Article submitted by MKDSA member David Walmsley.
The Dons started the 2010/2011 season with a new manager again, and the vibes were looking good at the start with some fine flowing football, more desire, and more importantly, going from having the worst disciplinary record in the division, by far, to having one of the best in the division after the first 10 games, although since then they slipped down below half way in the discipline league, not helped by two matches in which they got 5 cards in each match. It must be said though that they weren’t helped by some terrible refereeing decisions.
The Dons started this season with five new signings from back in May, who were:
- David Martin – 24 year old goalkeeper, previously with the Dons in the Wimbledon days, but who had spent the last four and a half years at Liverpool, and appears to be settling in well. The future seems to be a bit uncertain for Willy, however.
- Gary MacKenzie – 25 year old, 6’ 3” central defender from Dundee, who again is looking promising.
- Lewis Guy – 25 year old striker/winger, from Doncaster. Versatile player, strong, quite skilful, mostly used as a sub, but has started one or two games.
- Angelo Balanta, talented young winger (on loan from QPR). Only 20 but very skilful, and tricky. Lacks maturity, as you would expect.
- Dietmar (Didi) Hamann – 37 year old legendary Liverpool midfielder. Brought in as a part time player cum coach. What more can you say? Tends to walk around the centre circle directing operations.
The season, after 16 games, was looking reasonably promising, being 3 points off automatic promotion and 9 points off the top. In November, the FA Cup draw for Round 2 threw up the potential draw that almost everyone had been waiting for, and some had been dreading. AFC Wimbledon v MK Dons. Both clubs had drawn their 1st Round ties against Ebbsfleet and Stevenage respectively.
The AFC fans had much larger forebodings than the Dons fans in view of their intense hatred of the club and the way it was formed. It would be interesting to see how many of their fans stuck to their principles and didn’t attend the match, if it happened. The ones that did attend would also have to behave themselves, as the whole media circus would be in attendance. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on your stance, the meeting was averted as Dons went out in the replay on penalties. They were 1-0 up until the fourth minute of injury time, when a defensive error let Stevenage in for the equalizer. There were no more goals in extra time and so it went to the penalty shoot out lottery, with Doumbe and Leven failing to score in the 6-7 defeat.
AFC Wimbledon, however, also had a scare against Ebbsfleet, as they were 2-1 down until the last minute, when they equalized, and then again, in the last minute of extra time they scored the winner to go through and meet Stevenage in the 3rd Round. Unfortunately for them that was the end of their run as they went down 0-2 at Kingsmeadow.
Although not strictly Dons related, but nevertheless stadiummk related, on December 2nd, FIFA came to their long awaited decision on the host nation for the 2018 World Cup, which would have fantastic implications for Milton Keynes. In the event, despite numerous assurances and promises for the England vote, the decision went to Russia, sparking off numerous accusations of corruption and conspiracy. Shortly afterwards, Roger Burden, the acting FA chairman withdrew his application for the full time post because he felt he couldn’t trust FIFA.
There would be more revelations to come on this one. As a result of an investigation senior officials Mohamed Bin Hammam and Jack Warner were suspended, although Sepp Blatter, the President came out unscathed. At least, as far as the Dons are concerned, they wouldn’t have to disturb the stadium in order to put the extra seating in.
December 11th saw the reunion, for a day at least, of Paul Ince and Karl Robinson as the Dons travelled to Notts County to try and keep up with the leading pack. Again, it was not to be, with some sloppy defending again letting in 2 late goals, including one from Thomas Ince, (Paul’s son, on loan from Liverpool.) December also brought one of the coldest months for years and, together with large snowfalls, caused a lot of disruption to the fixtures. In fact this was to be the last game they played until the Tuesday after Christmas, owing to the weather.
On the 30th December the news surfaced that Aaron Wilbraham, one of their longest serving players, had been sold to Norwich. He went on 1st January, initially on a loan deal, and then permanent. The fee was undisclosed.
The rest over Christmas seemed to have done the team a power of good as they turned on a much better display by beating once play-off hopefuls, Bournemouth, after Christmas at stadiummk, along with Bristol Rovers on New Years Day. Those results lifted them to within a point of the play-offs and two points from automatic promotion.
However, their abysmal away record continued in the following match at Yeovil Town, coming away 0-1 losers, despite an almost identical team to the previous 2 matches (Sammy replacing Danny Powell). There were signs of a halt to the slump, however, when they salvaged a 1-1 draw away at Exeter, the following Saturday. In fact their performance overall warranted more than the point they picked up.
