TEMPERS flared on the touchline as Dons had to settle for 1-1 draw with Notts County at Meadow Lane on Saturday.
Tom Flanagan opened the scoring midway through the first half with a spectacular volley as Dons looked the better team going in at the break. But Martin Allen’s County fought back in the second half, dominating proceedings but couldn’t find a way past an inspired David Martin in the Dons net.
But an incident which saw Flanagan booked for a foul he didn’t commit had both managers remonstrating with the fourth official, which resulted in Allen and Dons assistant manager John Gorman watching the remainder of the game from the stands.
It would take a controversial decision from referee Stuart Attwell to get past keeper Martin, as he awarded a penalty for handball against Flanagan with 10 minutes to go – Jeff Hughes coolly slotting home to equalise, earning the home side a well deserved point.
Robinson, who narrowly avoided a touchline ban after being sent to the stands earlier this month against Colchester United, blamed the layout of the dugouts at Meadow Lane for the flashpoint between the two benches.
“The dugouts are situated in a way that there is no central ground for the fourth official to stand in,” he said. “So I had to come into the Notts County technical area to talk to him.
“There was a communication problem with the referee because he didn’t have an ear piece in, and he booked the wrong man.
“Tom Flanagan didn’t make the foul, it was Stephen Gleeson. And from that instance, I was pushed. I didn’t move an inch. And then John took offence and pushed Martin back.”
Dons showed no signs of a hangover from the two money-spinning clashes against Queens Park Rangers as they dominated proceedings in a quiet first half, but it was a different story in the second as County went about finding an equaliser. For the first time in a long time, Dons were out performed on the pitch by their opponents and Robinson said he was pleased to come away with a point.
He said: “The result was fair. I thought in the first half we were the better team, and then in the second they were by far the better team.
“They had two or three good chances to get more out of the game, I’m just disappointed their goal didn’t come in a fair way.
“We came here last year and got turned over, so we’ve gained a point in that respect and that’s a positive. Not many teams around us have won so that keeps us going.
“Meadow Lane is a tough place to come. Huddersfield came here, were 2-0 up and ended up drawing.
“We showed a different side to ourselves – we don’t get bullied, we’re strong physically and we showed it.
“Notts County are a physical side and are trying to play as well. The weather conditions didn’t help either. But I’m pleased with the effort and application from everyone.
“On a windy day, when we’ve played Tuesday, this was as tough as we’re going to get, so I’ll take a point.
“We have drawn a lot of confidence from the QPR games. It has proved that we can mix it and play well, but we’re not concentrating on that any more, we’re purely looking towards Stevenage.”
Injury to Shaun Williams in training on Thursday meant Robinson had to make one change to the side that lost to QPR in midweek, with Flanagan partnered alongside Mathias Doumbe at the heart of the defence.
The balding Meadow Lane pitch made for fast moving ball along the ground, and both sides started at a rapid pace.
Lee Hughes raced through in the fourth minute after Doumbe gave the ball away in midfield, but the striker dawdled on the ball, allowing Flanagan the chance to get back and make a tackle. From there, Dons countered and after some excellent hold-up play from Charlie MacDonald, Jabo Ibehre lashed his shot just wide from the edge of the box.
In typical Martin Allen fashion, County proved dogged and tough to break down, and looked dangerous going forward in the opening stages.
Jeff Hughes sent in a dangerous cross which missed everyone and Neal Bishop strung David Martin’s gloves with a quick effort on the turn from the edge of the box.
At the other end, MacDonald saw his low goal-bound effort tipped wide of the post by Magpies’ keeper Stuart Nelson in a breathless opening 20 minutes.
But a moment of magic from Flanagan put Dons into a 27th minute lead. County failed to clear Bowditch’s corner and the centre-back was able to control the ball before acrobatically volleying into the top corner for his first goal of the season.
County began to mount their fightback immediately, but didn’t account for an in-form Martin in the Dons goal who proved the difference as the sides went in level at the break.
Dons burst out of the blocks at the start of the second period and almost doubled their lead 30 seconds after the restart as Dean Bowditch’s weaving run took him past Kieron Freeman and MacDonald met his low cross, but it was straight at Nelson.
And the County keeper was busy again five minutes later when Dean Lewington’s free kick looked to be curling into the bottom corner and the keeper could only parry it as far as Doumbe, but the defender couldn’t control his header and it sailed over.
Lee Hughes had the home side’s best chance of the game a minute later as he raced clear of Flanagan, but Martin did brilliantly to stand tall before diving high to keep Hughes’ effort out.
