Darren Potter, sidelined for an estimated six weeks with an Achilles problem, Stephen Gleeson and Dele Alli put in a thankless shift in the engine room, breaking up Preston attacks before they had the chance to get started. It didn’t make for a pretty game of football, but it was effective.
Preston find themselves fifth in League 1 for a good reason though, and weren’t without chances. After the game, Dons boss Robinson admitted his side were second best in the opening 45 minutes, kept in it courtesy of two good stops from keeper Martin - first from Scott Laird after just three minutes, and then from Joe Garner’s header.
Former England international Kevin Davies was inches away from converting Neil Kilkenny’s second half free kick, and Keith Keane wasted a good chance too as he whipped his shot off the upright from 12 yards. Martin only really had stinging palms from John Welsh’s strike though, which was straight at him.
The enigmatic Daniel Powell had chances in both halves to score for the home side, and should have done much better. After neat inter-play between Ben Reeves and Izale McLeod, Powell was released one-on-one with Declan Rudd 11 minutes in, but rolled a tame effort into the keeper’s arms.
Powell nearly made amends in the second half, racing on to Gleeson’s long lump forward, beating his marker and rounding the keeper, only to see his strike cleared off the line by Jack King who raced back to cover.
As the second period wore on and the state of the pitch diminished further, out came the physical battles.
Alan Smith, who replaced Lee Hodson at half time to play up alongside McLeod, made best use of his upper-body strength to assert himself against the big Preston defence, while Alli grew in stature as the game wore on, daring to edge further forward in the latter stages.
The game livened up in the final 10 minutes as Dons turned the screw, but with Preston back in numbers, content to collect a point, Dons too had to settle.
“That’s a very good Preston side and I’m pleased with a point,” said an upbeat Robinson afterwards. “If you’d said seven points out of nine away at Walsall, against an Oldham side who are flying again and Preston, we’d have taken it.
“I’ll take seven from the next nine too. That’ll do me very nicely.”
And it’d certainly get a few more people daring to dream what had looked impossible last week.