MK DONS went into their home game with Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night looking for their first win in four outings, but if fans were concerned then their side’s performance against the current League 1 leaders should have allayed their fears.
Although they were held to a 1-1 draw at stadium:mk, Dons were largely the better team on the night and for most of the game they looked set to end Charlton’s unbeaten start to the season.
Shaun Williams’ 21st minute penalty – after Dean Lewington was brought down in the box by Matt Taylor – separated the sides at half time, and it was the least Dons deserved for a dominant first half display.
But The Addicks sit top of the division for a good reason and fought their way back into the game in the second half, drawing level through Yann Kermorgant’s header with 15 minutes to play.
Three League 1 games without a win had seen Karl Robinson’s men drop from the summit of the table at the start of September to ninth place going into the game after Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Bury.
And with a depleted forward line goals have been hard to come by in recent weeks, with Charlie MacDonald and Jabo Ibehre both absent against Charlton, leaving Clinton Morrison to lead the line with Williams in support as Dean Bowditch dropped to the bench.
At the other end there were two very impressive performances from youngsters Tom Flanagan and Adam Chicksen, playing in a back four that saw Mark Beevers return to allow Williams to play in an attacking midfield position.
While Robinson was again left to field a patched-up side, Dons were more than a match for the table toppers and in the end were frustrated to only take a point, when a victory would have seen them join Charlton in the top two.
In fact, Dons’ determination to win on the night was epitomised deep into second half injury time by Robinson scampering to retrieve the ball after it went out for a throw-in.
Unfortunately for him and the home fans a winning goal didn’t come and Dons go into Saturday’s game with Notts County sitting in fifth spot, level on points with their visitors.
Dons had their chances to win it though – Beevers with a close range header straight from a Williams corner and substitute Daniel Powell the most guilty.
When unmarked from a corner mid-way through the second half, Beevers contrived to head the ball into the ground and off Morrison when the home fans were up and ready to celebrate.
Powell then came on to replace Morrison up front as Dons looked to preserve their slender lead, and he should have made the game safe going into the final quarter of an hour when he collected a loose ball and found himself through on goal, but with only Ben Hamer to beat, he fired his shot straight at the keeper.
And almost inevitable his miss proved costly as Chris Powell’s men equalised during their next foray into Dons’ half – skipper Lewington caught out by Danny Green on the right who crossed for Kermorgant to head home at the near post, with the aid of a defection off David Martin.
For their second half pressure Charlton just about deserved their equaliser, but they were lucky to go in at the break only 1-0 down in the first place.
After a frantic first few minutes, Dons took a stranglehold on the game and set about unlocking the wall of red shirts, with the hosts playing an extremely high line to keep Charlton penned in their own own half for long periods.
Dons were largely restricted to long-range efforts, but one of them almost broke the deadlock when Angelo Balanta unleashed a powerful volley against the frame of the goal from outside the area.
Further efforts from Morrison and Stephen Gleeson followed as Dons continued to dominate the pace and possession, but it took until 20 minutes for them to make the breakthrough – Taylor ending Lewington’s run into the penalty area prematurely and Williams did the business from 12 yards in front of a noisy 1,200 away fans.
At the other end Paul Hayes and Bradley Wright-Phillips failed to make an impression with only Dale Stephens really testing Dons keeper Martin.
But for all their possession and tidy football, Dons didn’t kill the game off and Charlton left by far the happier of the sides.
Williams perfectly summed up the game, saying: “I think that we created enough chances to win it, especially in the first half. It was great to score but it’s a shame we didn’t get the three points as well.
“After Saturday we were down to ninth and that was a big shock, but it’s early days yet. Hopefully a few teams will fall away and we’ll stay up the top.”
Williams didn’t seem to show any nerves as he stepped up to emphatically blast the ball past Hamer, but he admitted it was a ‘spur of the moment’ thing that saw him take the spot-kick.
“The gaffer hasn’t designated a penalty taker, so I thought I’d put my mark down and make sure I took it. I actually took the ball off Clinton Morrison which was OK because he thought I took them for the team!”
It looked like half the managers in League 1 were at stadium:mk to watch, including Notts County boss Martin Allen who brings his side to the city on Saturday on a five-game unbeaten run – six if you include their recent trip to play Juventus – leaving them in sixth place and only behind Dons on goal difference.
Once again Robinson will have a bit of a selection headache with Gleeson suspended and Ibehre still a doubt with his hamstring strain.
It seems MacDonald could be out for longer though. He has a thigh injury and was due to see a specialist this week and the club are reluctant to put a time-frame on his return to the fold for the time being.
>> Click on the link (top right) to see our picture gallery from the game.