Unlucky Dons hit a Wal-sall

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DONS missed a host of chances to seal victory but had to settle for a 1-1 draw with relegation battlers Walsall at stadium:mk on Friday night.

The away side had the better of the chances in the first 45 minutes, and took the lead through Matt Richards after David Martin made a fantastic save from Julian Gray’s initial effort, but Peter Leven levelled things up three minutes into the second half from the penalty spot.

However, Angelo Balanta and Sam Baldock should have done better with their chances in the aftermath of the goal to put Dons out of sight. The draw didn’t matter too much though as Dons’ League One play-off rivals continue to falter.

Karl Robinson named an unchanged starting line-up to the one that beat rivals Peterborough, but could boast new loan signing Adam Clayton on the bench.

And within a minute, Dons could have taken the lead. Daniel Powell, fresh from signing a new two year contract in midweek, brilliantly controlled on the edge of the penalty area with the outside of his boot, allowing Rowan Vine to break into space, but his shot was tame and straight at Jimmy Walker in the Walsall goal.

Vine and Powell linked up four minutes later as Dons continued to pressurise the visitors in the early stages. Vine delayed his pass for Powell to break through the centre into the area, but his firmly struck shot was saved by the diving Walker.

Martin, meanwhile, remained relatively untroubled in the opening 10 minutes - punching away a Gray cross his only exercise, while Richards’ effort was well over the crossbar.

Walsall, who scored five in their last outing against Hartlepool, began to enjoy a spell of pressure, with both Darren Byfield and Emmanuel Ledesma testing Martin with low shots, but on the whole, Dons would have been happy with the opening exchanges.

The Saddlers then had a great chance to take the lead in the 20th minutes. Richards’ clever through ball found Ian Westlake on the overlap, but his run was well tracked by Leven, who blocked the shot, putting it out for a corner, which came to nothing.

Marco Gbarssin’s 40-yard effort had Martin on the stretch as the away side continued to create the better chances on goal. Arguably Dons’ best chance of the half came in the 28th minute, when Powell make something of a lost cause to square to Baldock, but Saddlers skipper Andy Butler brilliantly threw himself in front of the striker to intercept.

But it was Walsall who took the lead. Leven lost the ball on halfway to Ledesma who turned and ran powerfully into Dons’ territory. With Gray in support, Ledesma found the winger on the left flank, and turning inside Woodards, he fired a shot which Martin did well to get near, but Richards was waiting just inside the area to clip the ball over the stricken keeper’s head.

The goal woke up the home side, who went about searching out the equaliser. Powell was once again spearheading the attack, this time surging to the byline before cutting back to the fast-approaching Stephen Gleeson, but his shot was bravely blocked once again by Butler when the Irish midfielder looked certain to score.

But with the wind in their sails, Walsall continued to push forward, with Ledesma firing another long range effort on goal, forcing Martin down to save again. And their lead should really have been doubled when Gray was left unmarked at the far post, but his header was straight into the ground, not troubling the Dons stopper.

As half-time approached, Vine and Baldock both had chances to pull Dons level as Walsall failed to clear their lines, but both times the defence held firm offering the strikers little time to dwell in the area.

Dons really should have been on level terms though with two minutes of the half remaining. After some great work from Vine on the edge of the box, Gleeson found space to shoot, but it was deflected into the path of Powell who blazed over from close range with the goal gaping.

Richards’ strike on the stroke of half-time was brilliantly saved by Martin, comfortably the busier of the two keepers come the end of the half, as Dons went in behind at the break.

Dons came out all guns blazing in the second half intent on equalising early. Baldock spurned an early chance with a tame pass to Powell, while Vine had a shot just past the post - both chances created in the first two minutes of the second half.

But a minute later, Dons were back in the game when they won a penalty after Manny Smith’s rash challenge bought down Luke Chadwick. Leven confidently stepped up and cheekily dinked the ball past Walker to bring the sides level.

Walsall weren’t to be written off just yet though as Gray’s powerful effort had Martin beaten all ends up, but the ball cannoned off the crossbar - a reminder it wasn’t going to be all plain sailing for Dons in the second half.

Baldock really should have put Dons ahead just before the hour when a Walsall slip let him through one-on-one with the keeper after Vine’s through pass, but Walker got down well to block the shot, averting the danger.

Dons were struggling to play their usual brand of passing football as Walsall smothered both Leven and Gleeson in the centre of the park, eliminating much of their influence on the game. Gray once again had Martin at full stretch when his cross from the left flank appeared to be dipping under the crossbar, forcing the keeper back to palm off the line.

Strangely, Saddlers boss Dean Smith replaced Ledesma with 22 minutes remaining - one of Walsall’s stand-out players - replacing him with Jordan Cook. Meanwhile Balanta made his very welcome return from an ankle injury with a little under 20 minutes to go, replacing Vine.

And it was Balanta who really should have put Dons ahead just moments after coming on. Dean Lewington’s deep cross looked like going out, but Danny Woodards managed to head back across the face of goal. Baldock tried to chest the ball over the line from a yard out, but it was blocked and dropped perfectly to Balanta, who astonishingly hit the underside of the crossbar from three yards out, as the ball bounced on the line and was cleared away.

Dons continued to surge forward, forcing Walsall back to defend, with just Cook in front of the ball for the visitors. However, time was running out for Dons and chances were proving harder to come by, although Baldock’s long range shot flew narrowly past the upright with two minutes to go.

Leven forced Walker into a brilliant save from a free-kick after Chadwick was cut down in the first minute of five added on, but the visitors were able to hold on for a good point in their bid to escape the drop zone.

Dons will see the 1-1 draw as two points dropped after the chances they missed in both halves, but they stay fifth in the table.

Referee: Dave Phillips, attendance: 8,923

MK Dons: Martin, Lewington (c), MacKenzie, Doumbe, Woodards, Gleeson, Leven, Chadwick, Powell (Ibehre, 72), Vine (Balanta, 72), Baldock. Subs not used: Searle, O’Hanlon, Guy, Clayton, Chicksen

Walsall: Walker, Smith, Richards, Gray, Gbarssin, Laird, Williams, Ledesma (Cook, 68), Butler (c), Westlake, Byfield (Grigg, 73). Subs not used: McDonald, Taundry, Lancashire, Nicholls.

Booked: Smith, Westlake, Lewington, Ibehr