Madness and miracles: Dons end 2017 as only they could
As a journalist, I've seen some remarkable things: three surviving a helicopter crash and making it to the funeral on time, factory fires at a fridge warehouse, and now a team surviving two, maybe three sendings off to take victory in a football match.
It wasn't a dirty game by any stretch of the imagination, but two straight red cards for Joe Walsh and Osman Sow made MK Dons' task seem a hapless one on Saturday. Chuks Aneke's goal midway through the opening half was just about what they deserved, but came sandwiched between the two big talking points and is somewhat overlooked in the grand scheme of what happened over the course of 102 minutes at Stadium MK.
REPORT: MK Dons 1-0 PeterboroughCharles Breakspear, the man charged with officiating the game, did what he thought was right. Walsh's sending off left him with no choice after eight minutes, and Sow's high boot, well... you've seen them given, you've seen them slide. Credit to Peterborough Ryan Tafazolli - he didn't make a meal of it, in fact none of the Posh players really did until the ref stunned everyone with his second red card in 26 minutes.
MATCHDAY LIVE: MK Dons vs PeterboroughUnderstandably frustrated, Robbie Neilson and his backroom staff vented their frustrations to the man in black at half time. Rightly or wrongly, the 11th commandment 'thou shalt not question a referee under any circumstances, ever, no matter how bad he is' was invoked for Neilson to be sent to the stands for the second period, but it will have perhaps looked even more impressive from the second tier than down on the ground as the manager provided overwatch for his men in the dugout.
"I quite liked it up there," Neilson quipped afterwards. Don't expect him to be watching from up there as a habit though. What he saw was nine men, and three subs too, put everything they had into their shirt, throwing their bodies on the line and defying the odds to keep Posh at bay, invoking the Gandalf commandment of 'thou shalt not pass.'
This fixture is no stranger to having nine-man winners. Back in 2013, Nat Knight-Percival and Mark Little were sent off for Posh in a 2-1 win at London Road. There though, Peterborough scored both goals with 10 men, and survived the last 16 minutes with nine. All credit to them on that day, and to keeper Bobby Olejnik for keeping them in it, but we're not here for that.
The pressure on Dons to get something from the game was mighty prior to kick off. Chairman Pete Winkelman was left with a big decision this week, whether to back his man or show him the door before their slide down the table left them in the bottom four. But 34 minutes into the game, the pressure was off. Even if Dons went on to lose the game, with nine men few would be pointing the fingers at Neilson for dropping more points at home.
It's probably too brash and bold to say this game saved Neilson's job, but it would take a mighty brave chairman to sack a manager after that. But as I'm in the mood for bold statements, I think this probably saves Neilson from any job speculation until around March time. With the transfer window set to open amidst Auld Lang Syne and champagne flutes in a couple of days time, the Scot is likely now to be given January to attempt to put a bit more of a gloss on the season. And allowing him February to let the team bed in a little, March will be key - if it's going well, he's set. If not... questions again.
So while 2017 was, on the whole, pretty miserable for MK Dons and all those who follow them, it ended with one we'll all remember.