MK Dons were left to lament missed chances for the second time in a week as they fell to defeat at the hands of Walsall.
The Saddlers were fired into the lead in the first half by Dean Holden’s close-range goal, but the home side then weathered an MK Dons storm through the remainder of the game as the clung on to all three points.
The Dons produced one of the most one-sided halves of football after the break as they desperately hunted for a way back into the game and although the chances came, the all important equaliser never materialised.
Luke Chadwick and Dean Bowditch both had efforts blocked by Saddlers’ goalkeeper David Grof in the first half, and in the second half the Saddlers coped with wave upon wave of attack from the Dons as Daniel Powell tested the goalie on a number of occasions, Darren Potter headed wide and Alan Smith was denied late on.
Having suffered similar problems in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat to Northampton in midweek, the lack of bite in front of goal will be a concern to Dons boss Karl Robinson.
The Dons – with skipper Dean Lewington available following the completion of his three-match ban – made five changes to the side who lost at Northampton. As well as the recall of Lewington, Jon Otsemobor, Darren Potter, Luke Chadwick and Ryan Lowe all returned to the starting XI.
Walsall had two early opportunities, but the Dons had reasons to debate decision made in the build up on both occasions. First there appeared to be a handball, but the referee awarded Walsall a free-kick for
Darren Potter’s high leg, and from the resulting delivery the Saddlers saw Jamie Paterson fire over the bar.
Moments later Shaun Williams looked to have been fouled by Flo Cuvelier, yet play was waved on and the centre-back was left to scramble back into position as the ball was played down the Dons’ right and crossed in for George Bowerman. Thankfully for the Dons, Antony Kay was in position to block the close-range shot.
The Dons were trying to stamp their authority on the game, and when Lowe squeezed into the right of the box he was wrestled off the ball yet as David Grof slid at the strikers feet the ball popped out to Dean Bowditch, whose decision to stroke the ball proved to be the wrong choice as Ben Purkiss cleared on the line.
The Saddlers found themselves applying pressure to the Dons’ back four and as their corner count began to increase, the home side looked ever-more likely to force the breakthrough.
And when Paterson had the chance to whip in an inswinger from the left corner, the Dons’ defence was caught in a spin. The ball landed at Holden, at which point goalie David Martin slipped, and the man on the post Luke Chadwick was unable to prevent the Walsall defender from finding the back of the net.
After falling a goal down the Dons looked for an instant response, with Chadwick seeing a long-range shot parried away and Bowditch also denied from the edge of the box.
A sloppy moment of play from Daniel Powell, which saw him lose the ball 18-yards from Walsall’s goal, allowed the Saddlers to break on the counterattack with Ashley Hemming creating the move. It left the Dons racing back to recover and Williams arrived just in time to stab a cross from the right out for a corner before Martin was called into action.
The Dons were bossing the possession with their short-sharp passing style, but Walsall worked hard to break up their fluid play force the visitors on the back foot. The Saddlers defence were strong, looking to mop up any chances the Dons created, which happened when Kay’s header was blocked.
Yet again the Dons were hit on the counterattack and it was almost a sucker-punch for the men from MK1. A fine long ball forward by Cuvelier released Bowerman, at which point Martin raced off his line to head the ball away from outside his box.
The mis-judgement then left the Dons exposed at the back as Martin was left in no-man’s land by the left touchline. In the meantime, Walsall had kept hold of the ball but when Patterson manoeuvred into the area a line of Dons bodies forced him to attempt a chipped shot which, to the luck of Martin, fell over the bar.
The Dons came out of the traps fast in the second half with Powell going close only two minutes after the re-start when his driven effort was pushed out for a corner by Grof, and from the resulting corner the ball was played back into the box where Kay’s shot at the near post was blocked by Holden.
Five minutes later Powell was denied once more by Grof as the forward powered his way down the right, yet his low shot was sent out for another corner. Williams’ initial delivery was quickly cleared but after some smart play from Chadwick, the Irishman had a second chance to whip a fast ball into the box and Darren Potter flashed a header inches wide.
There was a real intent in the Dons’ tempo, a clear desire to find an equaliser as soon as possible with a view to pushing on for a winner. Kicking in the direction of the visiting supporters there was an urgency about the Dons as they raced to take every free-kick and corner at speed.
Lowe’s eagerness to get on the score sheet earned him a place in the referee’s book when he clashed with goalkeeper Grof. Moments later the Liverpudlian striker took his place on the bench as Charlie MacDonald was introduced in the hope that fresh legs would make the impact the Dons needed.
There was a clear frustration for the Dons as they continued to dominate proceedings and piled the pressure on their hosts only to find clear-cut chances at a premium.
With 15 minutes remaining Alan Smith replaced Bowditch and took a position up front behind MacDonald. The former Newcastle man added a physical presence in the final third that perhaps the Dons had been missing.
Robinson’s men continued to throw everything at the Saddlers but Walsall stood firm. When Powell managed to latch onto the end of a Williams corner it looked destined to find its way into the back of the net but some fine defending from Cuvelier saw him head the ball over the bar.
As time fell away Kay took up a forward position to bolster the attack and Smith saw an injury-time strike saved by Grof. And five minutes of injury time proved too short for the Dons as they failed to find the goal they had been desperately searching for.
Walsall: Grof, Butler (c), Holden, Featherstone, Cuvelier, Paterson, Hemmings (Taundry 86), Purkiss, Bowerman (A Williams 90), Baxendale (Jones 77), A Taylor.
Subs not used: C Taylor, Benning, Downing, Jones.
Booked: A Taylor
Goal: Holden 17
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Otsemobor, Kay, Williams, Lewington (c); Potter, Gleeson; Powell, Chadwick (O’Shea 68), Bowditch (Smith 75); Rowe (MacDonald 61).
Subs not used: Burns, Kouo-Doumbe, Chicksen, Ibehre.
Booked: Lowe, Kay, O’Shea
Referee: Patrick Miller (Bedfordshire)