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This time Dons columnist Dominic Damesick tries to take the positives from Dons’ FA Cup draw with Cambridge City
Does one dare dwell on the Cambridge game? A 0-0 draw against a side over 100 places below the Dons in the league ladder is surely embarrassing?
Well, perhaps, to an extent, but such results are not unusual in the FA Cup – famed for the regular upsets and giant-killings that occur in each round, in every season – and the most important thing is that the Dons still have a chance of progressing through to round two, where a tie awaits with one of two sides who have never won the FA Cup.
The game on Friday night summed up the Dons’ season quite neatly really. They dominated possession, were patient and persistent, and created several clear-cut chances, but – for the fourth time in five games – drew a blank in front of goal.
It can be partly attributed to bad luck (the Dons did hit the post twice); an impressive opposition defence, who fought and scrapped tirelessly to keep the Dons at bay; and poor finishing. It must be said that Cambridge City deserve some credit for their performance, which was brave and determined, but equally they rode their luck and their mistakes were not punished.
A case in point was the performance of Cambridge goalkeeper Zac Barrett, who received all the plaudits post-match for keeping the Dons at bay. Yet, the truth is that the vititors did not make life difficult enough for the young keeper, with only a late Ryan Lowe header forcing a save that was anything out of the ordinary.
Lowe, for most of the game, was fairly anonymous, although he was also let down by poor service from the midfield. Late on in the game Lowe could also have done with some support, as the Dons struggled to break down Cambridge’s encamped two banks of four, and it was thus completely baffling as to why Karl Robinson took so long to introduce Alan Smith to proceedings.
By the time Smith was introduced, with four minutes remaining, the tie was petering out, and the replay had already been pencilled into the diary.
It was pleasing, however, to see Robinson give youngster Dele Alli a proper run-out, and the academy midfielder blended into the Dons’ midfield seamlessly, looking calm on the ball, spreading the play effortlessly and nearly getting his name on the score-sheet.
Hopefully though, Dons’ fans will not start lauding Alli as the next Messiah just yet: it was a promising 30 minute cameo, nothing more. While it may seem tempting to call for the introduction of academy players into the first team, in order to freshen up a struggling side, this may not be what best serves the development of these young talents, and they do not deserve to have all the pressures of an expectant football club hauled upon their shoulders.
It’s hard to know how much importance to give to the Dons’ shortcomings on Friday. The FA Cup can, and does, throw up all kinds of anomalies, and a disappointing result against a non-league side is not necessarily the mark of a struggling side.
Yet, Friday’s game had all the hallmarks of this Dons’ side: slow tempo; unable to convert chances; wasteful from set-pieces – with the majority of Jay O’Shea’s corners astonishingly poor.
It remains obvious that reinforcements are needed in the forward department, but – unfortunately – this is real life, not Football Manager, and it can be a difficult, sometimes bordering on impossible, task to identify available targets that will add something to the team and fit within the club’s budget.
Three important home games now await the Dons. First, they take on a struggling Leyton Orient side on Wednesday night, which should be a routine win in theory, although I fear it will once again prove to be a difficult three points to obtain in practise.
Then, next Saturday, the Dons face a true test of their credentials as a (supposedly) promotion-chasing side, as they take on the – to date – unbeaten Sheffield United, who look Champions in the making.
The final game of the home trilogy is the replay against Cambridge City. I would like to think that, on the expansive pitch of stadium:mk, and without the siege mentality of being on home turf, Cambridge will find the Dons too strong.
Although Friday night should have reminded us all to take nothing for granted in football, especially when it comes to the FA Cup – a competition never short of drama!
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