IT could have been all over before some fans had even taken their seats on Saturday, but MK Dons’ brilliant fightback saw them overturn a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Portsmouth and keep their unbeaten home record intact.
After dominating proceedings against Coventry City last Tuesday, but ultimately drawing with the Sky Blues, Karl Robinson named an unchanged team to face Pompey, who named Dons’ all-time leading scorer Izale McLeod up-front.
Instantly, and probably predictably, he was the thorn in his old club’s the side. After just two minutes, he raced onto Shaun Williams’ hopeless back pass to David Martin, taking the ball around the keeper, but being clipped on the way through, forcing referee David Coote to point to the spot. Fortunately, Martin stayed on the pitch.
And he certainly played his part, guessing the right way as Brian Howard stepped up to take the penalty, but saw the ball clatter against the upright and away from harm – Dons had dodged an early bullet.
But it wasn’t long before Portsmouth made up for their earlier error, just a minute in fact as McLeod took on Antony Kay, beat the defender and bent the ball around Martin into the corner of the net. Despite getting a mixed reaction from the Dons fans behind the goal, McLeod chose not to celebrate.
It could have been much worse when Williams appeared to foul Wes Thomas in the penalty area, though this time Coote waved play on – another bullet dodged.
But Dons’ task was made even harder when Gabor Gyepes rose high to powerfully head home Howard’s 19th minute free-kick as Dons fell two goals behind, facing a mountain to get anything at all from the game. However, against the odds, they would climb it.
With Dons struggling to make any impact on the game, Robinson rolled the dice on the half hour and replaced right-back Jon Otsemobor with Alan Smith, who went up to partner Charlie MacDonald as Dons switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
And the move looked to pay off. With three at the back, Dons more than coped with McLeod’s attempts to break in behind, while the extra man up front in Smith gave Dons an added physical presence in attack.
Just when it was looking like another tough day in front of goal for Dons, Chris Webster put Dean Bowditch’s cross into his own net to hand the home side a vital lifeline just before half-time.
A visibly furious Robinson opted to leave his team-talk to Mick Harford, before emerging earlier than usual for the start of the second half.
Whatever he and Harford said, it worked. MacDonald, Luke Chadwick and Bowditch all came close to netting an equaliser for Dons, while the visitors seemed happy to fire long balls over the top to McLeod, whose game appeared to have been found out after the opening 45 minutes.
Smith’s introduction was integral to Dons’ fightback. He was an ideal target man and held play up well, but struggled to win anything from the referee as he fell victim of some rough-housing from Lubomir Michalik.
But with 19 minutes remaining, Dons were back on level terms. Bowditch’s corner from the right was deep towards Dean Lewington who rose high to head the ball goalwards. With Mikkel Andersen stretching to keep it out, he tipped the ball onto the bar, but it bounced down into the path of Potter who hit the ball high into the roof of the net to draw Dons level – much to the relief of the home supporters.
It was no more than they deserved. Dons even looked intent to go for the winner, and Smith should have done better with Bowditch’s drilled cross, but couldn’t direct his header.
Given the positions they found themselves in after 20 minutes, a point is nothing short of miraculous for Dons as they salvaged their unbeaten home record to stay fifth in League 1.
Next up is a trip to Preston North End next Sunday.