The Dons, so often the benefactors of late goals this season, were on the reverse of an 89th minute sucker punch which tied up the scores at 2-2 in this FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round tie with Bedford Town.
An 11th minute howler from keeper James Pullen gifted Bedford the lead. Jon Main levelled on 43 minutes from the penalty spot. Kennedy Adjie gave the Dons the upper hand ten minutes from the end with the Eagles tiring, but debutant Graham Clarke evened up the scores as the match ticked towards stoppage time.
Terry Brown was forced to make several changes to his squad. Elliott Godfrey, Alan Inns and Jason Goodliffe were unavailable bringing Ben Judge and Jake Leberl into central defence, while Sam Hatton was reinstated in midfield. Michael Haswell and keeper Pullen were preferred to Chris Hussey and Andy Little. There were places on the bench for Belal Aiteouakrim and Chris Sullivan.
The hosts, minus manager Lee Howarth due to work commitments, named two new signings. Clarke started at right back and James Gould was given a place amongst the substitutes. As it turned out, both players would have a significant impact on the result of this contest.
Bedford made the best possible start getting straight into the Dons and earning a free kick on the left flank which centre half Stuart Wall headed wide.
Tony Finn had the Dons first effort on eight minutes, creating a yard of space near the edge of the box but firing his shot at the keeper.
The Eagles took the lead three minutes later. Pullen spilled a hopeful ball over the defence into the path of striker Steve Gentle, who rounded the hapless stopper, rode Ben Judge’s challenge and slotted into an empty net.
The Dons tried to rally immediately. Finn picked out Danny Kedwell in the box and the former Grays marksman forced a good save from Mike Armitt low to his right.
The host were content to absorb pressure and counter at speed, playing some neat triangles around their opponents. Alaa Oujdi looked particularly effective on the left flank, at times making the Dons’ backline scramble to deal with some dangerous deliveries into the box.
The visitors almost equalised on 39 minutes. Main found Kedwell on the edge of the area and, with his back to goal, the new singing spun his marker and clipped a shot off the outside of the left hand post.
Four minutes later, Main latched onto a long ball into the left hand channel but was hauled back by defender Clarke as he entered the penalty box. The Dons striker made no mistake from the subsequent spot kick, converting his 9th goal in 11 appearances.
The complexion of the match altered considerably in the second period with Bedford looking leggy and struggling to cope with sustained Dons attacks. All the hard work the hosts had put in denying Kennedy Adjie space to play slipped away and the young midfielder started to take control of proceedings.
The first opportunity of the half fell to Main, who ghosted behind the defence, rounded the keeper but discovered a wall of Bedford players on the goal line.
Tom Davis’s experience engineered a free kick on the edge of the box on the hour and Hatton stepped up, thumping his drive against the underside of the cross bar. With pressure mounting a Haswell corner broke to Adjie twelve yards out but he scooped his half volley over the bar.
Bedford suddenly seemed content to stick with what they had, bringing on a full back for a winger. Captain Eddie Lawley slotted into the three man central defensive unit and Scott Priestnall was entrusted with left back duties.
Terry Brown, meanwhile, decided to freshen up his attacking options with twenty minutes to go replacing Main with Aiteouakrim, a player finally making his full competitive debut for the Dons after nearly three months sidelined through injury.
The former Hendon man was involved immediately; setting up Kedwell whose shot was acrobatically blocked by two Bedford defenders. Moments later, the new man swung in from the right flank and fired a low drive wide of the mark.
Bedford wide man James Gould would enter the fray with little over ten minutes to go, offering a straight swap for the tricky Ouijdi.
Kedwell muscled his way to the Bedford by-line and delivered a fierce cross into the six yard box that Adjie couldn’t finish off the first attempt. Although it seemed that several Dons could go on to apply a finishing touch, the ball once again ended up in Armitt’s grasp.
Adjie finally put the Dons ahead slamming the ball into the bottom left hand corner after good work from Aiteouakrim on the edge of the box.
Almost immediately, though, the visitors conspired to drop deeper allowing the Eagles a golden opportunity to get a foothold back in the contest. Gentle got on the end of Gould’s corner from the right but couldn’t direct his header on target. It would be the big striker’s last contribution as Bedford gambled on a last throw of the dice introducing pacy front man Akin Aladetoun.
The new man made little difference in the scheme of things but, as is so often the way in these cup ties, the Eagles created one good chance to score and they made it count. Gould got behind Garrard and Judge down the left delivering a telling cross into the box that full back Clarke powered past Pullen with a fine diving header.
The visitors tried to raise their game one last time but to no avail. Haswell found Kedwell with a decent cross from the left but the hard working forward nodded it wide.
So, it’s back to the Cherry Red Records Fans’ Stadium for a Tuesday night rematch. The Dons may feel disappointed with the result, while Bedford will be rightly proud and delighted that they’re still in the draw.
Whether a tough shift in the September sunshine eventually has an adverse effect on the Southern League side’s fitness levels remains to be seen. For the Dons, well they have three days to reflect on more sloppy individual errors that once again cost them victory; a weakness that needs to be eliminated in time for the forthcoming replay.