TWO first half penalties and a red card broke Dons hearts as League 1 leaders Charlton ran out unconvincing 2-1 winners at The Valley on Tuesday night.
Karl Robinson was left lamenting refereeing decisions once more as Gary MacKenzie was given his marching orders as he clashed with Charlton’s Yann Kermorgant at a corner just three minutes before the break.
Johnnie Jackson slotted home the penalty. And he was awarded a second deep into first half stoppage time which he blasted home to double the lead at the break.
But Dons dominated proceedings in the second period, not willing to give up without a fight. Dean Bowditch pulled one back with four minutes to go, but in the end it was only a consolation.
Robinson named the same side against the League 1 leaders that drew away at Huddersfield 10 days ago, with Alan Smith starting just behind Charlie MacDonald up front.
Dons quickly got into their stride, as did the home side in what was shaping up to be a very tight knit affair. Luke Chadwick tried an audacious dipping volley from 25 yards after five minutes which was coolly dealt with by Charlton keeper Ben Hamer, and MacDonald tested the keeper again from range four minutes later as he dove to his left to keep it out – Dons having the better of the early chances.
Charlton too looked dangerous though, as they quickly zipped the ball around in the attacking third with ease but didn’t really test David Martin in the opening 20 minutes.
MacKenzie became referee Keith Stroud’s first booking of the game when he and Kermorgant challenged for an aerial ball – the Athletic man ended up flat out in the home dugout, though the Scottish defender could feel a little hard done by for the severity of his punishment.
But MacKenzie breathed a sigh of relief two minutes later when he and Bradley Wright-Phillips chased down a long ball forward. Beating the striker to it, MacKenzie played the ball off Wright-Phillips and it looped towards goal. Martin took the ball above his head, but had both feet behind the goal line prompting huge appeals from the home fans, but the linesman didn’t budge – Martin allowing himself a cheeky smile at the Charlton fans behind the goal.
The Londoners began to take the upper hand as the half wore on, getting the better of the midfield battle. Addicks skipper Jackson sent a free-kick narrowly wide of Martin’s post, but their best chance was yet to come.
But Dons had the best chance of the half 10 minutes before the interval and really should have taken the lead. James Tavernier broke down the right before slipping the ball back to Darren Potter to cross. His deep ball found Bowditch at the far post, who headed the ball back across goal to the unmarked Smith, but his header from point blank range was brilliantly saved by Hamer before MacDonald put the rebound well over the bar.
Then disaster struck for Dons three minutes before the half time whistle when MacKenzie was shown a straight red card for an alleged headbutt on Kermorgant, though MacKenzie protested that it was in fact the Charlton man who was the offender.
Jackson claimed the ball and coolly slotted it home past Martin, who guessed the right way but could do nothing to keep it out as Charlton took a 1-0 lead.
And incredibly Stroud pointed to the spot again deep into stoppage time as Chadwick was adjudged to have fouled Jackson in the area after his shot came back off the crossbar– a soft decision, but the skipper got up, dusted himself off, and blasted in his second penalty of the evening leaving Dons with a huge uphill task in the second half.
MacDonald was withdrawn at the interval with Mathias Doumbe replacing him, filling the void in the centre of defence, while Smith was left to lead the line.
Credit to Dons though – they came out fighting in the second half and for the early part looked the better side. They played with a high line and penned the home side into their half in the opening 10 minutes, but struggled to break down a dogged Athletic defence and couldn’t create anything clear cut in front of goal.
Captain Dean Lewington was leading from the front, desperately trying to drag Dons back into the game by the scruff of the neck as he and opposite full back Tavernier became genuine attacking threats in the second period.
In a rare second half Charlton attack, Wright-Phillips should have put the game to bed in the 69th minute when Shaun Williams slipped to allow him a clear sight at goal. But astonishingly the striker put his shot wide from 10 yards out, leaving Dons still with a glimmer of hope as they entered the final 20 minutes.
The level of control that Dons had in the second half was epitomised by the fact that Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips hardly touched the ball, while Smith, Bowditch and later substitute Daniel Powell were by far the busier front men.
Gleeson forced Hamer into a top stop with 10 minutes remaining – the keeper needed to be at full stretch to tip the Irishman’s long-range shot over the bar. He was needed three minutes later too when Powell cut inside from the left, but his low shot was comfortably parried by the keeper.
Robinson wasn’t going down without a fight as he threw Jay O’Shea into the mix with seven minutes remaining to add another attacking option late in the game, and he slipped through Bowditch with four minutes to play to pull it back to 2-1 and give Charlton an uncomfortable finale.
And the home fans had their hearts in their mouths when Martin raced forwards for a corner, but Charlton’s first half advantage was enough to see them over the line.
Dons remain fifth, but see the gap to Stevenage below them closed to one point after their victory at Sheffield Wednesday, while Sheffield United moved up to second courtesy of their win at Huddersfield.
Dons really must return to winning ways soon, and will look to do so at stadium:mk on Saturday when they take on Oldham Athletic.
Referee: Keith Stroud
Charlton Athletic: Hamer, Jackson (Haynes 63), Morrison, Taylor, Green, Stephens, Wright-Phillips (Pritchard, 90), Wiggins, Solly, Hollands, Kermorgant
Subs not used: Sullivan, Cort, Clarke
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Tavernier, MascKenzie, Williams, Gleeson, Potter, Chadwick (Powell, 76), Bowditch, Smith (O’hea, 83), MacDonald (Doumbe, 46)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Doumbe, Ibehre
Booked: MacKenzie, Tavernier, Stephens
Sent off: MacKenzie