By Ty Jenner
Liam Manning’s MK Dons kicked off the pre-season with a decent win at Hayden Road, as 2 goals either side of half time secured a comfortable win against AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
The first chance came for the Dons when a long ball from the right was headed back across the box by O’Hora to Tripp who headed his effort just wide 5 minutes in. The Dons soon compiled another chance when Charlie Waller latched onto a long ball down the left and sent in a delightful cross into the mix, but Conor Grant’s header squirmed wide. There was a soft penalty claim for MK when Grant was hauled down, but the referee waved away the appeals. After some slick one touch passing down the middle, Lewis Johnson played Dan Kemp into a shooting opportunity, but Evan’s last-ditch clearance prevented an almost certain opener for the visitors. 26 minutes in, Conor Grant was hauled down again and this time it was a clear and obvious penalty, Josh McEachran stepped up to convert home and open the scoring. Moments later a sliced cross from O’Hora out wide fell to Lewis Johnson, but he powered his shot well over. 5 minutes from half time the Dons doubled the lead, when Callum Tripp danced through Rushden’s defence, sent the ball through to Dan Kemp who beat his man and slammed home to make it 2-0.
Into the second half, Liam Manning fielded another 11 players, once again mixed with 1st team players and youngsters from the Academy. After a slow start from both sides, Rushden had a dead ball opportunity about 25 yards out but Tsikuna’s attempt ended up going just over Sandford’s crossbar. It took the Dons 15 minutes to register their next opportunity when a teasing ball flew into the area, but Matt Dennis’ powerful header went inches wide. The hosts continued to probe when Tshikuna broke free down the left, but Sandford came out and clawed the ball away expertly to snuff out the danger. However, the Dons extended their advantage when Nathan Holland squeezed in a shot under the Rushden keeper at a tight angle to make it 3-0. Holland soon found himself another opportunity but his curling effort just outside the area whistled around the post. The game then concluded a perfect return the Dons when Ethan Robson got on the scoresheet after some superb football down the left and Robson’s first-time effort curled beautifully into far corner to make it 4. Matt Dennis almost scored with the final touch after a slick move beating two defenders, but he ballooned his effort over the top.
It’s a good start for the Dons as a mixture of experienced and youth players fielded the pitch. We saw Darragh Burns shine on his opening game, and Matt Smith, Callum Tripp, Dan Kemp, and Ethan Robson all having a positive impact in the game. But Liam Manning will be looking to build on this result when they’re back in action on Sunday in their next fixture which will be behind closed doors.