Coming into this game, United fans had every right to feel somewhat apprehensive. After a dismal showing in Sheffield the Saturday before, the U’s would be looking to bounce back against an MK Dons side who are riding the wave of being eleven games unbeaten in a hotly-contested battle for an automatic promotion place.
Making three much-needed changes to the XI that capitulated at Hillsborough, Mark Bonner looked at Jubril Okedina, Liam O’Neil and Harvey Knibbs to make an impact against a dominant Dons side who themselves made one change to the team that drew at home to promotion rivals Wigan Athletic.
The match kicked off as expected with the Dons having the bulk of possession and the most shots at the U’s goal as they attacked towards their boisterous away following in the first half. Although they had slim chances in the opening minutes, it was Cambridge who had the chance of a lifetime to go 1-0 up.
A sublime through-ball by Lloyd Jones sent Sam Smith through on goal, the striker then squared it to an unmarked Harvey Knibbs who somehow saw his shot saved by the latest CB5 villain Jamie Cumming between the Dons sticks. Big Joe Ironside’s rebounded effort was then cleared off the line (or behind the line maybe!) by Warren O’Hora. Who knows if the ball really did cross the line but it was Knibbs who really should have put us ahead early on.
Up until the fourth official signalled the added time, not much really happened apart from the referee and assistants to miss several key incidents around the pitch as well as giving some fairly soft yellow cards to both teams. David Kasumu and Paul Digby both saw yellows shown their way for innocuous challenges meanwhile the returning local lad Harry Darling’s wrestling with Big Joe went largely unpunished until Ironside decided to return the favour.
A key incident was also missed right under the Main Stand linesman’s nose when Irish international Troy Parrott kicked out at former Don George Williams. A certain yellow card, if not a red in similar cases, but as always having a poor Main Stand linesman has been a regular occurrence this season.
Right before the break, the U’s missed another golden opportunity to take the lead. Some clever play between the left side of the team saw Harrison Dunk through on goal who squared it once again to an unmarked Harvey Knibbs who decided to not hit the target from six yards out. A frustrating end to a promising half to the U’s.
In all honesty, nothing really happened in the second half of the match. The U’s defence was still standing strong against an MK forward line that tore them apart in November, a great response to the defensive display from a week ago. Scott Twine went closest right after the break with his effort well wide of Dimi Mitov’s barely tested goal.
The first and only goal of the game was scored in the 60th minute. MK Head Coach Liam Manning said that this was the first long throw that the Dons had utilised all season and it certainly paid off as Daniel Harvie’s throw landed at the feet of Warren O’Hora who calmly rolled the ball into the bottom corner. Knibbs, take that note.
A trio of U’s subs followed with Wesley Hoolahan entering the fold after a serious-looking injury to the energetic Liam O’Neil though he barely touched the ball in his brief stint on the pitch. Jack Lankester and Adam May’s cameo appearances also didn’t live up to the expectation that they’d help grab an equaliser, in contrast to the Dons substitutions of former Premier League striker Connor Wickham and lockdown legend Hiram Boateng both coming on to help control possession in what was a tight end to the contest.
With six minutes added on at the end of the game, MK showed the 6325 fans in attendance how to close out a match to perfection. A frustrating way to end what was a feisty encounter but a masterclass in how to control possession and grind out a crucial win.
United can come away happy that they have set right the wrongs of last Saturday, and that safety from the drop is all-but-confirmed, but a win in the next few games would be a huge boost whether that be at Plough Lane or Portman Road. The Dons on the other hand enter a crucial run of fixtures now in their quest for promotion with tough encounters against Oxford and Sheffield Wednesday on the horizon.
Man of the Match: Although both Harrison Dunk and Liam O’Neil impressed, Lloyd Jones and Jubril Okedina’s performances at the back were a real highlight of the day. Their confidence on the ball and passing range helped link play at either end of the pitch, as well as that they kept the MK forward line quiet nearly all game.
Soundtrack of the Match: Johnny Marr – New Town Velocity