MK Dons once again failed to take their opportunity to go top of League 1 as they were made to pay for their mistakes in a 2-1 defeat against Bradford City.
After a gritty but goal-less first 45 minutes, it was going to take a defensive lapse to let either side in, and it came when keeper Jordan Pickford’s clearance only found Jonson Clarke-Harris, who in turn slid in Dele Alli to make it 1-0 to the visitors nine minutes into the second period.
But Dons gave the ball away too cheaply at the back, and it allowed Bradford not only to equalise through Billy Clarke two minutes later, but then to take the lead through James Hanson 20 minutes from time.
With the rest of the division playing tomorrow (Tuesday), Dons remain third, but run the risk of losing ground to both Swindon and Bristol City.
Keith Andrews made his first start for MK Dons since 2008, alongside Darren Potter in the holding role, allowing Dele Alli to roam forward in behind striker Jonson Clarke-Harris. Danny Green also returned to the starting line-up, with Daniel Powell and Will Grigg dropping to the bench. With Kyle McFadzean suspended, Jordan Spence moved into the middle of the defence, with Lee Hodson returning to the starting line-up.
While Saturday’s 0-0 draw with table toppers Bristol City was a thrilling end-to-end battle, there was little of the same at Valley Parade in the opening 30 minutes. Neither side could carve themselves anything close to a chance on the horribly worn pitch. The closest the visitors came was Danny Green’s 26th minute free kick from the edge of the box, though it was always curling wide.
With the pace of Alli and Clarke-Harris leading the line, Dons tactic was to play the long-ball for the pair to chase, but it was a fruitless task for the pair, and the ball skipped on through to keeper Jordan Pickford more often than not, stunting any attacks before they could get going.
For Bradford, their pressure wasn’t telling much in the attacking third as Dons’ new, yet familiar looking defence, dealt with everything missiled in their direction. Despite ending the half on the front foot, David Martin didn’t really have a save to make.
In the same fixture last season, Martin’s fluffed clearance gifted Bradford a goal and ultimately the victory. This time around though, it was a role reversal as Jordan Pickford’s awful ball away went straight to Clarke-Harris on the edge of the box. Taking it on, the striker slid in Alli, who neatly rolled the ball under the on-coming keeper to fire Dons into the lead eight minutes after the break.
It was a lead that lasted just two minutes though. This time, Dean Lewington’s clearance only went as far as Gary Liddle, who headed the ball back into the danger zone. And with the Dons defence napping, Billy Clarke was left all alone to turn and fire past Martin to draw level.
The goals certainly breathed some much needed life into the affair. There was a much more frantic feel about the play, as it flowed from end to end.
Carl Baker was Dons biggest threat in the midfield, and he came close to firing Dons back in front with a free kick from the edge of the box, but the rebound took Lee Hodson by surprise, and it could only bounce off him and out of play.
With both goals coming from mistakes, it was inevitable that when Dons gave the ball away cheaply in midfield, James Hanson, when slid in between Lewington and Kay, wasn’t going to need a second invitation to roll City into the lead with 20 minutes to go.
As Dons now chased the game, it was Baker again who came closest to hitting the net for the visitors. Cutting past two and on to his left, Baker’s strike skimmed just wide of Pickford’s upright. And he had to do better from substitute Devante Cole’s flick on with 10 minutes to go, but gave Pickford the chance to make a decent save from 12 yards out.
The defeat, Dons’ first of 2015, leaves Dons still sat in third, but they have now played more than their title rivals, who play on Tuesday night.
Referee: Paul Tierney
Attendance: 11,948 (136)
Bradford City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Liddle, Morais, Knott (Halliday 88), Clarke (Yeates 79), Hanson, Stead
Subs not used: Williams, Sheehan, Zoko, MacKenzie, Routis
MK Dons: Martin; Hodson, Spence, Kay, Lewington, Potter, Andrews (Cole 73), Green (Powell 57), Alli, Baker, Clarke-Harris (Grigg 73)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Baldock, Carruthers, Hitchcock
Booked: Kay, Baker, Morais, Meredith, Clarke, Potter, Alli