Dons extended their unbeaten League 1 run to six games with a 0-0 draw at Bramall Lane against promotion hopefuls Sheffield United.
The best chances fell to the home side, despite Dons looking the better on the ball, but neither keeper was really tested in the scrappy stalemate. Barry Robson couldn’t capitalise on Dean Lewington’s error as he headed over, and Jonathan Forte couldn’t beat Ian McLoughlin from a one-on-one.
Both sides had decent penalty shouts turned away too, though the draw was as fair a result as you could get.
Luke Chadwick was the noticeable absentee from Karl Robinson’s team to face Sheffield United, having failed to recover from the hip injury he picked up in midweek against Doncaster. Izale McLeod’s first goal since returning to the club in Janaury wasn’t enough to earn him a starting role and Patrick Bamford finally made his return to the club, also named among the substitutes.
Alan Smith returned from suspension and went straight into the starting line-up and made his presence felt with less than 100 seconds on the clock with a strong challenge on United’s Kevin McDonald. If it hadn’t been inside two minutes, it would surely have been a booking.
In a frantic opening 10 minutes, United were the ones in the ascendency as they looked to capitalise early. Forcing Dons to play quickly, they forced the first save of the game coming after seven minutes. Barry Robson fired in from the edge of the box. It appeared to be straight down Ian McLoughlin’s throat, but the keeper spilled it and only just managed to regather as Dave Kitson rushed in to pounce.
If Smith was lucky to avoid a booking for his early challenge, Ryan Lowe can thank his lucky stars that he was allowed to stay on the pitch after 20 minutes when tried to chase Michael Doyle down, and in his frustration jumped in to try and tackle him. Fortunately for the striker, Doyle’s pace got him far enough away to avoid any contact. Referee Carl Boyeson had a word with Lowe when play stopped, but no further action was taken, much to the disgust of the Bramall Lane faithful.
Predictably, Karl Robinson was forced into a first half substitution brought on by injury. This time, it was Daniel Powell who went down after putting a cross into the box, immediately signalling to the bench that he needed to come off. He was replaced by Mathias Doumbe, switching Adam Chicksen to the left flank, moving Bowditch across.
As the half wore on, the tide began to shift in Dons’ favour. Chris Lines looked clever on the ball and was beginning to frustrate United’s midfield partnership of Doyle and McDonald as he skipped past their challenges. But ultimately, they didn’t test George Long in the Sheffield net.
The best chance of the half though fell to the home side with a minute of the first half to go. Dean Lewington ran across the face of his own goal without clearing the ball away, and eventually he lost possession to Dave Kitson who picked out Robson unmarked in the centre. But the striker put his header narrowly over the top as both had to settle with 0-0 at the break.
It was turning into quite a scrappy affair as the sides got underway in the second half. Neither side were able to keep control of the ball on the bobbling pitch and both sides were so intent keeping a clean sheet that the defensive areas were so packed that getting a shot off way neigh on impossible.
Rolling the dice, Robinson replaced Smith just before the hour with Patrick Bamford - the on-loan youngster from Chelsea - and 10 minutes later gave Stephen Gleeson another run out, taking over from Lowe.
But just a minute after Gleeson’s introduction, Sheffield United should have been ahead. A neatly threaded ball from McDonald made it’s way to Jonathan Forte who raced clear on goal. With just McLoughlin to beat, the winger somehow managed to play it straight at the keeper, who did brilliantly to deflect it wide of the target.
Bamford’s first real piece of action came with 15 minutes remaining, and should have earned him a penalty. Racing past three United players, he made it into the area but was hauled back by Neill Collins and fell to ground. Rather than award the spot kick though, Mr Boyeson instead booked the Dons man for diving.
The home side too had a penalty shout turned away when Williams appeared to pull Ryan Flynn to the ground with eight minutes left on the clock - perhaps realising the error in his ways earlier, the referee waved play on.
With David Martin out injured and no keeper on the bench, Dons had their hearts in their mouths with five minutes to go when McLoughlin raced out of goal to prevent Forte from getting another shot away, but went down holding his foot. Fortunately, after treatment, he was able to continue, though hobbling badly. Despite his injury, he did well to tip away a Sheffield United corner in stoppage time.
The draw sees Dons remain 12th in League 1.
Referee: Carl Boyeson
Attendance: 17,936 (395)
Shef Utd: Long, Maguire, Hill, Flynn, Doyle, McDonald, Kitson, Collins, Robson (Poleon 84), Murphy (Forte 62), McMahon
Subs not used: Westlake, Higginbotham, Ironside, McFadzean, Coyne
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Lewington, Chicksen, Williams, Kay, Potter, Smith (Bamford 58), Lines, Powell (Doumbe 32), Bowditch, Lowe (Gleeson, 68)
Subs not used: Otsemobor, McLeod, Flanagan, Baldock