TUESDAY night’s FA Cup first round replay with Cambridge City had the potential to be a rather dull affair, but it actually turned out to be a fairly memorable occasion, for more than just the obvious reason.
Not only did Dons comfortably confirm a second round date with AFC Wimbledon in December – greeted with excitement by the majority inside stadium:mk – but their 6-1 victory also brought a quite fantastic performance from a 16-year-old kid.
Making his first start for the Dons first team – having made his debut in the original tie with City – midfielder Dele Alli produced a very composed and skilful display to help beat their incredibly determined, but ultimately overwhelmed, Evo-Stik League Premier Division opponents.
And before being replaced to a standing ovation from most of the 4,126 in attendance, Alli put the icing on the cake by scoring arguably the goal of the night as he took aim from distance and thundered the ball past poor Zac Barrett. So impressive was Alli that he would later be compared to Steven Gerrard by his manager.
“We’ve just witnessed the birth of a star,” declared Karl Robinson after the game. “That’s something I’ll take away from this game. He’s a tremendous talent, but he’s not yet ready to start league games.
“There are 12 months of big development to come for him, and we’ve got to make sure that we look after him. But the 4,000 fans who watched tonight witnessed a very talented footballer take centre stage.”
Barrett had already been beaten on four occasions by the time Alli let fly from the best part of 30 yards. Shaun Williams opened the scoring with his own fantastic long-range effort, and Dons took a three-goal lead into the break thanks to further strikes from Jay O’Shea and Dean Bowditch.
City and their enthusiastic band of travelling supporters had something to cheer about when Dave Theobald headed past David Martin on the hour mark, but three goals in three minutes saw Dons finish the game in style.
Williams was on target again, this time from much closer to goal as he slotted home from the penalty spot, before Alli’s stunner and yet another excellent finish from Adam Chicksen completed a superb, morale boosting night’s entertainment.
With a cup clash against AFC now on the horizon, Dons can probably expect some bad press in the national media in the two and a bit weeks leading up to the tie. When Steve Claridge turns up to watch your first round replay against non-league opposition, you know you’re big news.
But with a busier than normal press box watching on, Dons took the opportunity to show off everything that is good about the club, including Alli and fellow academy youngsters Brendan Galloway, Giorgio Rasulo and Chicksen, whose goal on the night was his first in five years of senior football.
“Seeing these young players come through the system means so much to me,” said Robinson. “We care so much for them.
“We’re a new football club with a young fanbase and a very talented catchment area, and ultimately we want to bring them through the system.
“It’s nice to see when nights like this come off. I’m so proud. It’s how football should be played.”
Given the family friendly atmosphere at the game, and most others at stadium:mk, there will be some reservations from Dons fans about the impending AFC clash in the first weekend of December, and many questions for the home club to answer – not least regarding ticket arrangements.
There will probably be a lot more questions than answers in the days ahead, but as everyone at the club will tell you, there are three extremely important games to come before the south London side visit, starting with a trip to League 1 leaders Tranmere on Friday night.