Handballs, penalties and pitches, oh my!

Bradford's Jon Stead. Pic: Simon Hulme YPN-151002-075111041
Bradford's Jon Stead. Pic: Simon Hulme YPN-151002-075111041

If Dons have serious aspirations to win promotion and the League 1 crown this season, they’re certainly going about it the hard way.

The players could have been be waking up this morning sitting pretty atop the pile with victories over title rivals Bristol City on Saturday and play-off contenders Bradford City a little over 48 hours later on Monday night.

The groundsman working on the Valley Parade pitch. Pic: Simon Hulme. YPN-151002-075810041

The groundsman working on the Valley Parade pitch. Pic: Simon Hulme. YPN-151002-075810041

However, a series of factors outside their control played key roles in Dons picking up just one point from six,with a 0-0 draw against Bristol and a 2-1 loss to Bradford.

Make no bones about it - Dons didn’t deserve to win at Valley Parade on Monday night. They were second to every ball, their style wasn’t appropriate for the conditions, and defensively were shaky.

And two defensive lapses ultimately cost Dons not only their lead, but also their share of the points.

What couldn’t be accounted for though is the refereeing anomaly which aided the Banthams in the build-up to their second goal.

Veteran striker Jon Stead admitted after the game that he used his hand to control the ball before sliding in James Hanson to roll the winner under David Martin with 20 minutes remaining.

With television cameras combing every inch of the atrocious Valley Parade pitch, Stead’s misdemeanour still went unnoticed by referee Paul Tierney, highlighting yet more howlers from the men in the middle.

It was the second astonishing handball to go unrewarded for Karl Robinson’s side in as many days, after Bristol City defender Luke Ayling made a save that would’ve made any keeper in the land proud.

Diving to block Samir Carruthers’ late in the day at stadium:mk, Ayling thrust out an arm to prevent it sailing goalwards, though whistleman Craig Pawson first waved away Dons’ appeals for a penalty, before booking an irate Carruthers for his vigorous protest.

“I’m sick of it,” said Robinson after defeat at Bradford. “I’ve not come out and criticised the referees this season, but it’s two in a row now. If I moan about it, I get told to get on with it.

“We weren’t good enough, but the referees have to do better.

“He said he didn’t deem it was deliberate, but when you see it live on TV, it just highlights how bad the decision was.”

It could be argued then, that Dons were cost three points by refereeing decisions over the two games - two in draw with Bristol, and another in the game with Bradford.

But being that every side will feel the wrangles of injustice at some point during the season, it is a pill Dons will simply have to swallow and move on.

“That’s football,” said Carruthers in summary after the draw with Bristol City.

“Just because you play better football, or you play well, it doesn’t mean you’ll win the game. That’s the way football is.

“On another day, we get those decisions.”

On the grand scheme of things, the games represent two more opportunities to make a serious impression on the division that Dons have let slip.

However, few would have predicted Dons would hit top spot after their 5-0 win over Crewe Alexandra at the end of January, and there will undoubtedly be more twists and turns in the 17 remaining games this season.

They now face two more away games on the spin, against Gillingham and Colchester, before returning home for a crunch clash with rivals Peterborough United next Saturday.