“We are the resurrection” read a banner in the Chemflow End at Kingsmeadow. It was the false prophets who came away with victory though, as MK Dons beat AFC Wimbledon on penalties to claim a fifth victory from the eight encounters between these most bitter of rivals.
There had to be a fall guy and it was a particularly painful tumble for AFC captain Joe Pigott, who missed both the decisive spot kick and a penalty in normal time too. Conor McGrandles also missed a penalty, before going on to score MK Dons’ first goal, an equaliser after Wimbledon had taken an early lead. The visitors claimed a wonderful second goal through teenager David Kasumu only for Luke O’Neill to level again in added time. It really was as hectic as that reads.
“It was a really good game of football, I really enjoyed it‚” said the MK Dons manager, Paul Tisdale. “The start, the end and then the penalties. I was really proud of the way we played, it was really gutsy and we finished the job … just.”
For Tisdale’s opposite number the defeat wasn’t too painful, or at least that was the way Wally Downes spun it. “You’d like to win it but losing hasn’t really bothered me too much‚“ he said. “It can’t do when you lose on penalties. For me, MK Dons are just another team. In fact, they’re not even that.”
The historic enmity between these two teams doesn’t need explaining. Some of their more recent disputes might, however. Like the incident at Kingsmeadow a year ago, when Wimbledon described their league opponents simply as ‘MK’ on both the scoreboard and programme cover. A charge of misconduct followed, then mediation, with the conclusion that Wimbledon must write MK Dons’ name in full in future. This was the principle. In practice, the scoreboard wasn’t working on the night and AFC, as is their right under EFL rules, chose not to publish a programme.
A spicy atmosphere off the pitch – including a tiny but particularly vocal travelling contingent of 280 – was matched on it. McGrandles was centre of attention in the first half. He was charged with taking a third-minute penalty but after a stuttering run-up fluffed his shot completely, sending it yards over the bar. Just five minutes later and McGrandles’ miss was punished as Anthony Hartigan’s corner was stroked home coolly on the volley by Anthony Wagstaff.
This was the real stuff, every sprint, every touch, every challenge conducted with the maximum intensity. Both sides delivered flashes of decent play too, but it was MK Dons who were more composed on the ball and it did not take long for them to find an equaliser. Their marauding centre-half Regan Poole broke into the AFC box and cut the ball back low to the far post and where McGrandles found his own smooth finish across Nik Tzanev and into the net.
MK Dons took the lead early in the second half through McGrandles’ midfield partner Kasumu. Lurking on the edge of the box he received the ball from the left-hand side, steadied it with his first touch and curled it into the top corner with his second. It was an impressive strike from the teenager who was making only his seventh appearance in four seasons at the club.
The action quickly switched up the other end again and AFC earned a penalty after Kwesi Appiah had his legs kicked out from underneath him. Pigott took the kick on and while there was no fancy run-up the outcome was just as dismal, a low effort with no power behind it that keeper Lee Nicholls claimed at his leisure.
With the clock ticking into the last minute, AFC scrapped their way back level. A spell of determined play finally bore fruit when a flick on fell to full-back O’Neill at the far post and he thrashed a shot past Nicholls. Penalties followed and while McGrandles converted his, Pigott could not. Under the blank scoreboard, the small MK Dons contingent went crazy.