FA Cup first round
M.K Dons F.C
Harry Darling 34, Max Watters 77
Brad Barry 70, Elliott List 73
Stevenage instil some much-needed confidence with good draw at MK Dons in FA Cup
- Credit: DANNY LOO PHOTOGRAPHY
Stevenage went a long way to banishing the memories of the horror show at Newport County last week by fighting their way to a draw and a replay in the FA Cup first round at MK Dons.
The 2-2 draw had been severely lacking in quality for the most part but came alive with 20 minutes to go.
Harry Darling scored for the Dons in front of a paltry crowd at Stadium MK to give them a first-half lead and it looked for a long time as if that would be that.
But with 67 minutes gone, Boro manager Alex Revell made a double substitution and it changed the entire outlook of the game.
Within three minutes Brad Barry had his first goal for the club, turning in Elliott List's right-wing cross at the back post, and then three minutes on again it was Terence Vancooten's run and pass that allowed List to steer an effort to the left of Andrew Fisher in the home goal and send Boro into an unexpected lead.
Their advantage lasted four minutes, Max Watters thumping an effort high into the roof of the net from a narrow angle for 2-2.
It was some finish to the game but after last week's 5-0 loss at Newport, it was a performance that will instil some much-needed confidence among the Boro players, management and fans.
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Something had to change after the Newport debacle and it was the formation and four players who bore the brunt of it.
Out went Adam Smith, Luke Prosser, Luke Norris and Chris Lines with Joseph Anang, Elliot Osborne, Vancooten and Arthur Read coming in to a five-man midfield, Jake Reeves just behind the lone striker List.
Milton Keynes also made four changes from the impressive win over Crewe Alexandra, Watters one of those recalled to the starting line-up.
The formation change and the two banks of four it brought made Stevenage far more solid than they have been in recent weeks.
It also hugely frustrated the home side although it could have been a far different game had a lob from Max Watters over Anang not been batted off the line by the retreating goalkeeper after 53 seconds.
It could have also been a different game had Stevenage, in a rare moment of quality, not executed a quick three-on-two break better.
Osborne's cross from the right missed List in the middle and the defenders, running through to Brad Barry at the back post. He saw it coming and had time to hit it with his side-foot on the volley.
It went back across goal and wide of Andrew Fisher's left-hand post.
In the end the one moment that mattered in the first half was Darling's goal.
The centre-half had looked the best player on the park in the first half, composed on the ball and strong in the tackle.
He had come up for a corner on the right and stayed there when it was played short.
When it finally came in he reacted quickest, getting in behind the defence and glancing it across Anang and in.
The rest of the half was filled with scrappy play, poor decision-making and lazy passing.
The second half began in the knowledge that Stevenage had to come out and attack at some point, but the question was when would they risk leaving gaps at the back.
That almost became a moot point in under three minutes of the restart.
Twice the ball fell to Scott Twine inside the Boro area and unmarked and twice the imposing figure of Scott Cuthbert flung himself between ball and goal and made the block.
In fact Stevenage continued to defend positively, with the only shame that the continuing rising frustrations of the Dons were tempered slightly by the fact they led 1-0.
The only time Anang was truly worried was a miscued cross from the right by Aden Baldwin floated over his head and bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Twine hit another effort over the top while Matt O'Riley's low shot from 20 yards dribbled safely into the keeper's gloves.
But then came that double substitution and the three quick goals.
There were still chances, mostly for Stevenage who peppered the box with crosses, and one effort from Jake Taylor was pushed away while another from Barry was a fraction off target.
As it is, it is back to the Lamex for a replay.
Stevenage: Anang James-Wildin, Coker (Melbourne 67), Reeves, Cuthbert, List, Taylor, Osborne (Reid 67), Vancooten, Read (Lines 90+1), Barry.
Subs (not used): A.Smith, Prosser, Norris, Andrade, J.Smith, Marshall.
Goals: Barry 70, List 73
Booked: Taylor 40
Milton Keynes: Fisher, Lewington, O'Hora, Darling, O'Riley, Twine (Brown 87), Baldwin, McEachran, Parrott, Ilunga, Watters.
Subs (not used): Ravizzoli, Sandford, Robson, Johnson, Gyamfi, Tripp.
Goals: Darling 34, Watters 77
Booked: Baldwin 36
HT: Milton Keynes Dons 1 Stevenage 0
Referee: Simon Mather (Manchester)
Attendance: 2,860 (322 from Stevenage)