Joe Day made a magnificent first-half penalty save but it wasn’t enough for Newport County AFC to get anything from a tough trip to a resurgent MK Dons side as the Buckinghamshire outfit kept their automatic play-offs hopes alive with a 2-0 victory.
The home side controlled the majority of proceedings throughout the contest but most certainly in the first-half, somehow County repelled everything that came at them up until half-time including the magnificent spot-kick save from Day on 25 minutes.
But the Exiles goalkeeper could do nothing in the second-half to prevent County from falling to defeat, man of the match Ousseynou Cisse powered a header home on 57 minutes before substitute Chuks Aneke confirmed the points in stoppage time.
The defeat sees County slip ever further back in the hunt for the play-offs, the gap now eight points, although the Exiles do still have that game in hand over most of the teams occupying top-seven positions.
Manager Mike Flynn was forced into two changes ahead of the trip to Stadium MK as Joss Labadie wasn’t risked pending the results of a scan on a potential calf injury and Fraser Franks picked up an illness yesterday so also missed out.
In came Tyreeq Bakinson and Matty Dolan to a formation that was extremely hard to distinguish as it was different when the Exiles were with and without the ball – alongside it changing constantly throughout the game to try and cause confusion amongst the MK Dons team.
For the most part of the game, it was sort of a 4-2-2-2 formation, but it did constantly interchange throughout. One thing was for sure, however, and that was Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond were always up-front.
MK Dons manager Paul Tisdale was also forced into two changes as Baily Cargill and Russell Martin both missed out from the defence that helped compose a 4-1-2-1-2 formation for the home side.
Mathieu Baudry overcame yet another injury problem that has hampered his season so far and restricted him to just four appearances, he was in the wars inside the opening five minutes and had to have stitches and then a bandage around his head. Callum Brittain also returned.
The first-half was a complete role reversal to the tie between the two sides just 11 days ago as County just couldn’t get going throughout the opening 45 minutes and MK Dons this time controlled the play.
In the reverse fixture, the Exiles hit the goal frame on four occasions before MK Dons stole all three points at the death at Rodney Parade and it initially looked like County would have to do a job just like that in Buckinghamshire as the home side started on the front foot.
The loss of Labadie from the starting side was definitely a huge miss, there was a lack of dynamism in the middle and that cut and thrust nature of the midfielder’s play.
Some confusion in the penalty area from Joe Day and Mark O’Brien almost afforded the home side an early opening, but fortunately from a County perspective, Kieran Agard went in overzealously when he didn’t particularly need to, and the referee penalised the MK Dons attacker.
Most of the play from the home side was coming through the central positions on the pitch and leader of the midfield diamond, Jake Hesketh, wasn’t too far away with a curling attempt from inside the area after 15 minutes.
Two minutes later, Agard also flashed a shot wide, but that wasn’t to be the attacker’s best opportunity of the contest as MK Dons were dubiously awarded a penalty with 25 minutes on the clock.
It appeared the effervescent Conor McGrandles went into Dan Butler inside the area as opposed to the other way around, but either way, MK Dons had their ninth spot-kick of the campaign – a League Two high.
Fortunately, the Buckinghamshire outfit have missed two of the nine – the second of which thankfully came this afternoon – as Joe Day superbly went to his left and repelled Agard’s powerful attempt.
Still came the home side although there wasn’t particularly any further clear-cut chances before the half-time whistle, ex-Exile Alex Gilbey curled wide and David Wheeler saw a header saved athletically by Day in first-half stoppage time.
Something had to change after the restart for the Exiles and although Flynn elected not to go straight for the substitutions bench, he probably had some choice words at half-time as County did at-least restart the game with a foothold on the contest.
Jamille Matt wasn’t too far away from connecting to a dinked Robbie Willmott delivery and Bakinson sent a half-volley over the top from outside the penalty area.
But MK Dons always looked a threat when they had the ball in dangerous areas of the field and Scot Bennett had to time an intercepting tackle to perfection inside his own area to thwart the ball reaching an unmarked McGrandles at the far post.
If either side was going to break the deadlock, it looked mostly like the home side had the greatest attacking intent, and they did eventually break the deadlock on 57 minutes.
Day made an unbelievable save to thwart a near-post header from Agard but the Exiles switched off from the resulting corner-kick and allowed McGrandles too much space in the short option – he found Ousseynou Cisse on the edge of the six-yard area who powered a header into the far post to double his tally for the campaign.
That tempted Flynn in going to his substitutes and a double change was made as Adebayo Azeez came in for his Exiles debut and Ben Kennedy also took to the field for Padraig Amond and Bakinson respectively.
They almost had the desired impact too after some clever left-wing play – Kennedy saw a menacing header at the back-post saved by Stuart Moore before Bennett shot wide with the rebound when he should have hit the target.
As the game progressed, the more the Exiles started to take risks and try to force the issue – that left them open to counter-attacks and County had Day to thank for remaining in the contest when he palmed away a Chuks Aneke header before Hesketh curled wide from distance.
There was always going to be one more chance for the Exiles – it was just about whether they could take it – and let’s just say Matt could do absolutely nothing more than prouduce a world-class looping header two minutes from time that produced an ever better save from Moore.
To make matters worse, there was always the dreaded counter attack and MK Dons put the game beyond any plausible doubt in the first of the six additional minutes added on.
Aneke – the villain at Rodney Parade 11 days ago with the late winner for MK Dons – again got one in the dying embers, dancing his way through Demetriou and picking his spot in the centre of the goal.
Willmott sent a free-kick agonisingly wide with the last kick of the afternoon, but it just wasn’t County’s day in Buckinghamshire as MK Dons made their ascendency count to take all three points.
Newport County AFC (4-2-2-2): Day, Butler, Demetriou, O’Brien (C), Poole, Bennett, Dolan (McKirdy 76’), Bakinson (Kennedy 63’), Willmott, Amond (Azeez 63’), Matt
Subs not used: Townsend, Pipe, Marsh-Brown, Sheehan
MK Dons (4-1-2-1-2): Moore, Lewington (C), Walsh, Baudry (Houghton 50’), Brittain, Cisse, Gilbey, McGrandles, Hesketh (Harley 86’), Wheeler (Aneke 58’), Agard
Subs not used: Nicholls, Watson, Simpson, Walker
Referee: Sebastien Stockbridge
Attendance: 6,984 (340 AWAY)
Next up for County: Carlisle United (2nd March 2019)