John Bitting’s boys made club history in the recent 2022/23 campaign after they lifted the EFL Youth Alliance Cup, which saw MK Dons emerge victorious the first time within the competition.
MK Dons Under-18s faced five opponents before they embarked in the final hosted at Stadium MK. Penalty shootouts, comeback victories, three goals scored within every game leading up to the final, the young Dons produced some memorable moments within their successful journey.
EXETER CITY – FIRST ROUND
It seemed as if the first stage of the tournament set the precedent for the run that the Dons would eventually achieve. A trip to Exeter was fulfilled with intense action from the starting whistle.
This battle saw both sides match one another blow for blow, but the Grecians, who held a 3-2 lead in the closing stages of the match, seemed moments away from ending the Dons’ cup run within the first preliminary round.
That was until Charlie Waller’s header from the edge of the area rocketed past the home side’s goalkeeper in the final minute of the battle, which in turn saw the game decided by a penalty shootout.
The young Dons would then go on to succeed within the shootout without missing a spot-kick. Unbridled joy swarmed the team after they prevailed from a dramatic opening to the competition.
PORTSMOUTH – QUARTER FINAL
John Bitting’s team would continue to thrive from their hard-fought victory in the first round, which birthed the confidence and determination needed to eliminate AFC Bournemouth. This triumph was followed by a comfortable 3-0 win over Southend United in the final preliminary round.
MK Dons had made their way to the quarter final stage of the tournament and prepared to face Portsmouth at Woughton on the Green Playing Fields.
A slow start to the tie saw Pompey acquire a two-goal advantage ahead of the interval, which left a lot to be rectified within the second half. The hosts overturned their opening performance and came out the blocks strong following the break.
Tommy Blennerhassett halved the deficit soon after the restart. Inevitably, this goal turned the game around, which saw MK Dons gain the momentum necessary to level the skirmish.
Although the game was equal once again, the home side pushed for the victory, which eventually saw them rewarded for their efforts. Jediah Bombo’s strong strike located the back of the net and overturned the score-line, another pivotal moment in the young Dons’ journey to silverware.
ROTHERHAM UNITED – THE FINAL
Soon after their emphatic comeback over Pompey, MK Dons Under-18s eliminated Cambridge United and cemented their place in the final two teams of the tournament. One last obstacle separated them from the trophy.
MK Dons faced one last test in the Millers, one final game at Stadium MK to summarise the remarkable run that had been fabricated by the young Dons.
The perfect start for John Bitting’s boys granted them an early lead, which was crafted through a well-worked attack and finished by Blennerhassett.
Throughout many moments within the tie, the home side had to dig deep and survive onslaughts of attacks from the travelling team, who much like the Dons, left everything on the field.
A stonewall rear-guard denied the Millers any hope of breaching the goal-line before Tommy Blennerhassett then doubled the lead through an audacious chip on the end of a counterattack.
The strong efforts from the Under-18s continued all the way throughout, until the final whistle indicated they had made club history. Absolute elation overwhelmed the team and staff, whose incredible efforts were rewarded with the EFL Youth Alliance Cup. An outstanding achievement reinforced by a dramatic yet impressive journey along the way.