IT looked impossible 20 minutes in, but a brilliant fightback saw MK Dons come from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Portsmouth at stadium:mk on Saturday.
Brian Howard had already missed a third minute penalty when Izale McLeod came back to haunt his former club by tapping the visitors ahead a minute later.
When Gabor Gyepes doubled Portsmouth’s lead after 20 minutes, Dons looked well out of it. But the introduction of Alan Smith changed things tactically for the home side, aided greatly by Adam Webster’s own goal just before the break to make it 2-1.
And with fire in their bellies, Dons dominated the second period, and could have had three or four goals before Darren Potter eventually equalised with 19 minutes to go.
While they couldn’t convert their late pressure into a winner, Dons vitally stay well in the hunt in fifth place in League 1, but now eight points adrift of early leaders Tranmere who won at Notts County.
Dons lined up with the same starting 11 that drew 1-1 with Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena on Tuesday night, but Ryan Lowe was absent from the bench – an illness forcing the striker to miss out. Ironically, despite all their problems, Portsmouth were able to fill their substitutes bench, while Dons were a man light.
There was drama almost straight away, and McLeod – Dons’ all time leading scorer – was at the heart of it all. With just two minutes on the clock, he raced onto a hopeless back-pass by Shaun Williams and was cleaned out by David Martin, giving referee David Coote no option but to point to the penalty spot. Fortunately for the home side though, skipper Brian Howard’s kick crashed against the upright before being cleared away by Dean Lewington.
But less than a minute later, Portsmouth were ahead as McLeod took on Antony Kay, breaking past the defender and bending the ball around Martin’s dive and into the back of the net. Despite the mixed reaction he received from the Dons faithful, he didn’t celebrate his strike in front of the Cowshed.
As the game settled, Dons began to get on top of things, stroking the ball around nicely as Portsmouth chased intently. Daniel Powell and Charlie MacDonald were looking lively for Dons in the attacking third, both forcing Mikkel Andersen into low saves.
But their task was made doubly hard when Gyepes rose unchallenged to meet Howard’s free-kick after 19 minutes, putting Pompey 2-0 ahead.
Going two behind didn’t deter Dons, but it didn’t exactly kick them on a gear either as they stuck to their patient build-up play, tentatively trying to exploit space in the wings while still not showing any killer instinct in front of goal.
The pace of McLeod and Wes Thomas was proving a thorn in the side of Kay and Williams, and he could have killed off the game in the 29th minute when he raced clear of the pair and into the box. Jon Otsemobor was wise to the turn though, and his last ditch tackle took the ball from McLeod’s toe.
Karl Robinson rolled the dice after half an hour, taking off Otsemobor and replacing him with Smith, who went straight up front to partner MacDonald as Dons went with three at the back.
Bowditch was looking the most dangerous man on the pitch in a white shirt, forcing Andersen into a fine acrobatic save with his 25-yard free-kick. But it was a Portsmouth head which got the home side back in the game 39 minutes in as Webster put the ball into his own net from Bowditch’s corner, handing Dons a vital lifeline before the break.
McLeod had another decent penalty claim turned away as he took advantage of Williams’ slip on the edge of the box before being clattered by Lewington as he looked set to pull the trigger, but referee Coote was unmoved by his appeals.
Dons looked hungry at the start of the second half. Looking less nervous with three at the back and more dangerous with two up front, they went about searching for an equaliser, while the away side looked content to lump balls up for McLeod to chase.
Dons’ new-found vigour almost netted them an equaliser 13 minutes into the second period when Powell beat Webster on the right and put a dangerous low ball across the face of goal. MacDonald missed it, but Luke Chadwick was sliding in late and looked to be turning it in, but Lubomir Michalik’s last-gasp dive kept the ball out.
Four minutes later, it was Bowditch’s turn to cross in from the right, but MacDonald was just inches away from heading in at the near post.
Portsmouth had a golden opportunity to bury the game after 68 minutes though in a rare attack, but despite doing all the hard work to carve out space in the box, Lee Williamson fired wide of the mark.
That was just the incentive Dons needed to get back on level terms, and they were after 71 minutes. Bowditch’s corner from the right was deep towards Lewington who rose high to head it goalwards. With Andersen stretching to keep it out, he tipped the ball onto the bar, but it bounced down into the path of Potter who thighed the ball into the roof of the net to draw Dons level – much to the relief of the home supporters.
Sensing blood, Dons kept their foot firmly to the floor, going in search of the winner. Smith could have done better when he found himself unmarked at the far post, but Bowditch’s drilled cross was too powerful for him to control and the ball looped up and over his head.
Given the positions they found themselves in after 20 minutes, a point is nothing short of miraculous for Dons. However, Robinson’s tactical switch on the half hour paid dividends and means his side remain unbeaten at home, and crucially, still in the play-off positions.
Referee: David Coote
Attendance: 10,409 (2,552)
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Otsemobor (Smith, 33), Williams, Kay, Potter, Gleeson, Chadwick, Powell, Bowditch, MacDonald (Allan, 69)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Doumbe, Chicksen, O’Shea, Allan
Portsmouth: Andersen, Dumbuya, Harley, Williamson, Howard (Buzsaky, 81), McLeod, Thomas (Obita, 81), Gyepes, Ertl, Michalik, Webster
Subs not used: Eastwood, Walker, Rodgers, Compton, Harris
Booked: Kay, Allan, McLeod, Smith