City fall short in land of the giants

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Barry Conlon slots home an injury-time penalty Barry Conlon slots home an injury-time penalty

MK Dons 2 City 1

Bletchley forged its reputation on the international map long before the MK Dons put up their new stadium on the edge of town.

It is famous as the home of the World War II code-breakers who cracked the seemingly unbeatable Enigma machine built by the Germans.

As Stuart McCall left the Dons' impressive home, he must have wondered if any of those eggheads fancied solving his own dilemma.

How do you convert City back into the promotion-chasers we all hoped they would be?

That gritty win over Peterborough suddenly seems ages ago.

Four games - and no points - later and the Bantams are looking up at all bar three sides in the division.

But despite another defeat, McCall sensed he could detect a little light at the end of this long and depressing tunnel. At least the fighting spirit was there.

Let's face it, not many visiting teams will get anything out of stadium:mk. Since a bout of first-day nerves against Bury, the Dons have steamrollered just about everybody who has set foot in their new place.

Somewhere in Bletchley, there must be an evil scientist with a secret production line churning out giant footballers. Just look at the size of the MK Dons team.

Take out the diminutive and argumentative Leon Knight, and a few defenders must be tempted, then the rest of the side all tower above six feet.

And fe fi fo fum, don't these giants like to play a certain way. Everything is hit high and long - even the throw-ins seem to be blasted out of a cannon.

No wonder throw-in taker/firer Jude Stirling is a cult hero with the fans. Every time he winds up to launch another long-range missile into the box, the chant goes up in his honour.

Throw-ins MK Dons-style are the equivalent of conceding a free-kick or corner. Who says the spirit of the old Wimbledon has been completely buried?

"They use their weaponry well," admitted the five-foot something McCall. "The back four are strong and physical, they've got a wideman over six foot, midfielders over six foot and a centre forward over six foot - there are giants everywhere you look."

Into this intimidating arena stepped a City side who had just been thumped at home by Accrington. It was the ultimate sink-or-swim afternoon.

And for the first five minutes, the visitors looked totally out of their depth. Crosses and shots rained in from all angles; David Wetherall foiled one-time team-mate Aaron Wilbraham, Keith Andrews volleyed just wide and then Danny Swailes smacked the post.

It was hardly a gentle introduction for keeper Rhys Evans at the start of his month's loan from Blackpool.

Donovan Ricketts, rested for his own good after his poor run, was on the bench - the first league game he had missed in 80. But his replacement did not have too much to do after those scary opening minutes.

He caught crosses well and was always willing to come off his line; something the Jamaican had been more and more reluctant to do as his form suffered.

MK Dons continued to have most of the ball but their finishing was wayward. The off-target tally stacked up while anything remotely threatening was generally dealt with by the solid back four.

After Peter Thorne failed to recover in time, McCall opted to play Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu up front alone with new boy Nicky Law added to a five-man midfield.

The son of the former boss looks a good player from the early indications. Unfortunately, City did not get him the ball in the sort of attacking positions where he could have threatened the home goal.

And Ndumbu-Nsungu was unable to hang on to possession long enough to give the likes of Law and Eddie Johnson time to join him in support.

MK Dons stopper Willy Gueret might as well have taken the afternoon off to look round the many varied and interesting roundabouts in the city. The Bantams gave him that little to worry about.

In one rare raid, Ndumbu-Nsungu should have got a shot off after an inspiring dash from Omar Daley. Alex Rhodes, too, might have done better from Daley's handiwork when he controlled a clever pass on the edge of the penalty area but again failed to pull the trigger.

Wetherall did have the ball in the net but it was ruled out by referee Fred Graham for a push on Gueret or offside. Or possibly both.

There was more happening at the other end and Wilbraham went close again with a far-post toe poke after Knight had cleverly hoodwinked Mark Bower. But City got to half-time with reputation restored and defence intact.

The Dons, who had scored in every game this season, seemed to be running out of ideas. City, for their part, had one hand on a much-needed away point.

Barry Conlon took over the solo attacking duties and, with 20 minutes to go, Joe Colbeck replaced the shattered Alex Rhodes.

Colbeck had been on for less than two minutes when his slip-up undid all City's previous sterling work.

Like any substitute, it takes a while to get up to game speed. But his idea of trying to take on Dean Lewington inside his own half proved too big a risk.

Instead of scooting past the experienced left back, Lewington easily won the ball and drove a pass towards Aaron Wilbraham in the City box. His touch was perfect to lay it into the path of captain Keith Andrews, who did the rest to claim his seventh goal of the season.

City heads dropped as the prospect of another defeat loomed large.

Any hope of a comeback was snuffed out nine minutes later.

Again it was the hapless Colbeck who gave away a free-kick to create yet more pressure. Drissa Diallo attempted a spectacular overhead kick and the ball dropped kindly for big bruiser Swailes to beat Evans from ten yards.

City, at least, had the consolation of scoring the last goal of the game as Conlon converted the penalty after he had been held down by Drewe Broughton.

It was Conlon's first goal for the club and City's first for nearly three games. But it came too late to affect the outcome of another disappointing day.

So it's off to Morecambe next to see if McCall can find the solution to City's current problems. Let's hope Bradford-by-the-Sea will provide an answer.

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