Notts County fell to a disappointing 3-1 defeat at home to MK Dons on Tuesday evening, with a Dele Alli hat-trick proving the undoing of a home side that found themselves frustrated for long periods, having been chasing the game after just three minutes.
Having seen his side perform so well in the 0-0 draw with Leyton Orient three days earlier, Notts County boss Shaun Derry kept faith with the same starting line-up and substitutes bench for the visit of MK Dons.
That meant that Bartosz Bialkowski once again lined up behind the back four of Mustapha Dumbuya, Manny Smith, Dean Leacock and captain Alan Sheehan, with Gary Liddle and Hayden Mullins in midfield, Jack Grealish and Jamal Campbell-Ryce on the wings and Callum McGregor providing the support for Nathan Tyson up front.
The game got off to a frantic start, with McGregor bringing a fine save from goalkeeper David Martin after just 18 seconds with a well struck effort from the edge of the area and Notts had another chance straight after, when Mullins was allowed a free shot from close range from the resulting corner, but his effort ricocheted back off the crossbar.
However, it was the visitors who made the early breakthrough, when a quick break upfield by Dele Alli and Izale McLeod caught the Notts defence on the backfoot and an attempted clearance saw the ball fall kindly for Alli to slot past Bialkoswki in the bottom corner to make it 1-0 to MK Dons in just the third minute.
The tempo rarely dipped in the opening 10 minutes and Notts had a chance to level things up in the seventh minute, when Tyson latched on to a good ball through by Mullins but his powerful shot from distance flew wide of the post.
MK Dons were quick to remind Notts how dangerous they could be in the final third though, with McLeod allowed space to hit a fine effort that Bialkowski had to react well to save in the 11th minute.
That would set the tone for the first half really, with Notts grafting away to create chances but MK Dons always ready to strike on the counter-attack and looking more threatening when they did.
It took a fine last-ditch tackle by Dumbuya to deny the visitors when they were through three-on-one quarter of an hour in and Daniel Powell had a great chance to double the lead midway through the first half, having been played in well by Alli, but Bialkowski got down well to save his close-range effort.
Notts had shown glimpses before that, with McGregor set through for a dangerous attacking move and then Tyson showing his electric pace to run on to a fine through ball from Dumbuya, but neither move proved the catalyst for anything that would really threaten Martin in the MK Dons goal.
And with MK Dons continuing to look the more threatening, it didn’t help that Notts twice almost proved to be the architects of their own downfall, with first Smith seeing a low clearance canon off Gleeson, who was able to control before slotting the ball through for McLeod, but thankfully for Notts the referee’s assistant had his flag straight up for offside.
It would take another last ditch saving tackle, this time from Mullins, to bring another MK Dons attack to a halt in the 32 minute, before the second near-calamitous moment, as a woefully under-hit backpass from Leacock, under pressure from McLeod, allowed the striker through one-on-one, but again Bialkowski was on hand to save Notts’ blushes.
This would be the last action that Leacock would see, as he was replaced almost immediately after this by Haydn Hollis, so an injury may well have contributed to the poor backpass.
As the first half was drawing to a close, frustration crept in amongst the home fans, who had been in fine voice once again throughout the opening period, as Grealish attempted a short pass to Liddle on the edge of the area rather than take on the shot and MK Dons capitalised on the loose pass to clear. That would be the last real moment of note before the players headed for the dressing rooms.
HT: Notts County 0 MK Dons 1
Whilst the second half didn’t get off to quite as frantic a start as the opening period had, it had a similar feel as Tyson first brought a fine save from Martin in the MK Dons goal four minutes after the restart, but then the visitors got the all-important breakthrough in the 55th minute.
A direct move through the middle saw Hollis stranded as the last defender with Powell in possession and Alli for support. The duo beat their man and were then able to combine to give Bialkowski no chance as Powell rolled the ball across the keeper for Alli to tap into an empty net.
Derry’s response to the second goal was to send Ronan Murray on in place of Callum McGregor, but before the young striker had a chance to make any real impact there was a flashpoint of the unwelcome variety, as George Baldock appeared to shove Jack Grealish on the touchline, claiming to have been stamped on by the Notts winger.
The referee’s decision was to book both players, much to the consternation of the home crowd, who felt the MK Dons player should have been given his marching orders for raising his hands to an opponent.
Shortly after the hour mark, Tyson looked to have carved out a chance to get Notts back into the game, but was adjudged to have pulled his marker in winning the ball and although he would fire home, the whistle had already gone for the foul.
As had become the norm for the match by now, MK Dons were soon up the other end threatening, with Alli looking for a hat-trick but only able to pull his shot wide of the post as he advanced forwards to the edge of the area.
Having only returned from a long-term injury layoff at the weekend, it was perhaps no surprise that Gary Liddle was replaced by Mark Fotheringham on 66 mins, although not before he had latched on to a fine knock down by Mullins to unleash a shot that was always going over.
Notts were far from giving up in the game and were presented with the opportunity to get right back into it on 68 minutes, when Jordan Spence handled a cross by Tyson and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
Alan Sheehan took responsibility for the spot kick and calmly slotted it into the bottom right hand corner and bring Notts back to 2-1, with renewed belief that they could get something out of the game.
MK Dons started to look a little ragged as Notts pressed forward in search of the equaliser, buoyed by their goal, with Gleeson booked for a cynical foul on Grealish and it was perhaps to break things up a little that the visiting manager Karl Robinson made his first substitution on 75 minutes, bringing on Dean Bowditch to replace Sanmi Odelusi.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, Notts continued to press, and a failed clearance by MK Dons allowed Tyson in down the left flank, but he seemed to be caught in two minds as to whether he wanted to cross or shoot and ended up doing neither as the ball ballooned behind for a goalkick.
Another good break, this time down the right, by Notts saw Campbell-Ryce send in a cross that Martin was on hand to snuff out at his near post just two minutes from time and the indication of four minutes added time only seemed to spur the home side on.
A late corner saw Bialkowski sent forward to join the attack. However, whilst the Notts keeper was able to contribute a deft chip forward in retreating from the cleared corner, it would be he who found himself picking the ball out of his net a short time later.
Another quick break, whilst Bialkowski was still back peddling, saw Powell feed the ball to Alli and his shot across goal took a touch off Hollis before sealing Notts’ fate and earning the MK Dons striker the matchball.
Notts will feel aggrieved to have gone behind so early in the game, after such a lively start, but must now regroup for what is another crucial Sky Bet League 1 game against Tranmere Rovers at the weekend.