By Martin Atherton
Bees Stung by Late Jerome Winner
Though they by no means made it easy for themselves, Russ Martin’s MK Dons ensured their place in the third round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over struggling National League outfit Barnet.
The performance itself was incredibly disappointing – the Dons huffing and puffing their way through the match, forced into bringing on top scorers Jerome and Fraser – but nevertheless they eventually grabbed that all-important goal in the 82nd minute to send themselves through.
Seven changes had been made from Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw with Shrewsbury Town, largely contributing to their difficulties to find their stride. George Williams was among those introduced, making his return from injury, whilst Lee Nicholls made his customary cup appearance between the sticks.
Despite their two divisions of inferiority, it was the hosts who so nearly took the lead within the first minute – Ephron Mason-Clark bursting through on goal, but Nicholls was there to meet and parry his weak effort.
Barnet then pushed forwards again minutes later, but some smart tracking back from Williams allowed him to put the ball out of play. Keogh was the next called upon to thwart a Bees attack, his expertly timed tackle ensuring Michael Petrasso didn’t get through one-on-one.
On 13 minutes, Sørensen was introduced for the injured Houghton after his Bees’ opposite number had come in with a heavy challenge – referee Toner, however, refusing to brandish a card for the challenge.
Poole then had the best chance of the half, meeting a cross at the back post to surely fire home – his effort, though, crashing off of the crossbar from just a few yards out.
Walker was next to see a great opportunity come his way as the Dons’ pressure increased, but the ‘Boro loanee stuck his effort straight at Loach in the Bees’ net and the score remained level. HT 0-0.
Despite having sat back for much of the first period, the home side came back out determined to prove a point and take the game to their opponents.
JJ Hooper was first up, sending an effort over the bar that was unlikely to ever challenge Nicholls. The hosts then won a handful of corners, though little came of them thanks to Keogh’s vital interventions.
The Bees’ confidence continued to grow as the game played out. Peter Beadle’s men started to win their 50/50s, string some good passing moves together, and create some real chances that forced their opponents deeper.
So, with twenty minutes left and the opposition looking ever more likely to find something, Martin turned to both Fraser and Jerome to provide an attacking spark – and this proved to be the inspired move needed to send his team into the next round.
Immediately the duo burst into life, the former almost seeing the latter through on goal were it not for the pass being just seconds mistimed. Fraser then set Morris in with one defender to beat, but the Norwich loanee turned his effort just wide of the post.
Between the two chances, however, Mason-Clark had been found unmarked at the back and sent his own effort narrowly off the mark. A let off for the Dons and a reminder of the hosts’ attacking presence.
But they needn’t worry in the end as Jerome came to the rescue late on, neatly backheeling home a Fraser cross past a hopeless Loach to give his side the lead. On the whole, a much-deserved goal and one that had been coming. 0-1.
The former Norwich and Birmingham man then nearly doubled his account for the afternoon after being sent through one-on-one by Sørensen – instead of firing home, however, he sent his effort crashing into the empty away end with most of the goal to aim at.
But the Dons were able to soak up the final moments of Bees pressure and see themselves into the third round of the cup, what will be their first appearance at that stage of the competition since the start of 2018.
Certainly not a performance to remember, but Martin’s men got the job done in what could very easily have been a banana slip fixture – just take a look at Posh yesterday, for example. FT 1-0.
They will certainly need to be far better on Wednesday as they are played host to by high-flying Charlton, a side featuring a number of ex-Dons in Alex Gilbey, Chuks Aneke, Jonny Williams, and Jake Forster-Caskey.
The Williams-Keogh-Lewington back line, in my opinion, may be our strongest – and I would love to see us stick with that for the mid-week outing. New signing Surman appeared to have an excellent game, tidying up well in midfield alongside Sørensen – neither, however, really able to influence the game with a killer pass moving forward.
The Dons continue their graduate but slow improvement – this reflected with it now being just one defeat in the past eight games for the first team. Though very frustrating to watch at times, they are certainly becoming ‘hard to beat’ – but need to ensure their final league position reflects this.