A second-half fightback from Stevenage saw them knock MK Dons out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in Round 2 with a 2-1 win at the Lamex Stadium.
The Dons were put in the driving seat thanks to a penalty from Shaun Williams, his third from the spot this season, in the first half but a strong performance from the Boro turned the game upside down in the second half.
Francois Zoko’s neat finish from close-range gave Stevenage the platform they needed to push on and when the hosts were awarded a penalty 10 minutes after equalising Filipe Morais tucked home what proved to be the winner.
A threadbare Dons, missing seven players through injury, suspension and international duty, made a rare change in their formation with boss Karl Robinson switching from the standard 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. It meant a three-pronged attack with Patrick Bamford, Izale McLeod and Daniel Powell.
The two sides met 10 days ago in the League and on that occasion the Dons were easy 4-1 victors, however, Boro boss Graham Westley addressed the demons of that match in his programme notes, stating his side would provide a sterner test this time round.
The Dons had the first chance of the match in the fifth minute when a foul 20-yards out presented Shaun Williams with a sight at goal as his finely-struck free-kick was tipped on to the bar by Chris Day.
At the other end Ian McLoughlin was called into action three minutes later when Filipe Morais’ run down the right of midfield left Ben Reeves tangled on the floor and the winger was able to criss the ball into the box. The ball missed Lucas Akins before Luke Freeman’s tame low shot was easily collected by the young Dons goalie.
In a fairly open quarter of an hour, the Dons just shaded the chances chart with Daniel Powell driving through to the Boro box only to see his low shot well-blocked by the legs of Day.
Stevenage thought they had taken the lead in the 20th minute when Michael Doughty found his way to the edge of the box and fed the ball to the feet of Akins who calmly slotted the ball beyond McLoughlin. However, as the striker turned to celebrate he spotted the raised linesman’s flag cancelling out the strike for an offside.
Instead, it was the Dons who were celebrating breaking the deadlock when Freeman’s clumsy challenge on McLeod brought the striker to the floor in the Boro box. Shaun Williams stepped up with his usual calmness and emphatically fired his spot-kick past Day for the second time in as many weeks.
After taking the lead the Dons let their guard down and allowed the hosts to hit back on the attack. Freeman tried to make an immediate amends for his mistake as he stung McLoughlin’s palms with a close-range effort.
The match was largely disjointed with neither side able to fully get into their flow. Westley’s side worked hard to find an equaliser as they pressed the Dons in midfield but chances in front of goal for Stevenage were at a premium.
The Dons had been far from their free-flowing best, perhaps due to their experimental formation, but after the half-time break they should have doubled their lead when a mazy run from Powell had the Stevenage defence in a spin but he failed to finish the move as he shot wildly wide.
Stevenage quickly punished the visitors for not making the most of their chances when a drilled ball from Doughty evaded everyone in the box other than Zoko who was able to apply a tidy touch to take the ball into the back of the net and get the home side back on equal terms.
As momentum swung back in their favour Stevenage went close to taking the lead when Akins unleashed a screamer from distance yet the shot lifted just inches over the bar.
Ten minutes after equalising, Stevenage turned the game on its head when Zoko went down in a crowded penalty box and the hosts were given a chance to take the lead from the spot. Morais confidently dispatched his spot-kick as he sent McLoughlin the wrong way.
The Dons were back on the backfoot when Morais raced down the right flank before finding Peter Hartley inside the area, just as he pulled the trigger George Baldock made a telling intervention to send the shot out for a corner.
Robinson took quick action in an attempt to get his side back into proceedings with a triple substitution. The Dons introduced youth and pace in Giorgio Rasulo, Samir Carruthers and Jason Banton in an all-out-attack approach.
It certainly made a difference for the Dons who looked livelier in front of goal than they had for large periods of the match. Banton, who has been out-of-favour, tried his best to get the Dons back on level terms with an ambitious attempt from distance which forced Day to spill the ball around the post.
In response to the Dons’ change in fortunes Stevenage made a double change which had an instant impact. In his first touch Bruno Andrade picked up the corner and watched his shot from the edge of the area rattle against the upright.
Four minutes from time the Dons were within a whisker of forcing the game to penalties when Bamford was found in acres of space in the box yet somehow the outstretched palm of Day forced his shot wide.
Despite pushing on in the late stages, the Dons couldn’t find the goal they needed and were left to rue a poor evening’s performance.
Stevenage: Day, Ashton (c), Jones, Morais (Wedgbury 81), Akins (Andrade 73), Zoko (Cowan 73), Heslop, Freeman, Smith, Doughty, Hartley.
Subs: Arnold, Burrow.
Booked: Freeman, Doughty
Goals: Zoko 51, Morais (pen) 61
MK Dons (4-3-3): McLoughlin; Baldock, Williams, Lewington (c), Reeves; Potter, Smith (Rasulo), Gleeson; Powell (Banton 64), Bamford, McLeod, (Carruthers 64).
Subs: Galloway, Rasulo, Banton, Carruthers.
Booked: Potter, Gleeson
Goal: Williams (pen) 25
Attendance: 1, 456 (429 away)