REPORT: MK Dons 1-1 Southend: Agard to the rescue again with cool penalty kick
Kieran Agard rescued a point for MK Dons for the second game in a row - after converting from the penalty spot to secure a 1-1 draw against Southend United.
A commanding first half from the visitors in which they missed a penalty after three minutes but took the lead through a Stephen McLaughlin wonder strike threatened to end Dons' upturn in form.
But the introduction of Peter Pawlett at half-time saw the tables turned, and Robbie Nielson's side dispatched their own spot-kick 15 minutes from time to extend their unbeaten run to five games.
Both sides would have been looking to get off to a quick start on a chilly evening at stadiummk, but the visitors were given a big chance to take the lead after just four minutes when they were awarded a penalty.
McLaughlin had swung in a free kick, and referee Tim Robinson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot after adjudging Scott Wootton to have been shirt-pulling.
Wootton was booked for his misdemeanour, but it was to be the only punishment for Dons as Nicholls dived to his right to claim what was a rather tame spot kick from Josh Wright.
It was the second penalty Wright has missed at stadiummk this year, having blazed over the bar in August while playing for Gillingham.
Despite the reprieve, Dons were made to defend for much of the early stages, with Southend’s physicality up front in Marc-Antoine Fortune proving a tough test.
Alex Gilbey was then the second Dons player to be booked in the opening ten minutes after catching Michael Timlin late.
It continued to be Phil Brown’s side making the most ventures forward, and the bustling Fortune muscled his way through the defence, only to see his near-post effort denied by a strong hand from Nicholls.
But the keeper couldn’t keep Southend at bay forever, and they eventually took the lead just before the half-hour mark through a fine long-distance strike from McLaughlin.
It actually stemmed from a Dons counter attack, but after being released by Nicholls, Gboloy Ariyibi galloped up the pitch only to pass the ball straight back to Southend.
The Shrimpers moved the ball forward down the wing quickly to Fortune, who teed up McLaughlin to hit a fine shot into the roof of the net. Nicholls got the slightest of touches, but it was too powerful to keep out.
Dons got some early corners in as they threatened to get a foothold in the game after going a goal down, but sloppy passes and a loss of possession ultimately defined what was a disappointing half for the hosts.
Ariyibi came closest to threatening Mark Oxley for Dons in the opening 45, but was denied by a strong tackle in the area as he shaped up to shoot.
And Dons were indebted to keeper Nicholls for ensuring they went into the break with just the one-goal deficit, as McLaughlin outsmarted the offside trap - but saw his firm effort one-on-one with the stopper superbly parried away.
Robbie Neilson made a solitary change at half-time as he tried to give Dons a route into the game, with Peter Pawlett coming on for Ariyibi.
The changes were slow to make their their mark, but eventually started to show as Dons grew into the game after the 60 minute mark.
Chuks Aneke saw a fierce shot from the edge of the area well blocked by the stubborn visiting defence, before he floated a header just over from Pawlett’s free-kick in what was Dons’ best chance up until that point.
Alex Gilbey went even closer shortly afterwards after his effort from the edge of the box took the slightest of deflections off Anton Ferdinand to divert it past the post, and from the resulting corner some penalty area pinball saw Aidan Nesbitt get a sight of goal, but he dragged his shot wide of the upright.
In what was almost a role reversal of the first half, the Dons were the ones now pressing, and duly got their own chance from 12 yards when keeper Oxley hauled down Aneke in the area when he was bearing down on goal.
Oxley could only be booked following the implementation of new rules, but Agard stepped up to confidently slot home the penalty to get on the scoreboard in consecutive games.
In a frantic finale Dons were made to work for their point, and could thank the woodwork for denying headers from both Simon Cox and Michael Turner within seconds close to the 90-minute mark.
But Nesbitt also went close to snatching all three points, and was only denied a clear shot at goal by a great late block from Leonard.
It's a point that Dons will no doubt take after their first half performance, and Agard's cool penalty kick ensured both his and Dons' recent run of good form continues.
Referee: Tim Robinson
MK Dons: Nicholls, Brittain, Wootton, Walsh, Golbourne, McGrandles (Thomas-Asante, 85), Gilbey, Ariyibi (Pawlett, 45), Aneke, Nesbitt, Agard.
Subs not used: Sietsma, Lewington, Nombe, Muirhead, Seager
Southend United: Oxley, Demetriou, Ferdinand (C), Turner, Timlin, McLaughlin, Wright, Leonard, Kightly (McGlashan, 83), Cox, Fortune (Ba, 70).
Subs not used: Bishop, Hendrie, White, Yearwood, Wabo
Booked: Wootton, Gilbey, Leonard, Oxley