MK Dons narrowly avoided the embarrassment of an FA Cup third round exit at the hands of Northampton Town, coming from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw at Sixfields on Saturday.
Ryan Creswell put into his own net after 12 minutes to give Dons an early lead, but Northampton were by far the more comfortable side in the opening 45 minutes without really troubling the goal.
But a quick-fire double from Ricky Holmes early in the second half put Northampton on the brink of a cup surprise, until substitute Nicky Maynard got the final touch on a messy equaliser eight minutes from time to force a replay back at stadium:mk.
Karl Robinson remained true to his word in making seven changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Northampton. Jake Forster-Caskey re-signed for the club on Friday and went straight into the starting 11, with Simon Church leading the line. Dons also named academy product 17-year-old Callum Brittain on the bench for the first time.
One of the changes, that of Lee Hodson in for captain Dean Lewington, was instrumental in Dons taking the lead after 12 minutes. Beating Brendan Moloney to get to the byline, Hodson’s ball into the mixer caused havoc and as Dean Bowditch reached for it, the ball was turned into his own net by Ryan Creswell.
For the opening half hour though, Northampton would have the lionshare of possession without really troubling Cody Cropper in the Dons net. In fact, the closest they came was when Kyle McFadzean nearly returned the favour by heading into his own net. His blushes were spared though as it whistled past the post.
Dons, by comparison, offered next to nothing after their early bright start. Simon Church barely touched the ball as Dons only really saw the line in and amongst the back four, failing to kick start anything in the attacking third other than a handful of pot-shots from range, though Josh Murphy and Ben Reeves saw their drilled shots wide of the mark.
Having finished the first half the stronger of the two, Northampton needed just four second half minutes to get back on level terms. Failing to clear their lines, Dons were the victims of their own downfall as Ricky Holmes cut back on himself to lose McFadzean before bending a wonderful right-footed effort past Cropper’s despairing dive.
And it was Holmes again who fired the Cobblers 2-1 up eight minutes later after more slack defending from Dons saw him sneak in behind Hodson to rattle into the bottom corner.
It prompted Robinson into a triple substitution on the hour mark, removing McFadzean, Murphy and Church for Matthew Upson, Samir Carruthers and Nicky Maynard.
The changes certainly gave Dons more gusto, and with the prospect of being dumped out of the competition at the first opportunity, began to play as though they wanted to be there. Maynard’s impact was almost felt immediately when he was played through by Rob Hall, but a last-ditch tackle from Rod McDonald nudged the ball out of his path, with half-hearted calls for a penalty waved away.
Maynard again almost equalised when he capitalised on Creswell’s poor ball back to his keeper, lifting the ball cleverly over the advancing Smith, only to see it launched to safety by McDonald.
But just as Dons looked hopeless in their attempts to get back on level terms, the equaliser came with eight minutes to go. With the box packed with bodies, Reeves’ shot came back up off defender Creswell allowing Maynard to get the last touch to lift it past Smith and force the game to a replay back at stadium:mk.
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Attendance: 5,878 (947)
Northampton: Smith, Moloney, Buchanan, O’Toole, Cresswell, McDonald, Byrom, Holmes (D’Ath 63), Adams (Taylor 88), Hoskins (Hackett 77), Richards
Subs not used: Clarke, Diamond, Taylor, Lelan, Horwood
MK Dons: Cropper, Spence, McFadzean (Upson 60), Walsh, Hodson; Forster-Caskey, Reeves; Bowditch, Hall, Murphy (Maynard 60); Church (Carruthers 60)
Subs not used: Burns, Brittain, Randall, Hitchcock