When Flanagan was booked for a nothing challenge on Alan Judge, tempers flared not on the pitch but on the side lines.
As Robinson remonstrated with the fourth official, Magpies manager Martin Allen pushed the Dons boss. John Gorman took offence to Allen’s physicality and shoved the former Dons manager back. As the melee ensued, referee Attwell sent both Allen and Dons assistant Gorman to the stands for the remaining 33 minutes.
The altercation lifted the home crowd into full voice as they urged their side forward, and it worked as County enjoyed more of the ball as they continued to look for the equaliser, but Martin was proving a tough nut to crack as he made save after save to keep the lead in tact and County at bay.
First, Hamza Bencherif tested Martin from range with a low strike before Judge had the keeper at full stretch to keep Dons ahead.
County continued to look dangerous going forward, particularly through Lee Hughes – the striker playing just off the shoulder of Flanagan, allowing him the first yard in any ball over the top. On a number of occasions he looked to be in behind, but a combination of David Martin, inaccurate finishing and the offside flag got the better of him on each occasion.
Having ridden the County storm, Dons began to play their way back into the game. With the ball on the ground, Dons looked comfortable playing the ball across the midfield and making their opposition chase to get a touch. Adam Smith was enjoying acres of space to attack on the right flank as he and Luke Chadwick, later Daniel Powell, created a torrid afternoon for Jon Harley and Jeff Hughes.
It needed a huge slice of luck, but County finally found a way past Martin with 10 minutes to go and it came from the penalty spot.
Goal-scorer Flanagan appeared to handle a through ball to Lee Hughes and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Flanagan was fortunate to not pick up a second booking as Jeff Hughes coolly sent Martin the wrong way to equalise – cue a tantalising finale as both sides went in search of a winner.
While it was County who had more of the ball, it was Krystian Pearce who had the best chance in the dying stages, albeit at the wrong end, as he deflected Gleeson’s cross narrowly over his own crossbar.
But despite a few minor scares and corners, Dons held on to for a valuable point, and benefitted from those around them in the play-offs also dropping points.
Dons remain well in the hunt though, six points off the second automatic promotion spot with two games in hand. Runaway leaders Charlton Athletic are a further seven points clear at the top.
Martin, who turned 26 on Sunday, was the star performer for Dons, said that felt the penalty decision was harsh, but that a point was probably fair on reflection of the game.
“I think we edged the first half,” he said afterwards. “But the second half they put pressure on us and it was just one of those games when a draw was fair.
“I was disappointed that the referee gave it. I thought on the whole he’d had a good game but the penalty decision was harsh.
“I said that to him afterwards and he said ‘fair enough’ but if we’d have taken a few more of our chances in the first half we could’ve been clear. Tom’s hands were right down by his side, where else can you put them?
“The shot was never really going to trouble me either, but it’s just one of those things.
“The way we play, we keep the ball a lot and as a goalkeeper I can’t really show what I can do but we’d rather the team did well.
“Obviously we didn’t do as well as we wanted to in the second half, and this time I was needed. It’s just a shame we couldn’t keep a clean sheet.
“Hopefully, we can move on from here and beat Stevenage on Tuesday.”
And Robinson heaped praise on his goalkeeper for keeping Dons in the tie.
“I thought he made excellent saves,” he said. “The stupid people who comment on his ability need to have a look at some of the performances he’s put in.
“We’re the joint leading team in number of clean sheets this season.
“He’s tremendous at what he does. He’s here for a reason, he’s our number one goalkeeper and as long as I’m here he will always be that.”
Robinson’s defence coped well despite missing Shaun Williams and Gary MacKenzie, but Flanagan slotted in well alongside Doumbe and was in the right place at the right time to open the scoring.
Robinson said: “It was a great strike, but he’s got great ability. It was a tremendous finish for a central defender.
“Shaun Williams took a cruel knock on Thursday, and jerked his ankle, so we were without him and Gary MacKenzie who are key components to the way we play. But we equipped ourselves well.
“I’m not sure whether they’ll be available for Tuesday against Stevenage.”
And MacKenzie may not be the only addition to his squad ahead of Tuesday’s game at the Lamex Stadium as Robinson sets his sights on completing several new signings sooner rather than later.
“It depends,” he said. “I need to talk to the agents of the players we’ve approached to see how far along the lines we are with them.
“If it was down to me, I’d have them all, but there are also issues with managers who don’t want to let them go. It’s not a case that the club aren’t trying to sign anyone, it’s just a case of the players we are trying to get in are good quality and it’s difficult to get them out.”