MK Dons produced a brave, battling performance at the Galpharm Stadium and took plenty of plaudits despite going down to a 1-0 defeat against Huddersfield Town.
Paul Ince's men stood toe-to-toe with the division's most potent home side for the entirety of a pulsating contest and might count themselves unlucky that they came away from West Yorkshire with nothing to show for their efforts. The game ultimately hinged on two incidents in an eight minute spell in the first half, where the Dons missed a golden chance to take the initiative and Huddersfield brilliantly got their noses in front.
Dons midfielder Peter Leven saw a 19th-minute penalty kept out by Alex Smithies before Terriers winger Anthony Pilkington rifled a 25-yard screamer that proved just about enough to give Lee Clark's men the points. Against a side that had plundered 33 goals in 11 home games this season, that the Dons were only beaten by such a magnificent strike told you everything you needed to know.
Yes, Huddersfield created chances, with a team assembled with the millions of owner Dean Hoyle that was inevitable, but they were positively rattled by a Dons side that wouldn't be rolled over. They kept themselves in contention, goalkeeper Willy Gueret and defender David McCracken outstanding, and then forced Huddersfield into a desperate late rearguard as the final nervy minutes ticked away.
Playing their second game in three days following the win over Stockport, the Dons found themselves up against a side rested for nine days due to their Boxing Day postponement at Carlisle and Ince picked a team accordingly. With top scorer Jermaine Easter waiting on the bench and Aaron Wilbraham alone up front, this was a team designed to keep things tight in the early stages and possibly have some energy injected into it late-on.
Unbeaten at home all season, Huddersfield typically started well and skipper Peter Clarke became the first of many to be frustrated by Gueret when his point-blank header from a Pilkington free-kick was somehow pushed onto the post by the Frenchman. Clarke's disappointment was almost compounded four minutes later when his hand blocked a McCracken shot and referee David Foster pointed to the spot. Normally so reliable from 12 yards throughout his Dons career, Leven's strike was true enough, but Smithies, committed to his right, left a leg hanging close enough to divert the ball to safety.
Gueret saved well at the feet of Lee Novak as the home side's momentum grew, but he could do nothing about Pilkington's opener - the former Stockport man drifting inside from the left before cracking an unstoppable shot over Gueret and into the top corner. Tackles began to fly with Chadwick going into the book for a late one on Gary Roberts and Huddersfield players surrounded the Dons man again moments later after his shot had been blocked by Tom Clarke.
Chadwick was starting to have some joy down the left and Lee Peltier was being stretched to deal with him, but the outright chances were coming at the other end, where Mathias Doumbe had to make a sliding intervention on Roberts and, from the resulting corner, Gueret blocked from Novak's header. The openings continued to come after the break, with Roberts shooting wide from Novak's flick-on, while Chadwick headed just wide from a Dean Lewington cross at the other end.
Town leading scorer Jordan Rhodes was then denied by the athleticism of Gueret after he'd raced onto the end of his own flick on 57 minutes, but missed an even better chance moments later when he shot over with the goal at his mercy from five yards. Leven almost sent Chadwick through with a well-weighted pass only for Peter and Nathan Clarke to crowd him out, but Ince could sense the moment was right to strike. Easter and Sam Baldock were both introduced to the attack and within a couple of minutes, Easter got on the end of a Wilbraham cross to force Smithies into a decent near-post save.
It was end-to-end by this point with McCracken stretching brilliantly to deny a clean-through Novak before Leven came within half a foot of redeeming himself with a glancing header from another Lewington cross. Rhodes' personal quest went on as he failed with two headers in the space of a minute, the first kept out by the dominant Gueret and the second glanced just wide of the post. And Easter almost made him pay with three minutes to go when he hooked goalwards after Lewington had headed down a Leven corner, only for a defender to deny him on the line.
A breathless game ended in an ugly incident when Chadwick and Tom Clarke came together once more, drawing an angry reaction from both sets of players as a 20-man melee ensued. It was Huddersfield wiping their brows as they headed off at the end, while the Dons can take much confidence from a performance that will stand them in good stead heading into the New Year.
Huddersfield Town (4-4-2): Smithies; Peltier, N.Clarke, P.Clarke (c), Scarz; Roberts (Drinkwater 89), T.Clarke, Kay, Pilkington; Novak (Robinson 78), Rhodes.
Subs not used: Glennon, Butler, Berrett, Simpson, Ainsworth.
Goals: Pilkington 27
Booked: Pilkington, Peltier
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Gueret; Woodards, Doumbe, McCracken (Stirling 74), Lewington (c); Quashie (Easter 65), Gleeson; Gobern (Baldock 65), Leven, Chadwick; Wilbraham.
Subs not used: Howell, Powell, Morgan, Devaney.
Booked: Chadwick, Stirling, Easter
Referee: David Foster (Tyne & Wear)