The occasion once again gets the better of MK Dons

Crawley Town celebrate as they thump MK Dons 3-0 at Broadfield Stadium. Pic: Eva GilbertCrawley Town celebrate as they thump MK Dons 3-0 at Broadfield Stadium. Pic: Eva Gilbert
Crawley Town celebrate as they thump MK Dons 3-0 at Broadfield Stadium. Pic: Eva Gilbert | Eva Gilbert
It was another night to forget in the play-offs for MK Dons

Exactly one year on from their embarrassing and humbling relegation to League Two, MK Don slumped to a similarly shameful result as they watched their promotion chances go down in flames.

After the debacle of Monday’s 11th hour postponement of the first leg – a waterlogged pitch at the Broadfield Stadium forcing both games to be shifted – Dons were a rabbit in the headlights as Crawley Town ran riot to win 3-0 on Tuesday.

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Goals from Liam Kelly, Jay Williams and Ronan Darcy put one foot and three toes into the final at Wembley, with only a minor miracle at Stadium MK this coming Saturday standing between them and the final.

For Dons, it was an all-too familiar story, one which transcends generations and iterations: play-off stage fright.

In their short history, Dons were already the team with the most play-off qualifications without ever making it to the final even before a ball was kicked in their sixth post-season campaign. Defeats to Shrewsbury Town, Scunthorpe United, Peterborough United, Huddersfield Town and Wycombe Wanderers have all left various scars, but with only Dean Lewington a surviving member of each, the trait now feels woven in the fabric of the club.

And it certainly felt the case in West Sussex, with not a single stand-out performance from any of Mike Williamson’s side. Not resembling anything like the passing team that drove Dons into the top four, the first-half goals from Kelly and Williams effectively wrapped the first leg up by the break, though Curtis’ deflected cross flying over Michael Kelly’s despairing dive with 25 minutes to go seemed cruelly ironic. One year prior, nothing Dons hit would go in. Fast forward, and even Crawley crosses were beating the keeper.

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Stranger things have happened, play-off miracles have been witnessed in the flesh and, albeit slim, there is still a chance Dons can pull off the impossible. They will need to summon every ounce of their ‘bouncebackability’ and will need to harness what has made them formidable opposition on their own turf at Stadium MK. They may also need Crawley to make a few mistakes of their own, perhaps get blinded by the lights, forget their lines and already have their suits picked out for a trip to the national stadium.

One thing though is for sure: anything like a repeat of Tuesday will bring about a long, discontented summer.

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