SPEAKING after Dons’ agonising play-off defeat to Peterborough, skipper Dean Lewington said he was once again left feeling that Dons rarely get the rub of the green when it comes to refereeing decisions.
Grant McCann’s free-kick made it through Dons’ defensive wall after just 11 minutes in Thursday’s second leg at London Road, before a mix-up between Gary MacKenzie and Sean O’Hanlon allowed Craig Mackail-Smith to tap home nine minutes after the interval for Posh to win 2-0 on the night, and 4-3 on aggregate.
But after McCann’s controversial first leg goal on Sunday - from an outrageous penalty given by Jon Moss - and Dons being denied a spot-kick of their own by Colin Webster when Posh’s Mark Little appeared to handle Angelo Balanta’s pass, Lewington said he doesn’t understand why his team don’t see the big calls go their way more often.
“It hurt at the time and it changed the tie completely,” said Lewington after feeling play-off semi-final heartbreak for the third time with Dons. “If we came into the game two goals up then it would have been a completely different tie. It’s frustrating but there is nothing we can do about it.
“And the referee tonight has got the handball decision wrong. I feel like I’m always saying the same things when it comes to MK Dons – the referees don’t seem to give us anything. But that’s not an excuse. Tonight, we knew what we had to do.”
Posh appeared to dominate proceedings on the night, creating the best and most chances, but Lewington said his side felt confident - even at 1-0 down - that they would have enough to at least score one at London Road.
He said: “In the last 10 or 15 minutes they had a lot of chances when they put long balls into the channels and Mackail-Smith could run on to it, and it’s quite difficult to defend that when your full-backs are so high up the pitch.
“But that was the last 10 minutes, and I don’t think in the first 45 they overly dominated the game or cut us open. It’s disappointing that the ball went through the wall for the first goal – it was preventable but one of those frustrating things.
“We went into the game feeling fantastic but sometimes it just doesn’t click. I’d love to say there was a reason and this is why, but it’s hard to tell. We felt we had enough to beat them but we’ve just come up short.
“We’re gutted. Disappointed with the result and the way we played – all in all a bad day.”
Ironically, McCann’s early strike allowed Dons to settle according to Lewington, knowing that a goal would put them back in the lead overall and freeing them from the awkward dilemma of whether to attack or defend their lead.
“After their goal it freed us up a bit,” he said. “With a goal lead we were a bit worried about how we played, whether to defend it or go for another. But they scored as we played better and came into the game more.
“Because it was so tight, we knew that if we nicked a goal we would be OK. And we created a few chances – Powelly hit the bar and Angelo should have had a penalty. You only need one to go in and the whole game changes, but it didn’t go for us and that’s the way it is sometimes.”
And the visibly devastated Lewington expressed his pride in his team-mates, and insists that the play-off defeat will act as fuel for Dons to push on and go up automatically from League One next season.
He said: “I’m really proud of the boys. The last six months have been fantastic.
We had to get rid of a lot of players in January and a few eyebrows were raised, but players like Powell have come in and made the positions their own.
“We’re quite a young team with a young manager, and we can use this as the fuel for next year.”