The mantra that Academy football is all about player development and not results could have been coined with M.K. Dons in mind. The Dons have been the league’s whipping boys in every season since City joined the Academy system in 2004/05 (I think they’ve finished bottom every year), but they have managed to produce a steady stream of first team players during that time – the side that’s playing Oldham today contains three Academy products and Sam Baldock who signed for West Ham earlier this season for a couple of million quid is another who came up through the ranks at the club. Therefore, a 1-1 draw between City and M.K. Dons at Leckwith today need not be seen as a poor result in itself, but I’m afraid that when you consider that our kids let a game that was their’s for the taking slip away before ending up hanging on for the point, then it has to be seen as a disappointment.
There was no great quality on show throughout, but, then again, it’s easy to be critical when you’re sat in a stand protected from the wind and rain. The rain fell steadily for all but the last quarter of an hour of the match and the strong wind that blew down the pitch didn’t ease for the whole ninety minutes, so there were excuses aplenty for the players (a muddy pitch didn’t help either) and, all things considered the game offered decent entertainment between two wholehearted sides.
Although City, with the elements behind them, started things on the front foot, it was the visitors who threatened first as Liam Matthews got down well to block a shot from the edge of the penalty area. The keeper also did very well to turn one of a string of free kicks given against City aside as a couple of Dons players looked for any mishandling, but that was it really as far as the visitors were concerned in the first half. At the other end, City scored with the first serious attack when the Dons defence parted like the Red Sea and Jesse Darko ran through the middle to net with a side footed shot – after that, a shot by Adam Davies hit the upright before rebounding to Yannis Drais who couldn’t keep his effort down from around the penalty spot. There was also almost a reward from Darko’s tireless closing down of the keeper when his industry created a another chance for Drais who this time was foiled by a near post save – add in a couple of promising situations which were wasted by over eager players straying marginally offside and it’s fair to say that City could well have been further ahead.
With the wind and rain behind them, the Dons must have been hopeful of having more of the game in the second half, but they could have gone 2-0 down within seconds as Darko’s shot flew inches wide. This set the scene for a period where City looked well in charge – a clearance by the keeper was charged down by Diallo and hit the side netting, but several potential chances also went a begging because the final pass went astray. Although the visitors were offering very little threat, City were never safe at only 1-0, but, despite this, it still came as a real shock when the Dons pulled level midway through the half. City fell asleep defending a corner which was taken short to an unmarked player in the penalty area and he was able to get the ball across low into the middle where it eventually rolled gently into the net after a tremendous scramble.
It was hard to tell if the final touch had come from a Dons player or whether it had been an own goal, but, either way, the visitors took great heart from the goal and could have been ahead within two minute when their number ten flicked just wide at the near post after one of the best moves of the game. City responded with a shot just wide from one of their subs and Darko should have scored when he got around the keeper only to blast over, but the Dons were definitely finishing the stronger and their number seven came very close with a shot that went just over with Matthews helpless. City’s keeper had done well, but an awful mistake when he rolled a pass straight to an opponent unmarked in front of goal went unpunished as the shot was put wide.
There was one last chance for City when the keeper blocked Darko’s shot, but in my opinion it was only fair that the Dons left with a point after a strong comeback in the second half – albeit aided and abetted by City’s carelessness. Best player for me was Theo Wharton who allied tremendous stamina with some good technique in the difficult conditions, but skipper Adam Davies, Deji Oshilala and goalscorer Darko all put in a good shift.