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Match Report


Posted Sat 01 May 10 at 23:50 PM


Five minutes from the end of a game that was supposed to be meaningless, someone started it.

A ripple of rhythmic applause, followed by a relentless chant. Steadily, 10,000 Dons fans rose to their feet and created something quite memorable. "We're the black and white army," they bellowed. And so it grew. From the Cowshed round to the Corners, the East and West Stands.

Rarely has stadiummk been so united. Brighton didn't know what had hit them. It lasted for near-on 10 minutes. They sang not for a team on the verge of winning the title, or one fighting relegation. They sang for a side depleted of the vast majority of its key players, one without a win in nine games, but one flickering with genuine promise. They chanted for fearless youngsters like Charlie Collins, Adam Chicksen and Daniel Powell - carrying the attack admirably to a side vastly more experienced.

They chanted for Dean Lewington, Darren Powell and Luke Chadwick - the few experienced heads available, playing out of position but setting a fantastic example. They chanted for their team's sheer determination not to be overcome, even with all the odds stacked against them.

Against a rapidly-improving Brighton side that had won five of its last nine games, there was no way this Dons side, stripped of 11 first team squad members by injury and suspension, were going to concede defeat in their final home outing. The in-house bookies had been busy slashing odds on the visitors as news of the starting line-ups filtered through. Inexperienced, lacking key personnel and hopefully patched together by assistant manager Karl Robinson and Alex Rae, the Dons should have been there for the taking.

But they looked defiant from the outset - Chicksen, nearly 50 yards from goal, ambitiously trying to punish a poor kick from Brighton 'keeper Peter Brezovan and Daniel Powell, returning from six months on loan with Conference side Forest Green Rovers, firing just wide after a neat exchange with Chadwick.

Brighton took a step back, reminded that even if they were up against relative babies, their candy was not for the taking. Chris Holroyd appealed hopefully for a penalty on 12 minutes as Luke Howell slid in, but was ordered to his feet by referee Oli Langford. Chadwick typically revelled in the responsibility of being one of the senior players on show.

Crowned Player of the Year earlier this week, the elusive midfielder crashed a dipping half-volley off the top of the crossbar after allowing Sol Davis' throw to drop over his shoulder. It was close, but not nearly as close as young Collins came shortly before the break after more great work from Powell.

The Republic of Ireland Under-19 international would have seen the moment in his dreams the night before as Powell bundled his way into the box from the right. Unflustered as the ball broke his way, Collins took a touch and whipped a shot from 12 yards that nearly broke the frame of the goal.

It would have been wonderland for the 18-year-old debutant, but his potential impact on proceedings took a blow as the half-time whistle blew. Caught up in a challenge from Elliott Bennett's right-wing corner, Dons player-coach Rae and Brighton's on-loan Stoke midfielder Diego Arismendi scuffled and Mr Langford's reprimand was ruthless. Red cards for the pair of them and a 10-a-side second half in store. In truth, it was a decision that killed the game as a spectacle. But if you fancied anyone to take advantage of the added space, it would have been the wily 'veterans' in red and black.

Rae gets his marching orders after the whistle.   Chicksen didn't think so, seizing possession almost from the kick-off and violently drilling a 25-yard shot just past Brezovan's upright. But Brighton were beginning to control possession in the second period, utilising the additional space intelligently and moving an unfamiliar Dons backline around well.

Several times Lewington, operating as an emergency centre-half, stepped out to quell the danger. For every Darren Powell header there was a tackle or clearance from Davis or Luke Howell. Dons 'keeper Stuart Searle reacted smartly to prevent Gavin Hoyte converting Hendrie's cross on 54 minutes and Bennett whipped a free-kick comfortably over.

And as home legs tired, comparisons to the recent defeat to Wycombe were unavoidable, where a brave Dons performance was shattered by a late away winner. Chicksen, though, continued to race up and down the left flank like a greyhound - dashing onto an intelligent Searle throw on 73 minutes and tormenting Tommy Elphick before another long-range shot was well held. The crowd could see the lengths the players were going to, the pride they were playing with and began to respond - urging them forwards, applauding every positive touch.

By the time young George Baldock, brother of Cowshed hero Sam, was introduced, the volume had increased dramatically. Had the 17-year-old managed to find the net having managed to meander his way into the box two minutes from time, the place would have erupted.

But the reaction of those fans at the final whistle, and on the players' traditional lap of honour after the final home game, suggested that pride had been restored.

MK Dons (4-4-1-1): Searle; Howell, Darren Powell, Lewington (c), Davis; Daniel Powell (G. Baldock 81), Rae, Randall, Chicksen; Chadwick; Collins (Gobern 56).
Subs not used: Flanagan, Williams, Milton.
Booked: Davis, Darren Powell, Lewington
Sent off: Rae 45+1
Brighton & Hove Albion (4-5-1): Brezovan; Hoyte, Elphick, Dunk, El-Abd (Painter 66); Bennett, Hendrie (Dicker 58), Arismendi, Crofts, Carole (Navarro 58); Holroyd.
Subs not used: Tunnicliffe, Walker, Barnes, Caskey.
Booked: Crofts, Hoyte
Sent off: Arismendi 45+1
Attendance: 12,023 (1,854 away)
Referee: Oli Langford (West Midlands)

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