MK Dons drew 4-4 with Barnsley as a dramatic late comeback from the visiting play-off chasers denied Mark Jackson’s men what would have been a vital win at Stadium MK.
The Dons trailed at the break to a James Norwood goal but fought back in the second half, scoring four times in the space of 21 minutes to establish a three-goal lead.
However, Barnsley responded and dramatically got themselves back on level terms with three quickfire goals of their own – one from Norwood and a brace from substitute Max Watters.
The draw means the Dons’ fate is out of their hands entering the final week of the season. They need to beat Burton Albion on the final day of the season and hope Cambridge United don’t pick up maximum points.
Head Coach Jackson made one change from the team which faced Fleetwood Town, with Conor Grant replacing Zak Jules in a switch that saw Sullay Kaikai take up a wing-back position. Max Dean was recalled to the squad and was amongst the substitutes, taking the bench spot of Henry Lawrence.
Barnsley made a positive start but the Dons rode the early storm and forced a save out of Harry Isted on six minutes through Mo Eisa, whose right-footed effort was kept out by the Barnsley goalkeeper diving to his left.
Eisa was then inches away from meeting Kaikai’s ball across the box, moments before Jonathan Leko latched onto a through pass from Conor Grant, rounded the goalkeeper but then saw his shot blocked by Barnsley’s Liam Kitching.
The Dons went agonisingly close to scoring the opener from a Kaikai corner but Jack Tucker’s goal-bound header was brilliantly kept out by an instinctive Isted save.
That stop proved crucial as, on the half-hour, Barnsley took the lead – Herbie Kane’s driven effort taking a crucial touch off NORWOOD, diverting past Cumming who had already committed to keeping out the initial strike. 0-1.
Jackson’s men responded and worked a shooting opportunity for Watson two minutes later but he couldn’t keep his 18-yard attempt down. They also had a decent chance in first-half stoppage time, following some great individual work from Leko, but his curling strike was saved.
The Dons needed a response in the second half and that’s exactly what they got, levelling the scores within three minutes courtesy of an EISA penalty – the striker keeping his nerve to slot past Isted after being brought down in the box. 1-1.
One became two shortly after for the Dons, as Kaikai latched onto Maghoma’s through pass and send a teasing ball across the box for LEKO, rushing in, to stick out a leg and convert off the underside of the crossbar. 2-1.
The Dons had their tails up and they extended their lead through one of the goals of the season. Maghoma, after winning the ball on the edge of his own area, carried the ball the length of the pitch before spraying the ball out wide to EISA. He still had work to do, 25 yards out, but was able to send a stunning strike beyond the out-stretched arm of Isted and into the net. 1-3.
Watson almost made it four immediately after but his low strike was kept out by the Barnsley goalkeeper. The Dons, though, scored from the resulting corner – O’HORA getting his head to McEachran’s corner and diverting it past the goalkeeper and defenders on the line. 1-4.
What happened next will leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Barnsley got themselves back into it within four minutes of O’Hora’s goal, through Norwood, and then scored again just two minutes later – former Don WATTERS with a volleyed finish after coming off the bench. 3-4.
Watters would play a part in the crucial moment too, turning a ball over the line for a second time, despite Cumming’s best efforts to keep it out, making it 4-4 and leaving Dons supporters inside Stadium MK stunned.
Knowing that a draw wasn’t going to be enough for the Dons, they pushed forward late in search of a fifth to win it. Dean had the chance to do so after Barnsley failed to deal with Jules’ ball into the area, but the substitute lifted his effort over the bar from 15 yards.
The full-time whistle sounded soon after, leaving Jackson’s men in a situation where their fate is out of their hands going into the final week.
MK Dons: Cumming, Watson, Lewington, Tucker, O’Hora, McEachran, Eisa, Leko, Grant, Kaikai, Maghoma
Subs: Ravizzoli, Grigg, Holland, Johnson, Devoy, Dean, Jules
Goals: Eisa (48 pen, 61), Leko (53), O’Hora (69)
Barnsley: Isted, Williams, Kitching, Cadden, Kane, Norwood, Benson, B Thomas, L Thomas, Cundy, Tedic
Subs: Collins, Russell, Cotter, Shaw, Larkeche, Cole, Watters
Goals: Norwood (30, 73), Watters (75, 86)
Booked: Kitching, Benson
Referee: A Backhouse
Attendance: 9,579 (2,139 away)