A REMATCH with Queens Park Rangers awaits MK Dons after they beat Sheffield Wednesday to reach the FA Cup fourth round for the first time.
Goals from Shaun Williams and Dean Bowditch saw Dons comfortably through against the Owls, who barely showed any signs of a fight against their lower league opponents.
After the 0-0 draw at Hillsborough 10 days earlier, Dons went into the game knowing they out-performed the Championship strugglers and that a fourth round place was a distinct possibility.
And with Gary MacKenzie back after 17 weeks out injured, and Jon Otsemobor returning at right-back too, Dons’ defence looked as strong as ever. Williams impressed for 20 minutes in midfield at Hillsborough and moved up the park alongside Alan Smith to add some physical protection for Darren Potter to once again pull the strings in the middle.
With more than 6,700 fans braving the bitterly cold conditions, it needed to be a thriller out on the pitch – but it took 25 minutes before the match started to hot up a bit.
Bowditch cut in from the left side and attempted to scoot past Lewis Buxton, only for the defender to take a handful of Bowditch’s shirt, giving referee Lee Collins little option but to point to the penalty spot. Williams confidently hammered the spot-kick past Stephen Bywater and Dons had a lead they rarely looked like losing for the rest of the night.
After Saturday’s 1-1 League 1 draw against Bury, Dons knew that a single goal might not be a viable lead, and that they would need another just to make sure. And it should have come five minutes after Williams’ opener, again from the penalty spot.
Daniel Powell, who was controversially booked for diving against Bury, was slipped through by Ryan Lowe and was one-on-one with Bywater, but a last ditch tackle from Ryan Taylor clipped the winger as he shaped to shoot, throwing him off balance as he scuffed his shot.
The Dons bench emptied in outrage and rushed towards the fourth official to protest as referee Collins waved play on – anywhere else on the pitch it would have been a foul.
But the hosts held the lead until the interval, and came out determined to secure their fourth round spot sooner rather than later.
A few intriguing battles began to embroil, particularly down the middle. Williams and Jose Semedo exchanged some heavy challenges – the Irishman at one point hip-tossing Semedo to the ground – while former Dons defender Miguel Llera tried to pick on Lowe, before man of the match Smith got him to pick on someone his own size, scything him down as the Spaniard dawdled on the ball.
While the physical battle kept things lively in midfield, neither goalkeeper was being tested to any great extent, though Paul Corry had a half-decent chance for Wednesday, but fired straight at David Martin from 18 yards.
Maybe it was the cold then that kept Bywater from coming out and collecting Bowditch’s free-kick from the left touchline. Instead, he was rooted to the ground as the ball sailed harmlessly beyond the defenders and into the corner of the net, doubling Dons’ lead with 15 minutes to go.
Lowe and Williams both had good chances to make it 3-0 in the closing stages, but had their efforts blocked by the Wednesday defence.
At the full time whistle, Robinson looked more delighted than ever to have led the team into the FA Cup fourth round for the first time, but he was made to wait 15 minutes to find out their opponents as the West Brom-QPR match kicked-off later in the evening.
Jay Bothroyd’s strike was enough to put Harry Redknapp’s side into the next round, setting up a repeat of last year’s third round tie with Dons.
Robinson said: “I can’t wait. Loftus Road is a proper football ground, and playing in London is great because of the atmosphere. The fans there are very vocal too – trust me, whatever they say, you can hear!
“We’ve got the opportunity to play a Premier League side, against one of the best managers of the last 15 years.
“I’m made up, and the fans deserved that. I probably shouldn’t have been here because I’ve got the flu. But I’m so pleased, you know how much this FA Cup means to me and we’re looking forward to the next round now.
“I’m proud of all the players tonight. What a wonderful performance from Gary MacKenzie after being out for three months. Jon Otsemobor was a colossus, and since he’s been out, we’ve conceded an awful lot of goals. And you saw him make two or three good clearances too.
“Alan Smith really is a top class professional. He’s definitely getting fitter, he’s enjoying it, and is someone who plays the game properly. There’s no messing around with Alan Smith on the pitch, trust me!”