Obvious enough, but all’s well that ends well – and this time we exited with smiles on our faces. The game provided something of a contrast with Saturday, with us not reaching the highs seen early on against Dagenham but maintaining a more consistent standard through the 90 minutes, the defence collectively and individually proving solid, with the return of a prodigal son assisting, and with rising frustration among the crowd as MKDons had more of the play than us in the second half – and as the referee annoyed everyone with some of his decisions – offset by the late winner.
There’s a curse on my pre-match consumption at the moment. Having been restricted on Saturday by a poor decision on my part, this time it was off at 17.30 to say ‘happy birthday mum, see you in a year’ - or sooner if I need to do some laundry (sad but true), then away at 18.30 to hop on a bus to get to the Rose of Denmark. Should have been a doddle, but having missed the 486 and opted for the next 89, the bloody thing decided to break down at the bottom of Shooters Hill. Made it in time to slug down a glass, but no more.
With something of an injury crisis going on, no-one was sure of the team. In the event Fry came in at left-back, with Jackson playing wide left, and Fortune replaced Llera in the centre alongside Doherty. Wagstaff moved over to the right, Semedo and Racon in the centre of midfield, with Martin teaming up with Benson up front. That kept an emphasis on avoiding a descent to a long-ball game, although the question mark was how fit some of those named on the bench – Reid, Abbott, Sodje - would prove to be if needed.
We clearly had the better of the first half, without setting the game alight. Martin probed, Semedo was strong and effective, Racon alert and active. But Wagstaff barely featured and Benson was struggling to hold/distribute the ball which, with the midfield not exactly bursting forward at every opportunity, resulted in chances proving infrequent. After Saturday we all wanted to see the ball passed and not lumped forward, but for that to happen there has to be options available and space created by movement. When that doesn’t happen defenders on the ball can find they have little choice but to play it long. To their credit they were doing everything to avoid that. Perhaps surprisingly the best chances featured Semedo, who ran on to a through ball only to prove unable to get a clean shot off in time (a goal kick was given and no penalty, so it must have been a decent challenge, but with the ref you just couldn’t tell) and also had a decent effort from outside the box saved. Martin also broke through but having been unable to move the ball beyond the defender checked inside, only to be pulled back by the defender; there was just enough time for others to come into the picture to make the card yellow and not red. The shot from the free kick sparked shouts from the crowd at least for a penalty.
So not much drama, but a decent and encouraging first half, especially with the defence restricting them to a tame header over the bar and a wasted free kick, after another of the ref’s strange decisions (compounded by the fact that he allowed them to take the kick at least a few yards further out than whatever offence there was – and it was clearly a case of their forward backing into Doherty – which improved the chances of getting it over and under; no worries, it went well over). From the defence there was the odd misplaced ball forward, the occasional wayward header, and perhaps a few too many free kicks given away, but all – including Francis, who in my opinion had another excellent game – were generally winning their individual battles, helped by good protection from Semedo and Racon.
There was no obvious change early in the second half, but as the game wore on not surprisingly as the home team the emphasis was on us to make something happen. And as the pressure increased we seemed to be trying to force things, with little success, with the result that MKDons started to get on top, in terms of possession at least. There were a couple of hairy moments, one save from Worner but also a badly spilled ball which caused some panic. But with things not working for Benson and Martin changes were expected. The crowd were calling for Reid, but how fit was he? The first move saw a disappointing Wagstaff replaced by Abbott, with Martin moving out wide. Abbott did give us more of a physical presence, but touch and precision were still lacking. The ref was making so many odd decisions (sometimes in our favour as well) that even the right ones started getting booed, a fair sign of growing frustration in the crowd.
Finally the fans had their way and Reid came on for Jackson. It proved to be decisive late in the day as for once MKDons found themselves caught out numbers wise and Reid delivered a telling low cross from the left. Suddenly there were at least three queuing up to get on the end of it, so woe betide anyone who squandered the chance. As it was, Benson got there first and tucked it away. A lot of his play tonight was disappointing, but he made sure he was in the right place to break the deadlock.
After that it was just a case of whether we would repeat Saturday’s error, but the final few minutes were played out without real alarm and a welcome three points were secured. That only left the decision on who should replace Elliot for the tunnel leap and some well-deserved boos for an inadequate referee. I shall miss Saturday’s game at Brentford as there’s a surprise mother’s birthday party to attend (no, I don’t think there’s much danger of this being seen), but if the defence produces as solid a display as tonight and Benson can nick another I’ll be pleased (come on, we can’t fail to provide another win for my mum).
Worner – 6/10. Well protected and had little to do, but loses a mark for the dropped ball. Seems excellent dealing with shots, but command of the area and dealing with high balls musn’t turn into a weakness.
Francis – 8/10. There seem to be mixed opinions on him, but I’m impressed with what I’ve seen. Good game tonight, won the important challenges, crossing decent, and I don’t really care about one or two hurried clearances.
Fry - 8/10. Also deserves praise. Reads the game well, which allows him to make good interceptions.
Doherty – 7/10. Solid and effective, but did induce the ref to award a number of free kicks, whether or not they were bad decisions.
Fortune – 9/10. Let’s give him the man of the match. No mistakes that I saw, sensible assured defending. Seemed to be struggling with a knock in the second half but managed to run it off.
Jackson – 7/10. Did a fair enough job of providing width on the left, clearly not a true winger but he’s not meant to be.
Semedo – 8/10. Thought he was excellent, especially in the first half. Seems to have taken the captain’s responsibilities to heart. Could have scored when seemingly through, but gets marks for getting there.
Racon – 7/10. Surprising that it was Jose and not Therry that was bursting through from midfield, but otherwise good game and kept it going through the 90 minutes.
Wagstaff – 5/10. No getting away from it, he had a poor game. Seems the switch to the right didn’t suit him and struggled to get involved. No surprise he was the first to be taken off, but hopefully just proves to be a bad night for him.