MK Dons were denied victory at Stadium MK after Tyler Roberts’ penalty cancelled out Chuks Aneke’s first-half header.
Aneke, making his first league start since February, found the net from Ed Upson’s free-kick on 23 minutes – just rewards for a dominant first-half display from Robbie Neilson’s side.
However, they were forced to settle for a draw when Roberts converted a 57th-minute penalty after Ethan Ebanks-Landell had brought down the forward in the area.
The standout name in Neilson’s starting XI was Aneke who partnered Kieran Agard in attack, with the Dons lining-up in a 3-5-2 formation.
It was Neilson’s men who started the game on the front foot, maybe as a result of a change-of-ends at the coin toss, which meant they were attacking the Cowshed end in the first half.
They threatened with a flurry of corners just six minutes in to the game – the first one coming after Callum Brittain’s teasing low cross into the six-yard area was put behind by a Walsall defender.
Agard then fired wide with a left-footed shot on 11 minutes before threatening again just a few seconds later when he broke through from Alex Gilbey’s pass, however he was just beaten to the ball by Gillespie.
Walsall’s first chance of the game arrived on the quarter-hour mark but it was a relatively comfortable one for Lee Nicholls to deal with – the goalkeeper gathering a deflected effort from Kieron Morris with ease.
On 20 minutes, Golbourne prevented the visitors forcing another attempt on goal with an excellent defensive header which denied Morris, who was pursuing Amadou Bakayoko’s cross.
Keen not to allow the Saddlers to wrestle control of the match, the Dons continued to push forward with intent and that resulted in the game’s first goal.
Agard was brought down after breaking away down the left, handing the men from MK1 a free-kick and a chance to load the box. Ed Upson delivered the set-piece and found the head of Aneke, who powered home a header to give the Dons a 1-0 lead and register his first goal since January.
Walsall responded to the goal by sending several balls into the area but the Dons defence, and Nicholls, were well positioned to deal with the threats.
They then watched on as Gilbey went agonisingly close to extending the advantage – the captain latched onto Golbourne’s crossed but headed over from six-yards out.
It was the Dons who were in charge of the contest as the clock tickets past the half-hour mark and their goalscorer, Aneke, was causing havoc whenever in possession of the ball. He almost doubled his tally in typical Aneke fashion on 33 minutes but fired over after muscling his way into space inside the area.
Neilson’s side continued to see the majority of the ball throughout the remainder of the first half and they had another opportunity to make it 2-0 just prior to the whistle but Joe Walsh’s header was well-saved by Gillespie.
The second half started in a similar vein to how the first 45 played out – the Dons in the ascendancy and threatening whenever they went forward.
However, they suffered a bitter blow on 57 minutes when Tyler Roberts burst through into the area. Ebanks-Landell brought down the striker, conceding a penalty, and the Walsall man picked himself up to convert from 12-yards. 1-1.
To say the goal came against the run of play would have been an understatement but it was important for the Dons not to let it affect their confidence, having outplayed their opponents for much of the afternoon.
They could have a chance, almost immediately after, to restore their lead but despite what appeared to be a blatant pull-back on Aneke in the area, referee John Brooks opted against giving the home side a spot kick.
Then, on 66 minutes, Gilbey forced a save out Gillespie – the effort didn’t trouble the Saddlers stopper as much it could have after taking a deflection off a defender. Upson then curled over with a free-kick as the Dons pushed to get back in front.
They were counting their blessings, though, when Roberts got behind the Dons’ backline with 15 minutes to play. From a tight angle, the forward got a shot away but Nicholls dove down well to palm it away from goal.
He threatened again two minutes later, this time firing wide after latching onto substitute Zeli Ismail’s low cross. At the other end, Cisse produced save out of Gillespie with a header from Brittain’s cross.
The game was finely poised heading into the final 10 minutes, with both sides eyeing a decisive second goal.
Most of Stadium MK were on their feet in the 85th minute thinking that goal was about to arrive, with Sow in-behind the Saddlers defence. The substitute lined up the shot but couldn’t find the far corner with his right-footed shot.
Sow collided with a defender during that chance and had to be replaced on 88 minutes. Walsall also made a change, with Oztumer coming on in place of the goalscorer Roberts, and he went close to a late winner for the visitors with an 18-yard shot which rose over the bar.
In stoppage-time, Bakayoko drilled wide while Brittain did the same several minutes later. In the end, neither side were able to find a breakthrough resulting in a share of the spoils at Stadium MK.
Starting XI (3-5-2): Nicholls; Ebanks-Landell, Wootton, Walsh; Brittain, Gilbey, Cisse, Upson (Nesbitt 81), Golbourne; Aneke, Agard (Sow 67 (Ariyibi 88).
Unused subs: Sietsma (GK), Williams, Lewington, Seager.
Goal: Aneke (23)