May 3 2009
Luke Howell's superb late goal saw the Dons take a just about deserved 1-0 win in their final game of the regular league season against Hereford United. The result means a semi-final date with Scunthorpe United in the playoffs.
With Hereford's bottom of the league finish confirmed and Dons needing only a point they always looked likely to get to secure third place, neither side really got out of second gear, though the away side will probably feel they did enough in the second half to earn three points with a hardworking, if not spectacular display, at least until a cracking winner from Howell, who bagged his first ever senior goal to hand the Dons the victory.
It was a day more for the fans to enjoy as another thoroughly enjoyable season came to a brief end before we get started again in the playoffs in an attempt to win promotion to the Championship. 1,078 Dons travelled, amongst them several Pete Winkelmans, just as many Dean Lewingtons and a Spongebob Squarepants, amongst others.
Roberto Di Matteo made four changes to the Dons lineup, reinstating Shaun Cummings, Luke Howell, Luke Chadwick and Tore Andre Flo to the starting eleven. Carl Regan and Aaron Wilbraham were rested, both making the bench, which also featured Alan Navarro, the returning Jemal Johnson and sub goalkeeper Nathan Abbey. Jason Puncheon was left out with a suspected minor knock, although the extent of that, if there is a problem, has been kept under wraps as the playoff semi-final approaches. Ali Gerba and Sean O'Hanlon remained sidelined as did long-term absentee Danny Swailes.
There was no lack of effort from either side, Peter Leven and Howell chased everything in midfield and the defence looked fairly solid, with Miguel Llera once again a rock, and Cummings turning in one of his best performances of the season. After Jennison Myrie-Williams' well struck volley had been saved by Willy Gueret it was Cummings who had the Dons' first opportunity, Howell and Wright combining well to set up the full-back, who did well to skip round one before shooting wide on his left foot from the edge of the box.
Otherwise it wasn't a particularly lively first half, with Dons having one sustained attack in which they couldn't find a way past a wall of Hereford defenders, Cummings eventually crossing well to Baldock, but the striker's header was comfortable for Peter Gulacsi to take.
The second half was to be more entertaining, with the Dons having the better of the play but Hereford arguably the better chances. Lewington played Leven in early on only for the midfielder to be beaten to the ball by Gulacsi and shortly afterwards Baldock was denied after hitting a powerful effort from distance.
Hereford had their first real chance on 54 minutes, again through the pacy Myrie-Williams, although it can probably be attributed more to a rash decision from Gueret. The Frenchman came racing well out of his goal, fairly unnecessarily, only to be rounded by the winger, with Cummings doing well to get back to the goal line to clear.
Four minutes later some more sloppy defending, on a day when the Dons had generally been quite solid, should have seen the Bulls take the lead. Jude Stirling didn't deal with a ball down the left and Marc Pugh got the better of him, Gueret again coming for the ball and not getting to it, only for Steve Guinan to spoon the ball over the crossbar from around the penalty spot after Pugh had crossed.
Substitute Johnson was making an impact at the other end and forced a save from Gulacsi from the corner of the six-yard box after being played in by Chadwick, the on-loan Liverpool 'keeper doing well to beat the ball away.
Flo was dropping deeper and beginning to make more of an impact and after chesting down a clearance the ball didn't quite fall low enough for him to volley before it was cleared. On 80 minutes Johnson, causing problems on both flanks having switched from right to left, crossed to the back post from a free-kick with Llera agonisingly close to converting, the ball dropping just behind the Spanish defender.
Dons finally got the breakthrough on 85 minutes, as Howell's tireless running was finally rewarded. A long ball upfield was flicked on by Flo and the midfielder lashed home on the volley from just inside the box, leaving Gulacsi with no chance before wheeling away and being mobbed by his teammates, clearly as delighted as he was having scored his first goal in professional football. Few deserved the moment more.
News filtered through as the game came to a close that a late equaliser from Cliff Byrne had broken Tranmere Rovers' hearts and sent the Dons into a playoff semi-final with Scunthorpe United. The Iron's dangerous front pairing of Paul Hayes and Gary Hooper probably made Tranmere the preferable opposition but the Dons have finished the League One season in third place on merit, and go to Glanford Park next Friday with every chance of securing a result that will enable them to book a second trip to Wembley in two seasons at stadium:mk in the second leg. Our last game in Milton Keynes as a League One side? You never know.
Hereford: Gulacsi; Gwynne, Rose, Gowling, Taylor; Myrie-Williams, Diagouraga, Smith (Jones 87), Done (Brandy 82); Guinan, Pugh.
Unused subs: Macleod, Veiga, Beckwith.
Dons: Gueret 5; Cummings 8, Stirling 6, Llera 8, Lewington 7; Wright 6 (Johnson 52, 7), Howell 7, Leven 7 (Navarro 70, 6), Chadwick 6 (Regan 77); Flo 6, Baldock 6.
Unused subs: Abbey, Wilbraham.
Goals: Howell 85.
Attendance: 3,224 (1,078 Dons).