Carlisle United’s unbeaten home run stretched to six games following a tight and tense encounter with out-of-form MK Dons but they were made to wait until late in the game to claim their share of the spoils courtesy of a late equaliser from teenage substitute Mark Beck.
“In the end I thought we more than deserved a point,” manager Greg Abbott said. “We didn’t look like getting anything with the way we played in the first half but we changed a few things and we looked stronger and better after the break.
“The young lads have come through for us again and we had a really strong finish where we could even have nicked it. Yet again we’ve seen the good and the bad but we’ve kept at it and got something from the game. That’s important for us because we want to finish the season on a high and we want the fans to come down here and really help to push us on. We need results to do that and, even though we wanted to win this, it isn’t a disaster by any means.”
It was tame stuff all-round in the early exchanges with Livesey on hand to block a weak effort from Lowe as he threatened to break through. Williams then found a way through with a neat pass but Lowe spurned his second opportunity in as many minutes when he dragged his shot wide.
A clash of heads between Lewington and Livesey then reduced United to ten men with the Carlisle defender ordered back to the medical room to get patched up. The Dons sensed an opportunity to impose themselves and a temporary change of formation allowed them to utilise the extra man advantage.
Chris Lines breached the back four with a well-timed run from deep. Gillespie enhanced his growing reputation with a fine one-handed diving save and O’Hanlon did the rest as he cleared the loose ball off the toe of the advancing Lowe.
Williams and Harley reverted to speculative attempts as the now-bandaged Danny Livesey shored things up at the back, and United finally managed to register their first effort on target as the clock crept just over the half hour mark. A flick from Miller released Rory Loy and it needed a fine reaction save from Martin to stop it from angling into his net.
More blood from Livesey’s head wound forced him from the field of play for a second time and Adam Chicksen wasted no time at all as he pushed forward to claim the space. He cut inside and left Gillespie with no chance as his powerful effort took a deflection on its way over the line.
Ryan Lowe produced a moment of magic to create an opening as the Dons enjoyed all of the possession but an intervention from Thirlwell made the save easy for the United stopper.
A brief glimmer of better to come came from Rory Loy when he worked the ball out from under his feet just before the break. Substitute keeper Ian McLoughlin’s first task was to grab the shot from beneath the bar.
The Dons continued to dominate after the break but they had a moment of panic when substitute Dave Symington dinked an early ball into the box. McKenzie stretched out a leg and he was relieved to see his toe poke fly over his own bar.
Loy went close when he rose highest to meet a cushioned O’Hanlon header but Williams should have doubled the lead for the visitors when Lowe and Chadwick beat the offside trap before putting the ball on a plate inside the box. He set himself only to scuff his shot and Simek stepped in to clear the danger.
United started to find their way into the game and Miller dug the ball out before whipping a long range shot inches over when he managed to wriggle into space.
Berrett lost his balance and rifled another one into the stands with the pressure mounting, and the home side went close to levelling the scores with their best move of the day when a floated delivery from debut-boy Jordan Mustoe found McGovern at the back post. His crisp volley hit the underside of the bar before it was hooked away.
The Dons sat deeper but they still held a threat as they bided their time before breaking. A deep cross from Potter caused all kinds of problems as it bounced kindly away to safety off the upright, having taken Gillespie by surprise.
And hearts were in mouths all round the stadium when a wayward back-pass from Liam Noble had Gillespie scrambling as it appeared to be heading into the goal. The keeper reached it just in time to save what would have been an embarrassing moment for the midfielder.
The home side earned their point with five minutes left to play when Symington curled a well-taken corner into the box. Hesitation in the Dons defence allowed Beck to pounce and he stabbed the ball over the line as he fell to the floor.
And Carlisle almost nicked it when a volley from Berrett, deep into time added on, somehow spun wide as it fizzed through a ruck of bodies and ricocheted off the completely unsighted and mightily relieved Dons stopper Ian McLoughlin.
United - Beck (85)
Dons - Chicksen (36)
United - O'Hanlon (14)
Dons - Potter (39), Chicksen (90)
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Simek, Livesey (Murphy 69), O'Hanlon, Mustoe, Noble, Thirlwell (Symington 46), Berrett, McGovern, Miller, Loy (Beck 77). Subs - Collin, Welsh, Cadamarteri, Potts.
MK Dons - Martin (McLoughlin 39), Lewington, McKenzie (Doumbe 77), Williams, Potter, Chicksen, Lowe, Harley (Powell 64), Lines, Kay, Chadwick. Subs - Otsemobor, McLeod, Baldock, Rasulo.
Referee - Mr Kevin Wright
Attendance - 4,283 (179)
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