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Harsh red card for Byrne costs Town in MK
REFEREE Stuart Attwell played a starring role as 10-man Swindon Town were left to hang on for a point at MK Dons despite looking good for all three at half-time.
Attwell, famous for awarding the “Ghost Goal” at Watford in 2008, handed Town winger Nathan Byrne a 51st-minute red card in the televised clash on Saturday lunchtime, completely shifting the momentum of the game in the process.
The dismissal, awarded for a late tackle on Shaun Williams, was questioned by both Swindon manager Mark Cooper and his Dons counterpart Karl Robinson after the game.
Right or wrong, it totally changed the complexion of the contest. A lively, entertaining match dissolved somewhat into a war of attrition.
Heavy tackles rained in from all angles and Attwell produced enough cards to make you think you’d accidently strolled into the nearest outlet of Birthdays, as Patrick Bamford cancelled out Alex Pritchard’s wonderful first-half free kick.
Going down a man strangled Swindon’s creativity and left Cooper fighting a tactical battle from the sidelines. In the end taking a point back to Wiltshire was a moral victory for the Town boss, but his sharpened words after the final whistle suggested even that was not satisfactory enough.
Cooper named an unchanged side from the 5-0 thrashing of Crewe seven days previously, while new arrival Dany N’Guessan was part of an impressively attack-orientated bench which also featured Ryan Harley, Miles Storey and Nicky Ajose.
Both sides started the game brightly, with each determined to get the ball down and pass their way around the opposition.
In the seventh minute Pritchard had the opportunity to fire the Robins in front after Nile Ranger seized on a moment of haphazard defending by the Dons to thread in his teammate, but Pritchard’s low effort was well saved by David Martin in the home goal.
Moments later, the hosts were on the offensive and a deflected Jason Banton shot from the edge of the box triggered a series of corners which Town were eventually able to clear.
The Dons steadily built a monopoly on possession in the opening quarter-hour, and Stephen Gleeson’s whistling effort from the edge of the penalty area in the 13th minute came within inches of handing the hosts the lead.
However, Swindon aren’t to be easily bossed this season. And this insolent bunch of youngsters were quick to show they want to be the centre of attention.
Byrne went close in the 15th minute when his low shot was pushed round a post by Martin, before the visitors went in front 60 seconds later.
Massimo Luongo was tripped 22 yards from goal and just right of centre and Pritchard stepped up to hit a scintillating, drifting free-kick into the top left-hand corner of Martin’s goal. A strike that oozed Premier League quality from one of Town’s on-loan top flight stars.
With the advantage behind them, Swindon were able to settle into the game. Ryan Mason fired wide and Byrne and Pritchard were granted the freedom of either flank to torment their markers, but it was now the Dons’ turn to show they are no pushovers.
Only an excellent late block from Yaser Kasim denied Bamford after he and Luke Chadwick tore the Robins defence in two, while Grant Hall and Darren Ward had to be strong under the high ball as the home side pumped a succession of corners into the six-yard box.
But it was Swindon who ended the half with the best chance of a second goal. Dean Lewington and Shaun Williams stopped and stared as Pritchard ran through them into the area and, when his cross fell at the feet of Ranger, the former Newcastle frontman dragged Martin into a good save low to his left.
After the break it took less than a minute for the Dons to fashion a golden opportunity to draw level.
Chadwick broke into the penalty area and when his cross looped up to Banton at the back post the on-loan Crystal Palace forward should have done better than allow Mason to nip in and clear.
Town weathered the early storm and appeared to be opening up gaps going forward again before the match took a very abrupt change of direction.
The shift in momentum hinged around Byrne’s 51st minute dismissal. The winger had made a 60-yard dash downfield before losing possession to Shaun Williams. In frustration, and in an attempt to win the ball back, Byrne stamped down on the Dons’ centre-back’s foot. Attwell had his card out quicker than a billionaire heiress at the Harrods sale, and Town were left to play 40 minutes with 10 men.
It only took Milton Keynes four minutes to get back on level terms.
Swindon were static at the back and Bamford stole in between McEveley and Ward to toe poke beyond Foderingham.
From being in a possession of control, now Town were rattled. Only a superb reflex save from Foderingham prevented Green from curling the Dons in front, while Banton also tried his luck without success.
Then substitute George Baldock stole in at the near post to slide past Foderingham, only for his celebrations to be curtailed by an offside flag.
To the naked eye it looked to be the correct decision, TV replays proved Baldock was a yard onside.
Cooper responded by withdrawing Ranger and operating without a centre-forward as Ajose, Pritchard and latterly N’Guessan filled inside right and left roles but by the time the 80-minute marker rolled around Town were stuck defending a deep line in their own half.
The game sadly degenerated in the final quarter, with Swindon concentrating on leaving Buckinghamshire with a point and referee Attwell dishing out bookings at a ridiculous rate.
There were moments of panic towards the death, as first Thompson and Foderingham and then Ward and Foderingham left the ball to one another without being punished, and in the end the Robins would have been relieved when the final whistle was finally blown.
“I thought if we’d had 11 men on the pitch we’d have won the game,” said Cooper after the game. “MK Dons are a very good side but I think we possibly could have killed the game off in the first half and then the referee decides to get involved and evens the game up.
“I’m disappointed for Alex Pritchard and Nile Ranger who have had to come off because we had to do something to stem the tide, I’m disappointed.
“In the first half we had a bit of a plan and we knew that they like to pass it and we tried to catch them on the break, which we did a number of times.
“I think if we’d been a little better with the ball we could have scored one or two more.
“He’s got that, Alex, and hopefully there’ll be more of them to come, but the second half with 10 men we defended fantastically well and we had a really good shape about us.
“We wanted to make sure we were still a threat, which we were on the break. We’ve got a bit of pace on there and kept two up and played three in the middle and tried to force them wide and cross it, which is what happened.
“If you stick with one up you invite a bit of pressure when they’re as good on the ball as they are. You’d get penned in so we thought it was important to have a threat ourselves.”
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