Preston North End and MK Dons played out a stalemate at Deepdale in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
It was far from a classic, but the Sky cameras had the best views as the game hinged on two controversial penalty appeals – one for either side – and both were turned down by referee Craig Pawson.
There was nothing to separate the sides in the first half – Akpo Sodje wasted two shots while Alan Smith saw an effort saved – but in the second half both teams were left to wonder what might have been had their appeals been awarded.
Preston North End felt they should have been given a penalty when Darren Potter clearance was deemed to be a hand ball by the home side; while the Dons were left to feel hard done by when Charlie MacDonald was sent tumbling in the box under Thorsten Sturmann.
A point a piece leaves the Dons in seventh place, a point outside the play-offs, while Preston climb to eighth.
The Dons made three changes that drew with Portsmouth over a week ago with Mathias Kouo-Doumbe making his first start of the season in the place of the suspended Antony Kay, while Scott Allan and Alan Smith stepped in for the injured Daniel Powell and Charlie MacDonald, who dropped to the bench, respectively.
Smith was given the responsibility of leading the line for the Dons while on-loan midfielder Allan took up the roaming position in the three-pronged support behind the ex-England international.
A lively tempo greeted the game with corners at either end inside the opening five minutes, although the best chance in that spell fell to PNE striker Akpo Sodje who inexplicably blasted into Row Z from 10-yards out.
It was a glaring miss by the forward, but his partner up front Stuart Beavon soon caused a panic in the Dons’ box when he was found on the left and his cheeky back heel forced David Martin to scramble to save at his near post.
There was a nervous edge to the play at Deepdale as neither side went hammer and tong; instead both Preston and the Dons were patient in the play waiting to pounce on a simple mistake.
Preston allowed the Dons to pass the ball around the pitch in their familiar possession-based play, but by doing so they put pressure on themselves when they had opportunities and after seeing two Scott
Laird corners come to nothing, the sight of Sodje blasting another shot, this time from 20-yards would not have pleased Graham Westley.
The best chance of the game so far came with almost 25 minutes on the clock when Allan weaved his way across the middle of the park and threaded a fine ball through the eye of the needle for Smith. It was a delicious pass for Smith to run on to, but the outstretched right leg of Thorsten Stuckmann was enough to deny the Dons an opener.
A free-kick to the left of the Preston box provided the Dons with another chance to test Stuckmann, but Dean Bowditch failed to do so as he lifted his delivery over the bar.
The Dons had grown into the game yet had nothing to show for their disciplined performance against a tough North End side. They continued plugging away after the break but continued to struggle to create clear-cut chances in front of goal.
Excellent chance for PNE, Keith Keane picked up the ball on the right and went on a barnstorming run through midfield to slide a pass to the feet of Jeffery Monakana. The fast winger managed to cut the ball back from the byline yet Beavon’s attempt to turn the ball home falls inches wide. It was a huge left-off for the Dons and a stark warning for Robinson’s men.
The home side had the wind in their sails and were pushing the Dons on to the back foot. In the 69th minute there was controversy in the air at Deepdale when a Bailey Wright effort at goal, after Chris Robertson had nodded by Laird’s corner, was cleared on the line by Darren Potter.
Loud appeals from the North End players and fans could be heard, but the referee turned down their cries of a handball against the Dons midfielder and replays appeared to suggest Potter had cleared with his shoulder.
Robinson then opted to make a double substitution bringing on strikers Charlie MacDonald and Ryan Lowe in place of Smith and Alan in the hope of a fresh spark in front of goal.
There was a slight delay to the game in the 70th minute when a clash of heads between Sodje and Kouo-Doumbe resulted in both players receiving treatment. The Dons defender appeared to come off worse from the clash as played on with a Terry Butcher-style bandage.
With time running out for either side to find a winner the play became scrappy as the urgency stepped up a level. John Welsh beat the offside trap, leaving the Dons’ static defence behind him; however, his attempted cut-back-come-shot was cut out at the near post by Martin.
Five minutes from time the Dons were left up in arms at the decision not to award a penalty when MacDonald ran onto a through ball and Stuckmann went to ground, appearing to make contact with the striker as he did so. Dons felt it was a certain penalty, but referee Craig Pawson disagreed.
Preston North End: Stuckmann, Keane, Laird, Huntington (Robertson 35), Wroe, Sodje (Cummins 82), Monakana, Welsh (c), Hayhurst (Mousinho 46), Wright, Beavon.
Subs not used: Amoo, Proctor, King, Simonsen.
Booked: Huntington, Cummins
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Otsemobor, Kouo-Doumbe, Williams, Lewington (c); Potter, Gleeson; Bowditch, Allan (MacDonald 69), Chadwick; Smith (Lowe 69).
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Chicksen, O’Shea.
Referee: C Pawson