The following Saturday they continued their excellent home form by winning their third successive 2-0 win at home, against struggling Tranmere, lifting them into the Play-Off zone. They had now won 11 of the 16 games at home, in all competitions. The back end of January saw a continued improvement, especially away. A home win against the Daggers was followed by a respectable 2-2 draw against Leyton Orient, a game which included the Goal of the Season from Stephen Gleeson in the seventh minute. The only blot on their run was the 3-1 defeat at home, to Plymouth, a result made more bearable by the sheer quality of Plymouth’s goals.
January 2011 saw the loss of Jermaine Easter to Crystal Palace, having just returned from a loan spell at Swansea, Luke Howell, whose loan move to Lincoln City was made permanent and Jemal Johnson who was finally released after a number of unsuccessful attempts to secure a place in the squad. Also in the January window we saw Willy Gueret’s departure to Kettering and Didi Hamann’s move to Leicester following a not too successful stint with the Dons as a player/coach.
On the plus side the Dons saw the arrival of three loan signings:-
- David Amoo, a young striker, in from Liverpool
- Rowan Vine, experienced striker, in from Luton
- Keanu Marsh-Brown, very promising 19 year old from Fulham.
So, the end of January saw the Dons in 6th place, 7 points off an automatic spot. February kicked off with another good away win against strugglers Bristol Rovers, followed by a useful point away at Hillsborough, having been two up against Sheffield Wednesday, but finishing with nine men.
The following Saturday saw the Dons scrape a point against Brentford, fresh from their JPT Semi-Final win, booking them a place at Wembley. The next home game against Leyton Orient saw the Dons’ shaky defence revert to type as they squandered the lead twice to lose 3-2. It was a game they should have won easily with the chances they had, but the defensive errors plus some awful decisions by the officials contrived to lose them the game, seeing them drift slowly away from the play-off zone, having played around 2 games more than most clubs around them.
The following Saturday saw the Dons get a valuable 3 points at Hartlepool, riding their luck in the process and, for once, getting the benefit of some odd refereeing decisions. Not so, the following Tuesday, at home to Oldham, where despite dominating the first half, they failed to put away their chances and in the end had to settle for a point.
Onto the last match of the month and another home tie against current runaway leaders Brighton. This time the Dons continued the first half form they showed against Oldham andplayed Brighton off the park. They deserved a goal for all their efforts and finally, in the 27th minute it arrived, albeit after 4 attempts on goal, 2 being stopped by the keeper or defender and the third coming off the post from a O’Hanlon header before Danny Powell headed home what proved to be the winner. Add to that a couple of superb saves from Martin and it rounded off a well earned victory, despite having to play the last 27 minutes with 10 men, O’Hanlon having earned his second red card in a month; strangely enough at the same point in the game, the 67th minute. What are the odds on that?
So, the end of February sees the Dons still in 6th place, although they have played 4 games more than 3 of the teams around them. Other news in February saw the loan deals for Rowan Vine and Keanu Marsh-Brown extended, while David Amoo returned to Liverpool, not having really had the chance to show what he can do, owing to the outstanding performances of Marsh-Brown. On 10th February the Dons also signed experienced Scottish international midfielder Stephen Hughes from Norwich City on a one-month loan deal.
Well, March started off in cracking form with the Dons recording their 1st win against Rochdale since 23rd December 2006. It was also their biggest win of the season, hitting four past Rochdale; Vine scoring his first for the club, Gleeson with another scorcher, Powell again, and a penalty from Sam, fresh back from injury. This was followed by another superb result on the Tuesday against, once play off hopefuls but now strugglers, Charlton Athletic with their new manager Chris Powell. However it was another Powell who spoiled his night with yet another goal (his 3rd in 3 games) and a late 2nd in the 96th minute by Sam, looking like his old self again. This was to take the Dons unbeaten run to 5 matches and keep them in 6th position with an 8-point gap to the next club, Leyton Orient, although they have played more games. At this stage, however, only Orient could overtake the Dons.
Next, onto Colchester, once play off hopefuls but now languishing mid-table with only 1 win in their 5 last games. After a nervous first half where the Dons let in a soft first goal they went in for their half time pep talk. I don’t know what Karl said at the break but what a difference in the second half where the team, and particularly Sam, was on fire, scoring in the 48th, 62nd and 86th minutes to give the Dons a well earned 3-1 victory and Sam, the match ball. Next up, the Posh. What a night this was. By far the best win of the season. A hard fought 1-0 win where Posh had the better first half with a number of chances thwarted by an excellent David Martin and Dons having the better second half with Mackenzie getting his first goal for the club; a scrambled affair in the goal mouth Sammy put Joe Lewis off sufficiently for Mac to poke the ball in the net and set up a hectic last 20 minutes. Add to this 2 further clear cut chances where both Jabo and Marsh-Brown should have scored, plus the Sky cameras in full attendance and we had a night to remember for a long time. Now up to 5th in the table.
