DAVID Martin was the hero as he saved Darryl Duffy’s shootout spot-kick to book MK Dons a place in the second round of the League Cup after an exhausting 1-1 draw with Cheltenham Town on Saturday.
In a first half dominated by the home side, Stephen Gleeson was controversially shown a straight red card for a seemingly innocuous challenge on Sam Deering after 37 minutes before Dean Bowditch opened his 2012/13 account for Dons on the stroke of half-time.
However, Zaid Mohamed’s wonder-strike 13 minutes after the restart got Cheltenham back on level terms. Charlie MacDonald and Ryan Lowe both had good chances to win the tie for Dons as extra time loomed, but they couldn’t made them count, meaning another 30 minutes in the sun – not ideal for either side in the warm summer sun.
With neither team able to break the deadlock after the additional half an hour, it came down the penalties. Martin guessed right to save Duffy’s second Cheltenham spot-kick and Dons recorded a flawless five penalties to go through 5-3.
Despite completing the signings of Antony Kay and Lowe in the last 10 days, Dons were unable to field a full compliment of seven substitutes, with three of their four summer signings named on the bench.
Cheltenham had the better of the opening 10 minutes, peppering Martin’s box with dangerous crosses and corners as they looked to catch Dons napping.
Mohamed hooked a ball over the crossbar from close range and Billy Jones could have felt slightly hard-done-by not to have won a 12th minute penalty when his free-kick appeared to hit a Dons hand in the wall.
Sam Deering opted to throw himself to the ground rather than pull the trigger despite getting in behind the Dons defence, earning himself a yellow card for diving, as the alarm bells began to ring a little louder for the visiting side.
And it prompted a bit of a fightback – Jay O’Shea found himself with a narrow sight of goal and tried to bend a shot around Robins keeper Scott Brown, but found the base of the left-hand upright with Dons’ first attempt on goal after 20 minutes.
Kay made his Dons debut with less than half an hour on the clock when Shaun William was forced off, injured in the melee after a Jones corner. The former Huddersfield man, who signed on Friday, slotted in alongside Gary MacKenzie in the centre of defence. He was pitted against Chris Zebroski and was booked for blocking the forward just eight minutes after coming on.
The home side continued to attack down the right flank, taking advantage of Dean Lewington’s temptation to wander up-field. With referee Steven Rushton dishing out cards for fun, it was only a matter of time before tempers boiled over.
And they did five minutes before the break when Gleeson was given a straight red card for a fairly innocuous challenge on Deering. Despite getting a clear foot to the ball, Gleeson’s sliding challenge did catch the Cheltenham man, who had been booked earlier for diving. But referee Rushton pulled out the red card, reducing Dons to 10 men.
The sense of injustice seemed to wake-up Robinson’s side as MacDonald forced a good save from Brown before Lewington headed the resulting corner just over the bar.
And they would have felt slightly vindicated when they took the lead on the stroke of half time. O’Shea’s brilliant run across the penalty area drew in the Cheltenham defence, and he rolled in Bowditch who rifled home past Brown, with the ball taking a slight deflection on the way through.
After the break, Cheltenham looked to go after the 10 men, with Zebrowski looking especially dangerous. First his 47th minute shot from just outside the area forced Martin into a low stop, and two minutes later he rounded Martin, but couldn’t direct the ball in from a wide angle.
Jermaine McGlashan, who had an excellent first half, was proving to be an annoying thorn in Lewington’s side again in the second half, and should have done better on 56 minutes when he dinked the ball past the Dons captain but blazed his strike over from close range.
Two minutes later though Cheltenham were level when Mohamed found himself in space 30 yards out and struck a fierce effort, which swirled in the air, confusing Martin as it rocketed into the top of the net.
Dons continued to hold their shape and passed well, frustrating the home team with their possession and patience as they stroked the ball around the midfield as though they had 12 men, not 10.
Rolling the dice, Robinson introduced Alan Smith and Lowe to the fray, with the latter almost striking immediately with a volley from just outside the box, but it was just off target. And a minute later, the striker could have scored again when he threw himself at Lewington’s deep cross, forcing Brown into a brilliant one-handed save to tip it around the post.
Dons were beginning to get on top as extra time loomed, and MacDonald had a great chance to win the game with eight minutes to go in normal time when he was first to Bowditch’s through ball, but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
At the other end, McGlashan flashed another shot wide as neither side looked keen on an extra half hour in the sun. But Lowe could have won it for Dons in 90th minute when he got on the end of a brilliant ball in from Lewington. Beating Harry Hooman, his shot nearly wriggled under Brown’s dive, but the keeper managed to get enough on the ball to kill the pace as he pounced on it.
So it meant half an hour of extra time would be played. Dons took no time in testing the frame of the goal again as Lewington rattled the bar from a free-kick less than two minutes into the first period. Cheltenham looked up for it too as Duffy forced Martin into a fine low save two minutes later.
It was a real end-to-end half of football, with each side trading attacks. Dons created some great moves at their end, while Cheltenham saw shots from Mohamed and Duffy sail safely over the bar.
Into the second half, Dons again started brightly, this time MacKenzie had Brown scrambling to get back as his header looked to be dropping in. Fortunately for the keeper, the ball landed on the roof of the net.
Cheltenham nearly scored the luckiest goal of the season when Kay intercepted Mohamed’s run, only for his clearance to strike the winger and slide just wide of the post, with Martin rooted to the spot.
Kay looked impressive on his first appearance in Dons colours, mopping up almost everything that came his way as Cheltenham lumped long ball after long ball up for the defender to deal with.
The game nearly didn’t make it to spot-kicks as Duffy found space in the box in the final minute, but his shot was deflected wide and it ended 1-1.
So the tie would be decided on penalties and Martin saved Cheltenham’s second spot-kick from Duffy to give Dons the advantage. The responsibility for winning the tie fell to Lowe who took Dons’ fifth penalty and made no mistake to compete a 5-3 shootout success, seeing his side safely through to the second round.
Referee: Steven Rushton
Attendance: 1,660 (352)
Cheltenham Town: Brown, Jones, Hooman, Pack, Deering (Harrad 67), McGlashan, Bennett (c) (Keith Lowe, 85), Penn, Jombati, Mohamed, Zebroski (Duffy 83)
Subs not used: Lowe, Roberts, Ansrew, Graham, Hanks
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Chicksen, MacKenzie, Williams (Kay, 29), Potter, Gleeson, O’Shea (Smith 60), Chadwick (Ryan Lowe 70), Bowditch, MacDonald
Subs not used: Powell, McLoughlin
Booked: Deering, Chadwick, Kay, Potter
Sent off: Gleeson