Harry Kewell made one change to the side that suffered defeat at Bury on Saturday, David Vaughan returning to the starting line-up in place of the bench-bound Nathan Thomas. That decision saw Notts line up in a 4-5-1 formation, spearheaded by skipper Jon Stead and flanked by Kane Hemmings (left) and Enzio Boldewijn (right).
Vaughan, Alessandra and Elliott Hewitt packed central midfield.
Ross Fitzsimons kept his place between the sticks and had to deny Aneke early on before Alex Gilbey entered the book for a late challenge on Elliott Hewitt and Healey fired over on the counter-attack. But it was Notts who should have had the lead when, on 14 minutes, Stead played an inch-perfect through ball for Enzio Boldewijn, who went through one-on-one with goalkeeper Lee Nicholls. The angle may have been tight, but the Dutchman will have been disappointed to find the keeper’s legs with his low finish. The Magpies’ frustration was short-lived, however, as minutes later they had the lead when Alessandra’s 25-yard effort took a deflection on its way into Nicholls’ bottom corner. Aneke fired over and Healey had an effort blocked by Hewitt as the hosts looked to restore parity. But Notts were looking the better side – and Alessandra nearly had a second on 34 minutes when his effort following a short corner was pushed out of his top corner by Nicholls. Vaughan sent an effort over from distance and Hemmings, earlier booked for a cynical pull-back, had an effort blocked as Kewell’s men continued to dominate with the half-time whistle looming. But they also had to remain alert at the other end as central defenders Elliott Ward and Turley produced a number of excellent blocks and headers to ensure the hosts were unable to muster anything too troubling before the opening period was up. Notts did indeed return to the dressing room with their clean sheet intact but not before Ward and Cedric Evina both saw yellow.
Dons boss Paul Tisdale felt compelled to change things at half-time, replacing in-form forward Kieran Agard with Callum Brittain at the break. But it did little to halt Notts’ flow as Stead came within inches of latching on to Hemmings’ low cross after the wide man had made progress down the left. Moments later, Alessandra should have doubled his – and Notts’ – tally when Nicholls’ mishit clearance presented the ball at his feet just outside the ‘D’. The midfielder tried to lob the stranded keeper but didn’t get sufficient height on the ball, dinking it straight into Nicholls’ grateful grasp. Hewitt saw an effort diverted wide and Alessandra’s fierce, low effort from range drew a this-time much tougher save from Nicholls as Notts looked for the second goal their performance so richly deserved. But they were left to rue their missed opportunities as, just before the hour, Turley was very harshly penalised for an apparent trip on Healey in the area. The referee adjudged the defender to have made no genuine attempt to win the ball and dealt him a straight red card. Aneke made no mistake from the spot to bring the hosts level. Loanee centre-back Keston Davies, making his Notts debut, replaced Vaughan shortly afterwards as Kewell switched to a 4-4-1. But the game was turned on its head moments later when the hosts worked the ball to Healey from a short corner. The forward somehow found the roof of the net with a shot from what looked like an impossibly tight angle. Boldewijn bent an effort inches off-target before Thomas replaced Hemmings down the left and the winger made a good impact, winning two free-kicks in quick succession. The latter saw the ball rolled to Hewitt, whose well-struck effort had the sting taken out of it by a defender. Aneke thought he had a third but his push on Matt Tootle before he headed the ball home was spotted by the referee and a free-kick was awarded instead. Ward then improvised well before sending a left-footed effort over shortly before five minutes were added on at the end of the match. Veteran full-back Dean Lewington sent an effort over and the hosts kept the ball in the corner as the additional minutes ticked away. There was to be no comeback from Kewell’s men on an incredibly frustrating night to be a Magpie.
MK Dons: Nicholls, Walsh, Moore-Taylor, Cargill, Williams, Houghton, Gilbey (D’Ath 66), Lewington, Agard (Brittain 45), Aneke (Simpson 85), Healey.
Notts County: Fitzsimons, Tootle, Turley, Ward, Evina, Boldewijn, Hewitt, Vaughan (Davies 63), Alessandra, Stead, Hemmings (Thomas 74).
Booked: Ward, Evina, Hemmings.
Sent Off: Turley.