We’d near enough sold out our 3,000+ allocation and the expectations were high as we entered the plastic land of the Dons. From the minute you arrive at Stadium:mk, you’re thrown into a world where football seems to come second to the corporate suites. I was prepared to see what I thought of the surroundings at the ground despite the Dons having an acrimonious introduction to football. But what I found was a stadium that drains any sort of soul out of the beautiful game. The stadium itself is top draw and there’s no complaints there. But the place just has an aura of having been built up from money rather than from a proud history of football in the area. I never thought that I would say this but at least Rushden and Diamonds have some sort of heritage and background. I really wanted to beat this lot today.
That made it even more frustrating when the game got under way and we just hadn’t turned up. The optimistic songs in the cramped bar before the game sung of Stuart Gray’s men winning promotion but the perfect start to the season was well and truly blown.
The Cobblers started well enough and Ryan Gilligan hit an ambitious shot from distance and the ball looped just over Willy Gueret’s cross bar. Gilligan was starting to shine in midfield at the end of last season and seemed the only one in there up for the game in the early goings. Time and again he would make darting runs while Bayo and Constantine stood and waited. Bayo’s flick ons were met by nothing except a desperate Gilligan run.
The home side started to get a grip on proceedings and seemed a lot cooler on the ball than we were. Mark Bunn was called into action mid-way through the half when a cross from the left was headed down by Aaron Wilbraham and Bunn had to produce a fine stop to push the ball away for a corner.
The Cobblers’ midfield couldn’t get a hold of the game and we were losing a battle in the middle of the pitch. Akinfenwa did well from a long Bunn ball and shrugged off his defender in a rare attack. But Bayo could only scuff a golden chance just wide. Late in the half he tested Gueret from distance before the final action of the half saw Constantine shot tamely from a free kick.
Despite having the clearer chances, there was something needing to be changed if we were to hammer home any sort of advantage but it took until the Dons had scored for anything to happen.
On the right hand side, their winger had slowly been getting into the game and beating Chris Doig every time for pace, getting a good delivery in and it was inevitable that he would be the one to unlock the Cobblers defence for the goal that turned out to be the winner.
There was utter confusion in the Cobblers ranks from a cross and two or three efforts flew in before Bunn seemed to claw away a shot from Wilbraham in magnificent style. But the linesman saw it cross the line and the Dons were in front in controversial circumstances.
Crowe curled a shot wide left footed in his best effort of a poor game for the right wing-back while Dons threatened to add a second as substitute Kevin Gallen found space and forced Bunn into a save at his near post.
There wasn’t any time when we threw everything at the home side in a bid to get level but Colin Larkin was brought on up front. Larkin was put through on goal late on and passed for Akinfenwa. The big man seemed to have another free run on goal but delayed his shot for too long and Gueret got down to smother the ball.
Four minutes of injury time were played, minutes clocked up by the referee’s time wasting more than anything else, but there was no break-through and the Cobblers’ first trip to Stadium:mk was a huge disappointment.
Dons were nothing special and will struggle against the better sides in the league, a group that before today we looked like being a part of. But the Cobblers simply didn’t turn up and there could well be major changes in the starting line-up come next week’s home game with Millwall.