MK Dons were beaten 1-0 by Cambridge United in their opening game of the 2022/23 season.
Liam Manning’s men were undone by a first-half goal from Harvey Knibbs and were unable to reply despite a dominant second-half display at the Abbey Stadium.
MK Dons handed debuts to Jack Tucker, Nathan Holland, Conor Grant and Henry Lawrence while Dan Kemp made his first MK Dons start. Summer recruits Jamie Cumming and Will Grigg were also in the first XI of the season.
They made a blistering start and almost broke the deadlock inside a minute but Matt Smith’s stinging effort crashed against the crossbar and was cleared away to safety.
A minute later, Smith was brought down on the edge of the Cambridge area which provided midfield partner Josh McEachran with an opportunity to deliver a ball into the box – he was, however, unable to locate a teammate with his delivery.
The hosts responded with two dangerous crosses into the mix which the MK Dons defence dealt with. They then had a free-kick attempt by Adam May which produced a comfortable save out of Cumming.
MK Dons started to find their groove after those chances but, just as they seemed to be establishing control, the home side went in front courtesy of a terrific solo goal from Harvey Knibbs, who impressively carried the ball into the penalty area before beating Cumming with a right-footed finish. 1-0.
Manning’s men worked a response, just before the half-hour mark, down the left flank but Holland’s teasing low delivery was gathered up by Dimitar Mitov. Holland then almost found himself on the end of Josh McEachran’s lofted pass but the ball just ran away from the winger.
At the other end, Smith flicked a header wide following a United corner. The Dons were then dealt a blow with McEachran forced off injured – his replacement, making his debut, was Bradley Johnson.
The Dons ended the half on top but weren’t able to fashion a decent opportunity to go into the break level – not even from a stoppage-time corner.
A strong start to the second-half from the Dons, and some good work by Grigg, led to an opportunity for Smith to flash a ball across goal, though it went through the area untouched. Smith then delivered a teasing free-kick into the mix but Cambridge were able to get it clear.
A well-worked move involving Grigg, Grant and Smith provided an opportunity for Kemp inside the area but his left-footed shot was blocked by a sliding Harrison Dunk. That led to a corner from which Johnson had a go on goal – his stabbed effort hit the side netting.
MK Dons had clear shouts for a penalty on 56 minutes when Grant beat Mitov and a chasing Cambridge defender to a ball forward. Grant was clipped by the U’s duo but referee John Busby waved away the Dons’ appeals for a spot-kick.
Manning went to his bench just past the hour to hand Louie Barry his first MK Dons appearance and Dan Oyegoke his league debut – they replaced Kemp and Lawrence on the Dons’ right-hand side.
Barry’s first involvement was to cut in from the right flank and tee up Smith but he dragged his 20-yard effort wide of goal. Smith had the Dons’ next attempt with a quarter of an hour to play – a volley from distance which didn’t find the target.
Darragh Burns and Matt Dennis were the Manning’s final changes, on for Grant and Holland as the Dons went two up front. They looked lively on debut but were unable to help the Dons salvage a late point.
Manning’s men will look to bounce back next weekend when they host Sheffield Wednesday at Stadium MK.
MK Dons: Cumming, Lewington, Tucker, O’Hora, McEachran (B Johnson 37), Smith, Grigg, Holland (Burns 82), Grant (Dennis 82), Kemp (Barry 61), Lawrence (Oyegoke 61).
Subs: Ravizzoli, Robson.
Booked: Lawrence, O’Hora, Oyegoke
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Digby, Jones, Brophy (Janneh 90), Ironside (Tracey 71), Smith, Dunk (Haunstrup 82), Okedina, May, Knibbs (O’Neil 71).
Subs: Mannion, Taylor, Lankester.
Goal: Knibbs (17)
Booked: Knibbs, Digby
Referee: J Busby
Attendance: 6,588 (1,405 away)