Towards the end of March the Dons acquired another loan player, to bolster the midfield, namely Adam Clayton, the 22-year-old midfielder from Leeds United.
On the 25th we saw the inevitable ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’, where struggling Walsall, in the relegation zone, came to stadiummk. It was a night of frustration all round. The Dons created enough chances to have won the game twice over, but a combination of poor finishing and bad luck contrived to deny them a win and in the end had to settle for a 1-1 draw. In truth, most of the players were not at their best that night for whatever reason. On top of that Walsall had also recently brought in some top quality loan players to bolster their chances of staying up, and that told in the later stages where they themselves could have snatched all three points. Still, that’s the month of March completed, and unbeaten in 8 games.
Onto April and next up, Southampton away, one of the form teams. Well, this was a game of mixed fortunes, with emotions swinging from sheer delight to abject despair in a matter of minutes. The Dons kept the Saints at bay for 66 minutes, going into a 2 goal lead following a headed goal from Mackenzie and a Baldock low drive, either side of half time. However, following Vine’s unexpected and surprising substitution in the 61st minute and, more tellingly, Forte coming on for Southampton in the 63rd, the Saints had a 20 minute spell where they scored 3 goals in 11 minutes. The Dons piled forward in the last 15 minutes, however, and were unlucky not to grab an equalizer, Marsh-Brown shooting just wide of the post and Leven hitting the crossbar from a free kick. A frustrating afternoon, it has to be said. Still in 5th though.
The following Saturday saw the visit of Carlisle United, fresh from their Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win and full of confidence. The Dons didn’t play well but nevertheless went ahead in the 13th minute with a well taken goal by Powell from a cross by Marsh-Brown However, Carlisle got back into it with a 25 yd drive into the bottom corner and then went ahead with a penalty following a trip by O’Hanlon. In the second half the Dons improved and after a spell of pressure equalized with a clear header by Balanta who had acres space. By the 90 minutes everyone had settled for the draw but in the last minute of the 4 minutes injury time Lewie fired a superb cross across the front of goal and Adam Clayton came racing in to slot into the back of the net. The crowd, the team and the whole staff went wild. A very valuable 3 points.
Down to the last five games now with the Dons sitting in 5th place. An away trip to another struggling club, Swindon, lying second from bottom and desperate for a win. Not much to say about the game really. Not a pretty game but a worthy 3 points gained via a Sean O’Hanlon header against his old club. Everyone around them won though, so still in 5th. Next up, on Good Friday, Huddersfield Town, at home. This was another big game, with Huddersfield desperate to win to keep up the chase for second place and the Dons desperate to win to assure themselves of a play off place. However, it was another game of what might have been had the Dons taken their numerous chances and had Leven scored from his penalty. Having said that, Martin also saved a penalty, but the at the end the Dons finished 1-3 down. This was Rowan Vine’s last day at the Dons, although he didn’t figure in the proceedings. Maybe things would have been different if he had.
The following Monday the Dons had a difficult trip down to struggling Plymouth; struggling, that is, owing to their 10 point deduction and financial troubles. It turned out to be another bad day at the office coming away 0-1 losers, again despite numerous chances. There were now 2 games to go, with another win needed to guarantee a play off position. The next and last home game, however, saw the return of Martin Allen with his rejuvenated Notts County, almost safe from relegation, but nevertheless a tough proposition for the Dons. With a play off place not yet certain and two games to go, a win against Notts County would secure a place, with only Leyton Orient having a chance of catching the Dons. In a gloriously sunny afternoon in front of 10,013 fans the Dons didn’t let us down. With the Magpies putting up stiff resistance, as well they might as they weren’t yet safe from relegation, it took until early in the second half before the breakthrough came, with Sam racing onto a superb Leven cross into the box and half volleying it into the roof of the net. Moments later the Dons doubled their lead following a short corner to Sam who slid it along the goalmouth for Balanta to tap in ahead of his marker. However, two minutes later the Magpies gabbed a goal back from a corner, which the Dons failed to clear. It meant a slightly anxious last half hour, although in the event, the result didn’t matter as the Os got hammered by Tranmere. Next week, the last game of the season at Oldham, except for the play off games, of course.
