FANS who opted to watch the game on TV rather than at Deepdale were the winners on Sunday as Dons and Preston played out a lacklustre 0-0 draw.
With few chances for either side, both sides were left lamenting refereeing decisions costing them penalties. Preston will point at a potential handball from Darren Potter early in the second half, while Dons were dumbfounded by Craig Pawson’s decision, or lack thereof, when Charlie MacDonald was taken down by North End keeper Thorsten Stuckmann with five minutes to go.
In truth, neither side really deserved to lose out, though by equal measure, neither deserved to win it either.
Following his impressive substitute appearance against Portsmouth last Saturday, Alan Smith started up front, with MacDonald dropping to the bench. Antony Kay picked up his fifth booking of the season against Pompey and was suspended for the game, handing Mathias Doumbe only his second appearance of the season.
Both sides set out at a rapid tempo and it was an end-to-end opening 10 minutes. Akpo Sodje put one high into the stands before Stuart Beavon tried a nifty back heel from six yards, but it didn’t fool David Martin, who easily scooped it up. At the other end, Dons were guilty yet again of not pulling the trigger at the ideal opportunity, with Dean Bowditch and Stephen Gleeson both choosing to pass in dangerous positions.
The visitors won a series of corners courtesy of their early pressure down the flanks, but struggled to win the ball in the air.
Controversy reared its ugly head after 20 minutes when Luke Chadwick appeared to beat the offside trap and race clear of the Preston defence, round keeper Stuckmann and slot the ball into an empty net – but the linesman’s flag pulled play back, with referee Pawson booking the Dons man, though replays would suggest he was onside.
Dons kept up the pressure though and Smith was given a golden opportunity to open the scoring four minutes later, latching onto Scott Allan’s ball through the middle, but his first-time shot was saved by the feet of Stuckmann, deflecting it out for yet another corner.
Such has been the story in recent weeks, Dons dominated the half but failed to create anything for Stuckmann to really sweat over, Smith’s chance aside. The Deepdale loyal were audibly frustrated with their side’s inability to keep pace with Gleeson in particular in the centre of the park, but their defence was holding firm.
Allan, Chadwick, Smith and Bowditch all looked keen to get in behind and made intelligent runs, but weren’t picked out or saw passes picked off by the busy Preston back line. The home side often struggled to get the ball, but when they did have it they looked to attack quickly, though another Sodje shot wide was as close as they came in the opening 45 minutes.
Their best chance came 10 minutes into the second period when a lung-busting run from Jeffery Monakana saw his cross tapped narrowly wide by Beavon who kept pace with the winger the whole way.
Preston started the second half the same way they started the first, keen to make an early imprint on proceedings. And for a while they looked the better team. There were huge penalty appeals when Potter’s shoulder kept out Sodje’s header, though neither the referee nor the linesman were moved.
Karl Robinson rolled the dice with 25 minutes to go, replacing Allan and Smith with Ryan Lowe and MacDonald to play with two strikers. The switch almost paid off straight away too. With the pair and Bowditch breaking forward ahead of Chadwick, the latter raced into the penalty area and looked for all the world like shooting, instead choosing to cut the ball back to a heavily marked MacDonald in the centre – another chance going begging.
After watching Nicky Wroe blast one over the bar, Martin looked like having another quiet afternoon. It wasn’t until 15 minutes from the end that he needed to make a save, diving low to his right to keep out Beavon’s low drive. He was needed again when John Welsh managed to beat the offside trap, but was pulled wide, and his shot from a tight angle was well kept out at the near post.
There was yet another contentious decision in the penalty area when, six minutes from time, MacDonald was tripped as he rounded Stuckmann, but incredibly a goal-kick was given.
But it would have been harsh on Preston to have conceded late in the day as neither side really deserved to go home with all three points.
Results over the course of the weekend mean Dons now sit seventh in League 1 – two points and one place above Graham Westley’s side.
Referee: Craig Pawson
Preston North End: Stuckmann, Keane, Laird, Huntington (Robertson, 35), Wroe, Sodje (Cummins, 82), Monakana, Welsh, Hayhurst (Mousinho, 45), Wright, Beavon
Subs not used: Amoo, Procter, King, Simonsen
MK Dons: Martin, Otsemobor, Lewington, Doumbe, Williams, Gleeson, Potter, Bowditch, Allan (MacDonald, 64), Chadwick, Smith (Lowe, 64)
Subs not used: Chicksen, McLoughlin, O’Shea
Booked: Chadwick, Huntington, Cummins