Danny Green struck late to spare Dons’ blushes on Tuesday night as they had to come from behind to draw 2-2 with Rochdale.
Will Grigg scored his first goal since early October to get the ball rolling after 15 minutes, though the lead lasted just 60 seconds as Tom Flanagan put into his own net. The turgid half though gave birth to a thrilling second period as both sides fancied their chances.
Reuben Noble-Lazarus thought he’d won it when he spectacularly sent Dale into the lead with 14 minutes to go, but substitute Danny Green netted eight minutes later to rescue a point for the home side.
The biggest shock of the day came as skipper Dean Lewington was left off the team-sheet - a hamstring problem ruled him out of the game. It was the first time he missed a league game since August 24, 2013. He was replaced by the returning Lee Hodson, while Darren Potter took over the captain’s armband. Elsewhere, Kyle McFadzean’s suspension handed a start to Tom Flanagan, while Daniel Powell and Benik Afobe were replaced by Dean Bowditch and Will Grigg.
While Rochdale appeared to be quite stingy with possession in the opening five minutes, it wasn’t long before Dons began to gain the upper hand. They could easily have been 2-0 by the ninth minute too, with chances for Carl Baker and a sitter for Tom Flanagan - the latter chance leaving the defender livid with himself for wasting his unmarked header.
It wouldn’t be long before Dons were in front though. Will Grigg hadn’t scored since October 4 before tonight, but showed great composure when send clean through on goal by Dele Alli, and superbly lobbed Conrad Logan as he raced out to close the angle to put Dons into the lead.
The lead though would last barely a minute. Rochdale immediately launched an attack from kick off, and Stephen Dawson’s dangerous ball into the mixer was deflected into his own net by the hapless Flanagan to equalise.
The goal from nowhere really was like a sucker punch to the home side, and swung momentum back in Dale’s favour. With Dons unable to get their attacking flow back, the visitors simply drowned out Dons in their own half, twinned with some ambitious balls forward for Grigg to hopelessly chase.
Dons’ style has never really suited cold, wet nights and twinned with Rochdale’s midfield tenacity, it made the home side look distinctly second best, bordering on a danger to themselves, for much of the remainder of the first half.
And they should have been trailing at the break, but Andrew Cannon’s low drive skipped just wide as he was afforded time and space between Potter and the back four. An apoplectic Robinson had some choice words for Kay as the defence ring-leader, with the defender responding in kind.
Dons flew out of the blocks in the second half, and rattled the frame of the goal within two minutes of the restart. Bowditch’s cross from the left was deflected into the path of Alli, who in turn laid it off for Reeves on the edge of the box. But with Logan beaten, Reeves’ strike slammed off the underside of the bar and away.
Their shaky defence continued to plague them into the second half though, and it was Cannon again who had to do better when Dons simply couldn’t get a clean boot to the ball to clear, but his strike was just wide.
Dale really should have taken the lead in the 65th minute from yet another defensive lapse from Flanagan. Somehow missing the ball completely on half way, he allowed Reuben Noble-Lazarus to race 30 yards on goal, before slipping in Ian Henderson. Fortunately for the defence, his strike was poor, under pressure from the rapidly back-tracking Jordan Spence.
Robinson introduced Daniel Powell and Benik Afobe to the action, and it breathed much-needed life into Dons in the attacking third. Powell twice had Logan flying across the ground to keep out his low strikes as Dons began to up the ante.
Logan was by far the busier keeper in the second half, and needed to be alert when Potter’s surging run allowed Afobe to slide the ball across the face of goal to Grigg. But the stopper was quick off his line, pouncing on the striker before he could fully turn and get a shot away.
It would be David Martin though who would end up picking the ball out of his net with 14 minutes to go. Noble-Lazarus, easily Dale’s best player, was afforded time on the right flank and rocketed in from 25 yards out to put the visitors into the lead.
Logan pulled off another spectacular save to keep out Grigg’s header as Dons piled forwards in the closing stages, now desperately seeking an equaliser of their own.
And it came with six minutes to go courtesy of substitute Danny Green. Afobe turned quickly in the box and forced Logan down with a low drive, but the rebound fell perfectly for Green to rattle home from just outside the six yard box.
The draw is an opportunity missed for Dons. Although they couldn’t have climbed any higher than fourth on the night, one of their games in hand is now spent.
Referee: Mark Haywood
MK Dons: Martin, Hodson (Green 79), Flanagan, Kay, Spence, Potter, Alli, Baker, Bowditch (Powell 61), Reeves (Afobe 68), Grigg
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Randall, Rasulo, Carruthers
Rochdale: Conrad Logan, Bennett, Eastham, Noble-Lazarus (Andrew 87), Dawson (Hery 22), Tanser, Muldoon (Lancashire 79), Allen, Cannon, O’Connell, Henderson
Subs not used: Lillis, Rafferty, Rose, Joel Logan
Booked: Hery, Noble-Lazarus, Lancashire