Saturday 7th May and the last match of the season, away at Boundary Park, Oldham. The result, although not affecting the Don’s play off status, could have determined whom they actually played in the semi-finals. As things turned out the results went to form and the Dons ended up in 5th with a comfortable 2-1 win against the Latics. What made the result all the more pleasing is that Karl made nine changes from the previous week’s game against Notts County, preserving the fitness of his first team key players for the play offs. Players starting the game included Searle, Flanagan, Chicksen and George Baldock alongside the established players, with Charlie Collins coming on in the second half. Although the players appeared to be taking the game seriously, the game had an almost carnival atmosphere, with the fans, decked out in Scouser outfits, singing constantly throughout the match. The first goal came on 28 minutes when Adam Clayton threaded a lovely ball through to Balanta, catching a deflection on the way, with Balanta then chipping the keeper as he came out. Oldham came back with a quick equalizer six minutes later with a well taken low strike. However, early in the second half the Dons went ahead again when Jabo Ibehre held the ball up well on the edge of the box, before playing the ball out to Marsh-Brown, who after a bit of twisting and turning slid the ball into the left hand corner via a slight deflection. All in all, a good afternoon, marred only by the news that Peter Leven had fractured his metatarsal two days earlier, putting him out for the rest of the season. He did, however, make an appearance for the fans, on crutches, after the game.
Next to the play-offs, against the Posh, starting the following Sunday at stadiummk. In front of a less than impressive 12,662 fans plus the Sky cameras, the Dons put on an impressive show and completely outplayed the Posh for most of the match. Mackail-Smith had a gift-wrapped goal presented to him after only 9 minutes when Martin failed to hold onto a shot across the box from Mendez-Laing, resulting in an easy tap in. After that, though, the Dons got a grip on the game and increased their passing game during the first half, going in at half time just the one goal down. The second half began with the Dons continuing where they left off. Posh, however, had replaced Joe Lewis and a defender following knocks early in the first half. It wasn’t to be a happy debut in goal for the Exeter loanee, Paul Jones. After the first minute he failed to deal with a Lewington cross into the box, along with his defenders it must be said, and Powell was on hand to poke it into the net. Three minutes later and Chadwick won a free kick 30yds out. Sam Baldock stepped up and, while the wall was jumping up to stop the anticipated chip, blasted it into the bottom corner. 2-1, Dons.
Things didn’t get any better for Jones when, six minutes later Adam Clayton slid a lovely ball to Balanta in the box who turned his man and squeezed the ball inside the other post. Things were now looking good, especially when Posh’s Charlie Lee was sent after his second yellow card. This should have been game set and match but things are never that straightforward. With ten minutes to go Gleeson was sent off for an alleged challenge against Little, and a penalty awarded. Later reviews would confirm that the foul, which in itself was debatable, was outside the box. McCann duly dispatched the penalty, leaving the game at a finely poised 3-2 to the Dons, a scoreline not at all reflecting the superiority of their play. However, it’s all to play for in the second leg.
The following Thursday evening saw the second leg of the semi-final play offs against the Posh at London Road. The team was feeling confident, all the more so as Gleeson had had his red card rescinded, quite rightly, by the FA, thus allowing him to play in this crucial match. The game started of in a similar pattern to the first leg, the Dons giving an early goal away after 11 minutes. McCann had a free kick just outside the box, left of goal and it was fairly apparent from behind the goal that the wall was not adequate, leaving a gap between the end of the wall and the left goal post. Sure enough, McCann slotted it in through the gap, leaving Martin scrambling over to get to it.
Although the Dons still played some decent football after this, they didn’t produce much in the way of chances and the Posh’s confidence increased. The first half ended at 1-0, leaving the tie all square. In the second half Posh increased their control on the match with very few chances for the Dons, one of which fell to Powell who saw his shot come back out from under the bar. Coupled with a denied penalty claim when Little handled the ball under pressure from Balanta inside the box, it was obvious that this wasn’t to be the Dons day. In truth the Posh were the better side in this match just as the Dons were in the first leg. In the 54th minute Posh wrapped it up with a Mackail-Smith tap in following a mix up between MacKenzie and Sean O'Hanlon. Despite this, the 2005 travelling fans never stopped singing and gave their team a rousing send off.
All in all, a disappointing end to the 2010/2011 season considering the position the Dons had got themselves into, although if you had offered them a play off spot at the beginning of the season, they would have taken it. In truth though, despite their position, they just weren’t quite good enough to go up. The stats don’t lie and their final goal difference of just +7 compared to +45 to Brighton or +29 to Huddersfield tells the story. The Dons just didn’t have the strike force to match the other clubs up there.