A brave 10-man MK Dons suffered a 3-2 defeat to Gillingham in an action-packed match at Priestfield Stadium.
Tom Flanagan, who spent six months on loan at the Gills last season, endured a nightmare return as he conceded two penalties and received a straight red card in the opening 13 minutes. Danny Kedwell netted twice from the spot to give the Gills an early lead before Patrick Bamford bagged two goals in four minutes to level the score before the break.
Danny Holland’s second-half goal ensured that the Dons, who played the final 15 minutes with goalie David Martin hobbling on one leg, earned nothing more than pride from their spirited display as they slipped to their second League defeat of the season.
Robinson’s men were forced into two changes from the side which beat Stevenage a week earlier with both Antony Kay (hip) and Dele Alli (ankle) sidelined with long-term injuries. As a result, Flanagan and Samir Carruther returned following a whiplash injury.
As might have been expected for a Martin Allen side, Gillingham came roaring out of the traps and were quick to press the Dons back into their own half. The visitors soaked up the pressure and hit on the counter-attack but the early start could not have gone much worse for Robinson’s side.
In a disastrous two minute spell Flanagan was fooled by a Cody McDonald dummy and dived into a sliding tackle which earned the Gills a penalty inside the 11th minute. David Martin went the right way but couldn’t get his fingertips to the ball to prevent Kedwell from finding the back of the net.
Things got much worse for the Dons when McDonald once again broke through the defence and was heading to the near post when Flanagan’s tackle earned the defender a straight red from referee James Linnington and handed the Gills another penalty.
The Dons were incensed by the decision and their misery was compounded when Kedwell, a former AFC Wimbledon striker, netted his second from the spot to give the hosts a 2-0 lead with 13 minutes of the clock.
With options at a premium, Robinson had to make changes and introduced Alan Smith in place of Carruthers and soon after Izale McLeod was brought on as the Dons put three at the back and threw everything at the Gills to get back into the match.
It was a bold approach from the Dons but the men from MK1 appeared to thrive on the seize mentality. At times they mixed up their play and had a more direct approach compared to their usual style, and when Danny Green whipped in a fantastic free-kick Bamford planted a fine header past Stuart Nelson to pull the visitors back within a goal.
It was the wind in the sails that the Dons needed and despite being a man down Robinson’s men got themselves back on level terms on the half-hour mark when Shaun Williams’ produced a defence-splitting ball over the top for Bamford. The Chelsea loanee showed excellent composure as he strolled into the box and passed the ball into the bottom of the net to take his own goal tally to double figures for the season.
The play was fast and furious, the Gills couldn’t quite believe they had thrown away a two-goal lead against 10 men and were on the backfoot. Allen’s men should have reinstated their lead when Charlie Lee was left in acres of space just yards from the Dons’ goalline but saw his point-blank header tipped over the bar.
After an enthralling and dramatic first half the Dons had maintain the same hunger and work ethic into the second half if they were to stay in the proceedings. They started brightly with Bamford turning a shot wide shortly after the break.
However, the Dons’ defence was caught in disarray when Michael Harriman’s delivery into the box was whipped in with great pace and Hollands was just yards out as he applied a thumping header, which David Martin got his hands to but couldn’t keep out.
The Gills regaining the lead again was a huge blow for the Dons who had worked tirelessly to get back on equal terms.
With only three at the back the Dons were always likely to be fragile in defence when Gillingham pushed forward but they played themselves into trouble when Smith and Williams allowed the ball to bounce over them and leave Myles Weston with only David Martin to beat. The Dons goalie though raced off his line and forced the forward to shoot from a difficult angle, which fell well wide.
At the opposite end Darren Potter showed some excellent skill with a fine ball over the top for McLeod to take into the Gillingham box. The forward crossed the ball from the byline for Bamford but the 20-year-old was denied his hat-trick as Nelson saved the head at his far post.
Just when the Dons thought the game couldn’t take another twist David Martin appeared to be in big trouble with 16 minutes remaining as the goalie began to limp heavily and looked in considerable play. A short break allowed treatment for the Essex-born ‘keeper and Robinson, who had made all three substitutes, a chance to look at his outfield options.
Every Dons player threw their body in front of the ball to protect David Martin and then broke on the counter-attack. McLeod had a fine chance as time ticked away when he picked up the ball with his back to goal, drifted into a central position and drilled a low shot just inches wide.
The Dons never let their heads drop throughout the game, but a third goal never came and they were left to return to Milton Keynes empty handed.
Gillingham (4-4-2): Nelson; Harriman, Davies, Barrett (c), J Martin; Whelpdale, Hollands, Gregory, Lee; Kedwell, McDonald (Weston 55).
Subs not used: Howard (GK), Linganzi, Legge, Akinfenwa, Allen, Dack.
Booked: J Martin, Lee
Goals: Kedwell 11 (pen), 13 (pen), Hollands 59
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Hodson (McLeod 23), Flanagan, Williams, Lewington (c); Gleeson, Potter; Carruthers (Smith 15), Chadwick (Powell 61), Green; Bamford.
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Otsemobor, Reeves, Banton.
Booked: Green, Williams
Goals: Bamford 26, 30
Referee: James Linnington
Attendance: 5,410 (343 away)