Non-League Cambridge City forced MK Dons into a replay at stadiummk as they played out a goalless draw in the FA Cup with Budweiser First Round Proper.
City goalkeeper Zac Barrett produced a string of saves to deny the Dons – namely Ryan Lowe, Shaun Williams and Stephen Gleeson – while the former and Luke Chadwick were also unable to get their name on the score sheet due to the woodwork.
The Dons spent the majority of the game in the Cambridge City half with plenty of chances, but the Evo-Stick Southern Premier side turned in a superb performance to ensure they have a second chance to get into the Second Round when the two sides meet again on Tuesday 13th November at stadiummk.
Karl Robinson’s team selection indicated he would be taking the threat of Cambridge City seriously as he named the strongest possible XI available. With wingers Daniel Powell and Dean Bowditch out through injury Jay O’Shea and Adam Chicksen
were given the nod while a bout of ‘flu for Charlie MacDonald meant Ryan Lowe started as the lone strike while Alan Smith was on the bench.
Luke Chadwick took over the captaincy for the game despite Dean Lewington and Stephen Gleeson both starting. The midfielder was given the armband in his hometown and on a ground where he played youth games which led him to be scouted by Manchester United.
A sign of the elements the Dons were up against was evident in the opening minutes when an off-target shot nestled into a tree behind the City goal.
The dangerman for the Lilywhites was undoubtedly their lead striker Craig Hammond who already had 17 goals to his name heading into the game. The tall forward made sure David Martin was kept on his toes as he drilled a strong low drive into the Dons goalie’s body.
City looked lively in the early phases with Luke Allen robbing possession from Darren Potter in the centre of the pitch, and the Dons were fortunate to be rescued by the offside flag to halt Mitchell Bryant, who was judged to be offside as he went through on goal.
The Dons were forced into a few uncharacteristic mistakes by their opponents with some mis-placed passes and a few wayward shots eased the pressure on the lower league hosts.
While the Dons were dominant with their possession but had done little too keeper Lilywhites goalkeeper Zac Barrett, so Lewington took it upon himself to try and get a hold on the game as he pushed forward to power a left-footed shot which picked up a wicked deflection and fell just wide.
The League 1 side edged nearer to the breakthrough when a Shaun Williams corner found Antony Kay in a crowded box, but the defender’s header was blocked on the line by James Brighton.
Chances continued to come for the Dons and in the 24th minutes Chadwick, who continued to be a creative inspiration for the Dons in the central role, carved his way through the City defence to pass the ball to the feet of Lowe, who took the shot first-time yet lifted his effort over.
City had their backs against the wall as the Dons committed 10 players into the Lilywhites’ half but they were unable to crack a resolute defence. When City had a slight sniff of the ball they were quick to break on the counter attack but the Dons appeared comfortable as they cleared up.
The home side were presented with a golden chance eight minutes before the break when O’Shea’s deep corner was cleared and Luke Allen was released down the left wing. The midfielder was sent tumbling to the floor after being tripped by Jon Otsemobor and awarded a subsequent free-kick some 20-yards out.
The delivery from Barrett was inch perfect but Hammond’s glancing header flashed wide of the post, and presented a real wake-up call for the Dons.
Dons kept knocking on the door with Potter and Lowe both seeing shots fall inches off-target as the half-time whistle approached. City would have been delighted to go into the dressing room at the interval on equal terms.
The second half kicked off and City ‘skipper Adrian Cambridge almost unravelled his side’s hard work in the opening 45 minutes when his sliced clearance looped up and forced a nervous save by Barrett.
Barrett was in the thick of the action as Stephen Gleeson picked up a blocked Potter shot to send a low effort into the path of the Lilywhites goalie and moments later he was called upon once more to collect Chicksen’s header from a good O’Shea cross.
The Dons had adapted to the tight pitch and the bobbled surface with ease, but their greatest struggle remained – finding the back of the net.
A stinging Williams effort forced Barrett to parry the ball, but Lowe could do little as the ball hit him before being cleared by Dave Theobald.
And the visitors were almost caught cold on the hour mark when another O’Shea corner was quickly cleared by City and Allen broke free. As the Dons tried to chase Williams bumped into referee James Adcock tumbling and the danger from the hosts increased.
Allen opened up space in front of him to fire an excellent effort which produced a tip away for a corner from Martin. With over an hour on the clock Robinson opted to make his first substitution, bringing on 16-year-old Dele Alli in place on O’Shea.
The game opened up slightly, which appeared to work on the Dons’ favour as the space allowed the Dons to work with freedom. When Chicksen whizzed in a perfect cross with pace from the byline Gleeson was waiting in the six-yard box and was unlucky to see his header hit the bar. Youngster Alli did his best with the follow-up which deflected wide.
Kay also tried to produce the spark to bring the magic into the FA Cup when he unleashed a fierce long-range shot for Barrett to stop nesting into the net.
With only ten minutes left Cambridge could still sense an upset and when the Dons failed to clear a City corner Adrian Cambridge called on a vital interception from Martin, who managed to claw away the player/manager’s cross-come shot.
The pace of the game intensified as the Dons raced up the other end of the pitch and Lowe forced another save from Barrett as he got on the end of Alli’s shot. Second later Chadwick had the ‘keeper beaten, but was denied the goal by the upright.
In the dying stages Barrett pulled off an incredible save to deny an excellent header from Lowe and with it he ensured the City side will have another chance at a giant-killing in the Cup,
Cambridge City (4-4-2): Barrett; Pepper, Theobald, Chaffey, Brighton; Allen, Prada, A Cambridge (c), Abbs (Marriott 61); Hammond, Bryant (Lester 79).
Subs not used: Ordonez, Midgley, Nightingale, Death, Stynes.
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Otsemobor, Kay, Williams, Lewington; Potter, Gleeson; O’Shea (Alli 65, Chadwick (c) (Smith 85), Chicksen; Lowe.
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Kouo-Doumbe, Galloway, Hickford, Rasulo.
Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire)