Sheffield Wednesday player celebrate their win over MK Dons
Tuesday night’s loss to Sheffield Wednesday was seven minutes away from being one of Dons’ best smash-and-grab victories for years. Instead, it turned out to be one of their most disappointing defeats.
Cup competitions of late have perhaps overshadowed the form Dons carried in League One prior to their trip to Hillsborough - four wins out of five had seen them climb into a deserved fifth spot.
But at Hillsborough, something changed and they went into their shell. Though they came close to pulling off the win, they left Sheffield with nothing.
Though Wednesday are a club steeped in history, no team drops to League One without cause. Without back-to-back wins since early August, Darren Moore’s side are only now finding their way in the third tier again - they were certainly not to be as feared as Dons made them look.
Where Dons have excelled this season is their passion and desire to get forwards. The patient and often slow effort to get the ball up the pitch seen last season is a thing of the past, instead breaking with pace and fluidity. But not at Hillsborough.
Instead, Dons were off-colour, couldn’t get on the ball, couldn’t get going. David Kasumu, usually a decent barometer for Dons’ performances, had a torrid night on and off the ball, and it reflected in the rest of the team as well.
Despite taking the lead through Scott Twine’s wonder-strike from nowhere, it proved just that: it came out of nowhere. Dons rarely mounted an attack, and perhaps got fortunate that one went in.
Rather than frustrating Wednesday from there though, Dons dropped deeper and deeper, then deeper still. Twine’s goal came 90-seconds into the second half, and trying to hold out for that long just invited Wednesday pressure, got the crowd behind them and gave them the momentum.
Defending pretty well though, Dons got to a point where, with 15 minutes to go, they looked like they could actually hold on. Aden Baldwin, Warren O’Hora and Dean Lewington were looking good enough to claim a second clean sheet in a row, but a change to it in the form of Harry Darling replacing Baldwin, which seemed to bring about Dons’ downfall.
Though it was nothing to do with Darling’s introduction, nor Baldwin’s withdrawal, but a shift in positions, a change of the defensive plan and intent which would be Dons’ undoing.
Now defending their own six-yard box as Wednesday piled forwards, the pressure eventually told when Lee Gregory headed in on 83 minutes. From there, Wednesday would be the only side capable of going on to win it.
And they did with Josh Windass’ second bite of the cherry in the 93rd minute.
The ten minutes between goals ultimately changed how the night would be viewed from a Dons perspective. It went from smash-and-grab, to a perhaps lucky but hard-earned point, to a strange and uncharacteristic defeat.
Dons did not do what they are good at, they did not look a threat on the front foot, they barely went on the front foot at all.
Perhaps not the cast in stone play-off contenders they have threatened to be in the opening 18 games this season just yet, the lesson learned at Hillsborough was to stick to what you’re good at.
And Dons definitely did not do that.