MK Dons battled their way to a hard-fought point as they shared the spoils with Doncaster Rovers in a goalless draw at the Keepmoat on a freezing cold Tuesday night.
Neither side had the bite up front required to claim victory although the Dons arguable had the pick of the chances with Izale McLeod, Jon Otsemobor and Gary MacKenzie all going close. Ultimately though Doncaster goalkeeper Gary Woods and David Martin remained relatively untested and both side had to settle for the single point.
After a disappointing and dour performance in their defeat to Oldham just three days earlier, the Dons delivered a fierce response to those who criticised their passion for promotion. A point from a Doncaster side on the hunt for automatic promotion was no mean feat and there were plenty of positives to build on for Karl Robinson.
Robinson made two changes to the side which lost to Oldham with Luke Chadwick and Izale McLeod starting in place of Chris Lines and Alan Smith respectively.
The biggest challenge awaiting lone striker McLeod came in the form of giant centre-back pairing Rob Jones and Jamie McCombe, the pair were solid in defence and ready for a battle with the Dons striker.
With Chadwick back in the starting XI the Dons were looking for more creative from their side and the former Manchester United winger brought it in abundance as Robinson’s side looked far brighter in the opening 10 minutes than they had at Oldham days earlier.
Chadwick carved open the first real chance of the game in the seventh minute as he found his way to the edge of the box but sent a curling shot over the bar. Moments later it was Chadwick again causing problems for the Rovers defence as he turned a low effort at Gary Woods and, as the ‘keeper spilt the ball, McLeod stabbed the follow-up wide from close-range.
It was fair to describe the opening 20 minutes as ‘slow burning’ at the Keepmoat Stadium with neither side grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. The only real sparks had come from battles on the pitch with Chadwick receiving a high-foot to his chest as he tumbled to the ground while McLeod and James Husband received a chat from the referee for their hands-on battle.
Rovers’ Andy Griffin tried to inspire ignite the encounter when he drove forward from midfield only to turn his volley from distance wide of the right post.
At the other end, the pace of Daniel Powell looked to be an important component for the Dons as the winger burst through the centre, cutting loose the defence, before his ball finally find McLeod on the left of the box only for his shot to fly inches wide.
The period of pressure from the Dons also brought an effort from Dean Bowditch and a corner for the visitors, although nothing came of their chances it would have provided the Dons with a boost in confidence as it was the first time in the match that either side had taken control of the play.
A frantic end-to-end period of play saw the momentum see-saw between the two sides before a poor interception went wrong for Rovers as McLeod was played through with only McCombe to beat but the striker took too much time on the ball and ultimately his hesitation cost him as, at a tight-angle, he shot directly at Woods.
As half-time approached the Dons went close to edging their noses in front when Jon Otsemobor had a free-header from Ryan Harley’s corner, but powered it over the bar.
On the counter-attack the Dons were caught cold and their defence was left in disarray as the ball was played across the box for David Cotterill to pull the trigger. The midfielder though went for power over placement and blazed over from eight-yards, much to the frustration of the home fans.
Some silky football after the interval allowed the Dons to create another opening in front of goal when McLeod’s through ball found Chadwick who in turn fed the ball to Powell on the right of the box, but a slight touch on the youngster’s shot diverted it off-target.
There was plenty of bite in the play at the Keepmoat with an open game providing plenty of entertainment in terms of endeavour and effort, but clear-cut chances were at a premium in an even contest
Both Gary Woods and David Martin had endured a quiet night between the sticks as neither side were able provide the deadly finish that was required in the final third. When the opportunities of set-plays came their way the Dons sent men forward and when a superb corner was played in by Harley it was met by a powerful header from MacKenzie but the defender could not steer his nod goal-bound.
The game was wide open and there for the taking and the Dons tried to turn up the pressure with 10 minutes remaining as Lewington whipped the ball into the McLeod on the edge of the box, with nowhere to go he held the ball up before laying it into the path of Bowditch whose swerving dipping volley fell over the bar.
As the closing stages dawned on the game McLeod showed great ability as he tracked back to steal possession in his own half before embarking on a mazy run, beating several defenders on the way but with the hard part done he failed to add the extras as he fired wide from 18-yards.
Minutes later McLeod broke again on the counter-attack, this time sprayed the ball into the path of substitute Adam Chicksen
yet a well-timed, last-ditch challenge from the Rovers defender ended the Dons attack.
Doncaster Rovers: G Woods, Quinn, Spurr, McCombe, Jones (c), M Woods (Sinclair 70), Griffin (Harper 46), Cotterill, Coppinger, Husband, Paynter.
Subs: Maxted, Sinclair, Martis, Harper, Bennett, Wakefield, Fowler.
MK Dons: (4-2-3-1) Martin; Otsemobor, MacKenzie, Williams, Lewington (c); Potter, Harley; Powell, Chadwick (Chicksen 74), Bowditch; McLeod.
Subs: Kouo-Doumbe, Smith, Chicksen, Flanagan, Baldock, Lines.
Referee: David Webb (County Durham)
Attendance: 6,423 (180 away)