A young MK Dons side bowed out of the EFL Cup after a spirited display against Sky Bet Championship Reading ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat.
A mixture of first-team players, young professionals and academy graduates started the fixture in Berkshire – a total of eight changes were made from Saturday’s win over Rochdale.
Reading started the stronger of the two sides, forcing Lee Nicholls into a couple of early saves while Scott Wootton was also on hand to block a goal-bound effort.
The Dons began to grow into the game as it approached the 20-minute mark and they made Royals keeper Anssi Jaakkola work when first-round hero Dean Bowditch let fly from 25 yards.
That was a base for the men from MK1 to build on and they duly obliged as they started to see more of the ball and enjoy some territorial advantage.
Giorgio Rasulo and Brandon Thomas-Asante were looking bright but the next chance fell to Oran Jackson, whose 25-yard shot drew a fingertip from Jaakkola on 24 minutes.
At the other end, Nicholls did well to push over Callum Harriott’s effort after the winger had made some space for a shot inside the Dons’ 18-yard box.
Robinson’s men hit the front on 34 minutes when Bowditch fired the ball into the top left-hand corner from the penalty spot after Jaakkola had brought down Kabongo Tshimanga, who had initially made the most of a poor back-pass by Jake Cooper.
Other than Nicholls tipping over a powerful header from Joseph Mendes, the Dons comfortably maintained their lead until the break.
Jaap Stam’s side started the second period on the front-foot with Danzell Gravenberch and George Evans seeing shots go wide and blocked respectively.
Shortly afterwards, Nicholls punched brilliantly under pressure from a dangerous in-swinging free-kick as the Dons continued to frustrate their Sky Bet Championship opponents.
Wootton and Ben Tilney were both in the right place at the right time to clear midway through the second half before Nicholls saved well from Tennai Watson – Reading were upping the pressure.
That pressure was rewarded when Harriott found the top right-hand corner with a fine strike from 25 yards on 69 minutes.
It was almost 2-1 to the hosts on 75 minutes but Wootton got back on the line brilliantly to clear away under pressure after Mendes had beaten Nicholls in the air, although there perhaps should have been a foul awarded to the Dons.
Three minutes later, superb forward play from Tshimanga relieved a bit of pressure for the Dons as he chased Nicholls’ long ball, out-muscled his marker and won a free-kick – unfortunately nothing came of the resulting set-piece.
There were chances at either end as the game ticked into the final five minutes – Tshimanga forced a save from Jaakkola before Harriott fired over for the Royals.
Either side of 90 minutes, Reading twice brought saves out of Nicholls from Roy Beerens and Evans as the hosts threatened a winner.
The Dons responded with a series of corners but they couldn’t make them count and, in the dying embers of injury-time, Mendes flashed a close-range effort wide when he really should have scored.
No further goals meant extra-time and the Dons were the first to go close – George C Williams bringing a fine stop out of Jaakkola after picking up a good position on the left and driving goalwards.
The post AND bar then denied Ben Reeves and Ed Upson respectively in the space of just 15 seconds before Jaakkola somehow scrambled away the latter’s effort as it spun towards the net.
Mendes’ weak effort was the first action of the second half of extra-time while, at the other end, Samir Carruthers threatened before finding Reeves, who forced a fine save from Jaakkola.
Reading went in front in the 114th minute when Harriott showed a turn of pace and fired low across Nicholls.
That didn’t deter the Dons, who fought back and deservedly levelled on 118 minutes when Tshimanga expertly brought down Upson’s ball and turned home at the second attempt from close range. More drama!
Tshimanga’s equaliser meant a penalty shoot-out (full details below), which the Dons lost 4-2 and therefore bowed out of the competition, but they can take immense heart from the way they played throughout.
Starting XI: Nicholls; GB Williams, Downing, Wootton (c), Tilney; Upson, Jackson (Reeves 46); Bowditch (Carruthers 63), Rasulo, Thomas-Asante (GC Williams 71); Tshimanga.
Unused subs: Burns, Brittain, Osei-Bonsu, Furlong.
Goals: Bowditch (34), Tshimanga (118).
Attendance: 6,848 (361 Dons fans).
Danny Williams - scored
George Evans - scored
Stephen Quinn - scored
Callum Harriott - saved
Jordan Obita - scored
MK Dons penalties
Upson - scored
Reeves - missed
Carruthers - missed
GC Williams - scored