There’s light at the end of the tunnel for Dons despite Crawley defeat

Billy Clarke celebrates his  first goal against MK Dons (Pic by Jon Rigby)
Billy Clarke celebrates his first goal against MK Dons (Pic by Jon Rigby)

IF there are any positives to take from Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat against Crawley it’s the fact that Dons had the chances to win it.

Fans who have watched Dons throughout October will know that chances have come at a premium, particularly on the road.

Crawley Town V MK Dons 23/10/12 (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Crawley Town V MK Dons 23/10/12 (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Dominating teams like Coventry, Portsmouth salvaged just two points for Karl Robinson’s men, while a decent if not spectacular performance against Preston meant a 0-0 was probably the fairest result.

However, the last three games have seen no more than 10 golden opportunities for Dons to get themselves on the scoreboard, but none of them have been converted.

Arguably the best chance at Preston came when Charlie MacDonald was through on goal before being caught and downed by keeper Thorsten Stuckmann - no penalty was given.

There wasn’t one chance in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Stevenage that anyone could point to that would have changed the game. Boro’s goal came out of the blue and turned out to be the difference between the two sides.

Crawley Town V MK Dons 23/10/12 (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Crawley Town V MK Dons 23/10/12 (Pic by Jon Rigby)

But the game at the Broadfield Stadium, it was different. Dons fell behind again to a goal from nothing. Gary Alexander collected on the left flank and blasted the ball back into the area hoping for a deflection - which he found courtesy of Billy Clarke’s shin as it swirled into the top corner past a stricken David Martin.

Then the chances came at the other end. After the game, Robinson said his side should have been 4-1 up at the interval, and he was probably right.

Looking desperately keen to impress, Charlie MacDonald found himself at the centre of the best chances of the game, but his confidence will have taken a battering after he was hauled off at half time.

And the openings he had would probably have been tucked away if he’d been on top of his game.

MK Dons under pressure against Crawley Town (Pic by Jon Rigby)

MK Dons under pressure against Crawley Town (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Luke Chadwick’s fine 33rd minute pass between the Crawley centre halves sent MacDonald through for the first of his chances. But beating the offside trap, the striker almost thought too much about his options and allowed Paul Jones to close the angle and MacDonald could only poke his shot into the chest of the Town keeper. But he was given a second bite of the cherry, but looked to pass back to Chadwick who’d chased up with him, though the ball was short and hoofed to safety by the returning Crawley defence.

Daniel Powell then saw his effort come off the underside of the bar, and Williams’ resultant cross found MacDonald again, but he could only head over the top.

A minute later, his misery was compounded when, again finding himself in the perfect position and unmarked, staring at an open net, he miscued his shot, planting it into the ground and watching as it agonisingly looped over Jones and on to the top of the bar and out of play. It would be his last involvement in the game.

“Charlie’s a great, lovely lad, works his socks off,” Robinson said after the game. “I brought him off because I think it would have been hard for him to come out in the second half.”

Crawley Town V MK Dons 23/10/12 (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Crawley Town V MK Dons 23/10/12 (Pic by Jon Rigby)

While fans will point their fingers at MacDonald’s chances as the reason behind Tuesday’s defeat, Dons’ performance in the second half hardly showered them with roses.

Neither MacDonald’s replacement Ryan Lowe, nor Alan Smith in his 15 minute cameo appearance at the end brought about anything worthy of note.

With barely a chance created at either end in the second 45, it was just Dons’ luck when Clarke netted number two for Crawley a minute shy of the 90 to wrap things up.

Robinson said: “We need to take responsibility for what has gone wrong. We’re not going to bury our heads in the sand, but we’ll look at it and rectify it together.

“I’m not happy at the moment, and it’s difficult for me to stand on the touchline and watch things not going right. But it’s me who should take the hits, and we’ll make sure we get it right.”

As much as Robinson would have the fans heaping the blame on him for the results of late, the Crawley defeat probably is not as bad as it seems on the surface.

Chances did go awry and begging but at least, for the first time in a while, they were chances worth talking about. And the fact that MacDonald was in the right place at the right time shows that he’s still worthy of a place in the team.

Coming up are two games which Dons will have marked on their cards as ‘must win’ now. Saturday’s opponents Scunthorpe are buried in the relegation zone and are fresh from a 3-2 home defeat to Preston on Tuesday night. If Dons wanted a League 1 game to bounce back with, it is this one.

And while Robinson didn’t seem too bothered by being knocked out of the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last month, he will surely be looking at the FA Cup first round game against Cambridge City as a way of boosting confidence among the ranks with a hatful of goals.

Tenth place in the table doesn’t make for pleasant reading at the moment and things do need to change quickly before the season is written off. But with 32 games left, there’s still a long way to go before anyone can call it.