Dons’ slim chances of making the play-offs went out with a whimper on Saturday as they crumbled to a 2-0 defeat to Crawley.
It is now 540 minutes since Dons’ last goal at stadium:mk - Ben Reeves’ last minute winner against Oldham on February 15 - and it never looked like coming throughout Saturday’s lackluster affair.
Crawley were able to capitalise on two defensive errors in the first half to put the result beyond doubt even before half time, with tap-in goals from Andy Drury and Mike Jones putting the result out of reach, killing off the remote chance Dons had of making the top six.
There was a new look to the Dons defence when the teams were announced, with Brendan Galloway replacing Antony Kay at centre back, who picked up a thigh strain. Mark Randall made his first start for MK Dons since May 8, 2010 in the centre of midfield alongside Dele Alli, while Izale McLeod’s goal last Saturday against Coventry earned him a starting role in place of James Loveridge.
Dons went into the game without a goal at stadium:mk in a little under two months, and their afternoon got off to the worst of starts when Andy Drury capitalised on some shocking Dons defending to break one-on-one with David Martin, rolling the ball into the net after just six minutes.
And the goal really geed up the visitors as they dictated the play for the opening 20 minutes. Dons’ midfield looked anonymous through the middle, with Randall and Dele Alli barely involved in the play.
It meant McLeod was working with scraps up front, but he squandered Dons’ best chance when set free through the middle by Alan Smith, but his attempt at a lob was horribly miscued, and sent high into the stands behind the goal.
While it wasn’t the goal Dons were looking for, the chance breathed life into the home side and they began to get on top of their opponents for the first time. Smith was asserting his physical presence in the centre of midfield, and Matty Kennedy was looking tricky on both flanks as he and Daniel Powell switched.
It didn’t improve their accuracy in front of goal though, as George Baldock screwed a left-footed effort well-wide of the goal, while McLeod again tried his arm, this time from 20 yards, though it was never going to trouble keeper Paul Jones.
But as Dons pushed forwards in stoppage time, it was all too easy for Crawley to double their lead on the counter attack. What appeared to be a routine clearance was missed by Spence, allowing Jamie Proctor the chance to break on goal. Spence eventually regained position to hold up the Town attacker, but with Martin already drawn out to narrow the angle, Proctor did the unselfish thing of rolling in Mike Jones for a simple tap in.
Karl Robinson changed the formation at half time, going three at the back, with Smith playing alongside Lewington and Spence. A concern for him though was the fitness of keeper David Martin, who received treatment in the first half for a knee problem, but continued to struggle throughout the second half.
But he was deemed fit enough to play on as Robinson made a triple substitution just 12 minutes into the half, replacing McLeod, Galloway and Kennedy with Sanmi Odelusi, James Loveridge and Giorgio Rasulo.
It didn’t seem to make much of a difference though. Long balls up to Odelusi were just getting easily intercepted by the Crawley defence, leaving Loveridge to buzz around him in a vain bid to touch the ball from a rare knock-down.
Crawley’s back line were defending well, but it was a fairly routine afternoon for them. Kyle McFadzean and Joe Walsh were well in control of everything that was sent their way. Randall and Powell both had shots, but neither were ever going to trouble Jones.
At the other end, Alan Smith proved once again that he’s a dab hand at playing in the Dons defence, marking Jamie Proctor out of the half.
The final 10 minutes were played at a fraction of the pace Dons have been renowned for over the years, barely showing any signs of life as the crowd slowly dissipated.
The gap to Peterborough is now nine points with just 12 on offer as Dons slipped to eighth in the table.
Referee: Stephen Bratt
Attendance: 8,877 (338)
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Baldock, Galloway (Loveridge 57), Spence, Alli, Randall, Kennedy (Rasulo 57), Powell, Smith, McLeod (Odelusi 57)
Subs not used: Burns, Hall
Crawley Town: Paul Jones, Sadler, McFadzean, Drury (Torres 77), Simpson, Walsh, Proctor (Fallon 88), Bulman, Mike Jones, Dicker, Paul Connolly (Mark Connolly 9)
Subs not used: Maddison, Tubbs, Monakana, Edwards
Booked: Mat Sadler 39, Giorgio Rasulo, 85