Carling Cup curse strikes Town again

THE Carling Cup curse came back to haunt the Blues yet again as lowly MK Dons handed Town another early exit from the competition.Town survived after a dreadful opening 25 minutes when they went two goals down to the League One side and thought they had done enough to come back and win but they were eventually fated to go out on penalties.

By Derek Davis

THE Carling Cup curse came back to haunt the Blues yet again as lowly MK Dons handed Town another early exit from the competition.

Town survived after a dreadful opening 25 minutes when they went two goals down to the League One side and thought they had done enough to come back and win but they were eventually fated to go out on penalties.

Owen Garvan finally put the Blues ahead in the 98th minute with a downward header from a Danny Haynes' cross after he had been found by David Wright.

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But Kevin Gallen equalised right at the death from the penalty spot in extra time when Leon Knight was felled in the area.

The game needed the added 30 minutes after Kieran Murphy turned into his own net to hand Town an equaliser.

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Alan Lee had smashed in a penalty on the stroke of half-time after Leon Knight had given Dons the lead and Alex Bruce had scored an own goal to give the League One side a two-goal head start.

Town have gone out to Peterborough, Doncaster Rovers, Yeovil and Notts County in recent years and were desperate to avoid a repeat but they let themselves down once again.

While Town crashed out in front of almost 2,000 travelling fans, the result was deserved for an impressive MK Dons side in what was a cracking match.

The whole club, from the hugely impressive stadium:mk, the multi-millionaire chairman Pete Winkleman and the squad that Paul Ince is trying to assemble, is geared to bigger and better things.

The new ground, hosting its first-ever cup match, already has room for 20,000 and when the top tier is opened that will make it 31,000. And for pop concerts - which are Winkleman's forte - 32,000 will be able to watch.

With a population of 480,000 and expanding daily Milton Keynes is ideal for this club and now that it has cut its association with the old Wimbledon it can soon establish its own identity and history.

All this mattered not a jot to Jim Magilton and Town, whose mission was two-fold.

To get a good run going in a competition where going out in the early rounds to lesser opposition was becoming a ritual as regular as Christmas, and to keep the momentum from the win, and performance against Sheffield Wednesday, going.

Magilton fielded exactly the same side that won so handsomely on Saturday whereas Paul Ince made a clutch of changes from the team that lost at home to Bury.

Maybe it was because he wanted something better, but word before the game was that he wanted no distractions from their promotion challenge and was willing to sacrifice the Carling Cup.

If the latter was the case then someone hadn't told the League One players because they tore into Town and against a side that were organised and enthusiastic the Blues wobbled badly for a while.

It took MK just 16 minutes to get the goal their play deserved when Mark Wright slipped a ball into the path of debut-making Alan Navarro on the right and he pulled the ball back for Leon Knight to knock in from eight yards.

Moments earlier Knight had rapped a header against the crossbar from a Mark Wright cross and Neil Alexander made an acrobatic save to deny Jon-Paul McGovern's follow-up.

McGovern played a big part in the Dons' second goal five minutes later when Alex Bruce tried to head his corner clear but succeeded only in heading into his own net.

The Dons had a penalty shout - well mainly from their supporters in the Cowshed at the opposite end of the ground - when Knight went down under a De Vos challenge.

Nathan Abbey, once a short-term signing by Joe Royle as goalkeeping cover, had little to do in the first half, until deep into time added.

Twice Abbey saved with an outstretched foot from Lee, once from a shot and then a header but it was to be in vain as he was then beaten from the penalty spot.

The danger seemed to have passed with Roberts going away from goal when he appeared to be tripped by Navarro and Lee sent Abbey the wrong way with his second penalty conversion in as many games.

It was hard on the home side but reward for Town who edged their way back in terms of possession and Walters dragged a shot wide after a one-two with Counago, while the Spaniard was denied by Dons skipper Sean O'Hanlon who blocked an on target shot on the six-yard line.

Penalty apart, Roberts had struggled once again on the left, leaving Harding exposed and he was not getting enough balls into the danger area when attacking and so was replaced by Danny Haynes at half-time. Walters showed his flexibility by moving across with the speedy Haynes going on to his stronger right side.

Stung by what they felt was an injustice Dons started the second half strongly and Knight almost scored with the cheekiest of back-heels after Alexander had fumbled the ball but De Vos cleared off the line.

It was Ipswich though who got equaliser with Walters threading the ball through for Haynes and his low cross into the six-yard box was turned in by teenager Kieran Murphy for another own goal.

Haynes had a shot cleared off the line while at the other end Aaron Wilbraham had a free header which he placed wide as the game see-sawed excitingly.

Dons hit the woodwork again when O'Hanlon's header from a Lewington corner was saved and the former Chelsea and Swansea striker Knight hit a post in the follow up.

Then came the dreaded extra-time and penalties.

After the first seven kicks had all been safely converted it was Harding who had the misfortune the decide the result of the match.

Following his miss O'Hanlon stepped up to complete the home team's perfect record from the spot to book a place in the second round.

And, yet again, Town players, officials and supporters had to make another journey home after a untimely exit from the Carling Cup.

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