Heather McDonnell ensured the MK Dons Ladies’ place in the second round of the SSE Women’s FA Cup, at the expense of Hemel Hempstead Town Ladies.
Hemel grabbed the first goal of the game with five minutes left of the first half, when they ambitiously struck the ball from distance to lob Emma Kirby.
However, they couldn’t hold onto their advantage for long, as just before the referee blew his whistle for half-time, McDonnell converted Leah Cudone’s cross to tie up the score.
Hannah Barrett continued the Dons’ momentum after the break, taking only seven minutes to put her side in front by calmly slotting the ball into the bottom left corner.
McDonnell then all but confirmed the Dons’ safe passage into the second round by skillfully dribbling the ball around the charging Hemel keeper and blasting the ball into the empty net.
The Dons started the game well, looking particularly dangerous due to Charly Wright’s impressive set pieces.
Charley Clarke tried to head home a dangerous free-kick that Wright had played into the box from the right wing, but was denied by the keeper.
The resulting corner, which Wright inch-perfectly delivered into the box, nearly gave the Dons the lead, but Barrett narrowly put it the wrong side of the post.
Cudone and Barrett then both found themselves with chances inside Hemel’s box to put the Dons in front, but Cudone’s effort was saved and Barrett hit her chance just wide.
Further chances from Wright’s set pieces fell to Vicky Holland, Clarke and Sasha Newsome but they were unable to guide the ball into the net.
Hemel nearly found themselves with an open net to aim for as they successfully counter-attacked the Dons, but Leanna Doyle and Holland recovered to stop the opportunity.
The Dons tried to instantly rebound from that scare, with Kerry Newman bursting down the wing before crossing the ball to Cudone. However, Cudone’s shot, despite beating the keeper, agonisingly struck the post.
Hemel responded to their post being hit by going one better and taking the lead courtesy of an ambitious effort from 40 yards which caught Kirby off guard.
The Dons didn’t trail for long, though, as some neat passes led to Cudone using her pace to get past her defender and pass it to McDonnell, who slotted the ball home.
The Dons, not wanting to face an early exit from the cup, started the second half strong.
Within seven minutes, Barrett found the ball at her feet inside the box and swiftly struck the ball into the bottom left corner to make it 2-1.
McDonnell then secured her brace shortly after, sprinting into space before calmly side stepping the rushing goalkeeper to fire the ball into an empty net.
Hemel Ladies tried to grab a goal back quickly, but were denied thanks to an acrobatic save by Kirby, who held onto the ball to stop any rebound occurring as well.
The Dons tried to extend their lead with Rebecca Vass, who came on as a sub, having a couple of opportunities, including one that the keeper couldn’t do much more than push onto the frame of the goal and hope it went out.
Sammy Gillings and Louise Naylor both went close as well in the last minutes of the game, but were denied by some defiant goalkeeping on Hemel’s part.
After the game, striker Cudone expressed some disappointment at the performance, but was happy to the progress to the next round.
She said: “We played good in patches but overall it wasn’t our best performance, it showed we have things we need to work on.
“The FA Cup is big for us, we want to get as far as possible in the tournament; this is as far as we have come before, so to progress is great.”
Manager James Honeyman reinforced Cudone’s opinion that the performance wasn’t memorable but the result was a good one.
He said: “ It was one of our worst performances of the year, we really let ourselves down in the first half but thanks to the resilience of our team when we weren’t playing well we still nicked a 3-1 win today.
“Hemel Hempstead were absolutely fantastic today, they put so much work in today and they should be proud of the way they played today.”
Starting XI: Kirby, Gillings, Newsome, Holland, Clarke (c), Wright (Howes 77), McDonnell, Barrett (Naylor 56), Newman (Vass 45), Cudone, Doyle
Goals: McDonnell (45+1, 60), Barrett (52).