Milton Keynes Dons Under-18s ended 2017 on a high with a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Leyton Orient in the Youth Alliance League at Woughton-on-the-Green on Saturday morning.
A penalty just after the restart scored by Jay Bird separated the sides in a match played in very cold and wet conditions.
The match almost had to be called off as the under-18s pitch was deemed unplayable, however, an agreement was reached to switch the fixture to the under-16s pitch meaning this final match of the year could go ahead - albeit with a slightly delayed kick-off.
The Dons created the first opening of the match after five minutes when a cross from the left was flicked just wide of the left post by Joe Evans.
With both the weather and the pitch causing issues, chances were at a premium throughout the first half and the O’s had an effort from range that went just wide as half-time approached.
The key moment in the match came just after the break when a Dons player was fouled a minute after the restart and the hosts were awarded a spot-kick.
It was taken by Bird, who he put the penalty into the left hand side of the net after sending the keeper the wrong way – 1-0.
The Dons had a good chance to double their advantage in the 70th minute when the ball came to Liam Sole on the edge of the area - but his rising left-footed effort just cleared the crossbar.
The Dons managed to hold on for the win but only after a remarkable rearguard action from a corner in stoppage time in which they denied Orient multiple scoring opportunities during a frantic minute of action.
A corner was swung in from the left and the ball was initially deflected on to the post. Inside a crowded penalty area containing nearly 20 players, the ball came twice to Orient players, however, two Dons players blocked shots.
The ball was then crossed in from the left hand side again as the danger could only be partially cleared.
There were then further blocks from the defence and an incredible save from Alfie Jones before a follow-up shot was put over the bar.
Edu Rubio was full of praise for his players after the match, speaking to mkdons.com after the final whistle he said: “I am blessed to work with these players and staff - we have had an exceptional first half of the season.
“Today we have shown our character, resilience and determination. The under-18s pitch was unplayable so we had to play on a different surface.
“I said to the players at the start of the game today was going to be about three main things – minimising mistakes, being clinical with our chances and showing more passion and determination than the opposition. Throughout the 90 minutes, we were the team with the desire to win the game.
“I think we have achieved a really competitive mindset with this age group – whether we win or not we have achieved a really professional work ethic and a desire to be competitive which we showed today.
“It has been an excellent first half of the season – we are still top of the table with four games to go and we have a seven point lead.
“My ambition now is to make sure that after Christmas we keep in the same spirit and nobody relaxes and thinks the job is done.
“If we keep on doing what we are doing and continue to play with smiles on our faces we will be fine.
“My ultimate target for the rest of the season is to get the players professional contracts. Our motto has always been daily improvements and getting players equipped for the first team.”
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Jones: Ackom (Hourican-Harvey 87), Tapp (capt), Hope, Sorinola: Kasumu, Wright (Holmes 75): Evans, Sole, Pattison: Bird.
Subs not used: Martin, Rose, Brennan.
Booked: Sorinola 66, Evans 90.
Goal: Bird 46 pen.