David Worrall’s first-half header was the difference as MK Dons exited the Emirates FA Cup in Russell Martin’s first game in charge.
Worrall headed home a James Gibbons cross 19 minutes in, and despite a dominant display in front of the home crowd, Martin’s Dons were unable to find a way through the stubborn Valiants and maintain their place in the competition.
Boss Martin made three changes to the side in his first game as manager, recalling Jordan Bowery, Brennan Dickenson and David Kasumu to the starting XI. There was a place in the squad for Joe Mason for the first time this campaign, while second-year scholar John Freeman was also amongst the substitutes.
Martin’s side started bright, with Ben Reeves forcing a save out of Scott Brown inside the opening minute, following a neat attacking move straight from kick-off.
Port Vale responded a minute later, with Richie Bennett stinging the palms of Lee Nicholls with a fierce right-footed shot. Scott Burgess then dragged an effort wide after squeezing through challenges from Alex Gilbey and Conor McGrandles.
On the quarter-hour mark, Gilbey tried his luck from distance and saw his low drive tipped wide by Brown. Jordan Moore-Taylor flicked the resulting corner towards goal but it didn’t receive a crucial final touch from a teammate.
It was Port Vale who would break the deadlock, though, doing so with 19 minutes on the clock. A headed clearance from the back fell only as far as James Gibbons, whose cross was met at the far post by an un-tracked David Worrall and he headed past Nicholls. 0-1.
Seven minutes later, the Dons forced a corner which led to some strong penalty appeals for what the hosts determined to be a handball by a Port Vale defender. Nothing was given and Reeves ended up firing the loose ball over the crossbar.
Dickenson then had an opportunity from a free-kick, following a foul on him 30 yards from goal. He struck it left footed but couldn’t find the target from distance.
The Dons were dominating possession as they went in search of a way past the Valiants defence before half time.
Gilbey had a shot deflected wide on 36 minutes, following a driving run through the middle, shortly before Dickenson was dispossessed deep in the Vale box as he went to pul the trigger.
Amoo curled over on a rare breakaway forward from the visiting side, who should have scored a second in the final seconds of the first half – fortunately for the Dons, however, Bennett put his header over the bar from six yards out.
In search of an early second-half strike, the Dons won themselves a corner. The delivery was flicked on by Gilbey into the path of Bowery but he wasn’t able to divert his attempt on target.
A minute later, Reeves had a low drive gobbled up by Brown, before the Dons’ number 7 threaded through Dickenson, whose fierce strike flew just wide of the far post.
The chances kept coming from the Dons, with Callum Brittain the next to try his luck, sending a right-footed half-volley agonisingly wide from the edge of the area. Dickenson then struck wide with his left foot from similar range.
Martin went to the bench shortly after the hour mark and handed Mason his MK Dons debut in place of Jordan Bowery. His side then went close again through Gilbey, but his skidding strike was gathered by Brown.
The Dons had another golden opportunity to level when Moore-Taylor whipped in a cross from the left. Bowery couldn’t convert at the near post and Reeves blazed over after pouncing on the loose ball.
Hiram Boateng was Martin’s second substitution and he fired over shortly after coming on. His fellow sub Mason had the next opportunity – a first-time left-footed shot which was blocked by a Vale defender.
Jordan Houghton was the final roll of the dice for Martin, as he side pushed for a late leveller. He was soon involved in an attacking move which resulted in Mason having a shot deflect up into the arms of Brown.
MK Dons: Nicholls, Lewington (c), Poole, Reeves, Gilbey (Houghton 84), Bowery, Dickenson (Mason 61), Moore-Taylor, McGrandles, Brittain, Kasumu (Boateng 70).
Subs: Moore, Cargill, Sorinola, Freeman.
Port Vale: Brown, Gibbons, Joyce, Legge (c), Worrall, Montano, Smith, Taylor, Amoo, Burgess (Evans 88), Bennett (Pope 68).
Subs: Maddison, Cullen, Browne, Brisley, Archer.
Goal: Worrall (19)
Referee: C Hicks
Attendance: 3,598 (593 away)