MORE than 200 days and 2000 minutes of football since their last League One defeat, Sheffield United returned to the scene of the crime and suffered exactly the same fate.
But, unlike April’s encounter, when a player used his head to propel MK Dons to victory, visiting manager Danny Wilson insisted this setback happened because referee Darren Sheldrake lost his.
This fixture of precious few chances and profligate finishing was meandering towards a draw until the official, who had denied Karl Robinson’s side what appeared a cast-iron penalty moments before the interval, judged David McAllister guilty of tripping Angelo Balanta in the box and pointed to the spot only seconds before the end of normal time.
An afternoon which had started so brightly when Harry Maguire’s selection for England’s next under-21 squad was confirmed finished on a sour note as Shaun Williams duly converted and provoked furious scenes among United‘s camp.
Wilson, whose post-match comments could yet be scrutinised by the FA, accused Sheldrake of being swayed by badgering from the touchline and “getting the big decision wrong”.
While his manager stewed, United full-back Marcus Williams sought comfort from changing strategies and Dons’ frantic celebrations.
“They’ve reacted like they’ve won the cup at the end,” he said. “That goes to show what getting a result against us means.
“It’s really disappointing for our unbeaten run to end like that.
“I’m not going to pretend it isn’t.
“All of the lads who had a good view of what happened were saying it was a really harsh call.
“It’s really upsetting for that to happen because it’s not like we’ve been played off the park of anything like that. It makes it even tougher to take.
“Then again, it’s taken something like that to get one over on us.”
“I’ve really noticed how teams are treating us differently now,” Williams continued. “They’re changing what they do and I suppose that’s a back-handed compliment.
“We came up against Swindon in the week and they went long ball and direct. That’s not how Swindon usually play but they felt they had to try something different and that didn’t work.
“We pretty much kept MK at bay too. Right until that happened at the end.
“They like to knock the ball around and credit to them but I don’t think we deserved that.”
Irrespective of the final result, Saturday encounter will have provided both Robinson and Wilson with much food for thought.
Dons, until Sheldrake’s dramatic intervention, had failed to heed their coaching staff’s warning that failing to convert opportunities could prove costly in the scramble for the Championship, with Ryan Lowe twice guilty of fluffing his lines from close range.
United, who remain second in the table, were their usual obstinate selves but once again lacked a creative edge in front of goal.
Defenders Tony McMahon and Matt Hill damaged hamstrings during the first half.
Dave Kitson’s imminent return from injury - the former Portsmouth striker completed a gruelling work-out before the warm-up - could prove especially timely ahead of Saturday’s game against third-placed Stevenage while Wilson could also explore options in the transfer market.
“We picked up a couple of knocks and those are going to be assessed in the week,” Williams said. “I took up three different positions out there which shows how much we had thrown at us and yet we were so close to coming through.
“That says a lot about the lads’ attitude as far as I’m concerned.
“Wherever I’m asked to play, I’ll gladly do it, be that at the back, further forward or whatever.
“I started my career as a winger so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what someone in that role wants.”
Dons, who climb to seventh, prepared for United’s arrival by undergoing cryotherapy treatment at a facility in nearby Tring.
It seemed an inspired move when an intricate passage of play involving Dean Lewington and Balanta saw Luke Chadwick go close.
Nevertheless United responded with Ryan Flynn coming within a whisker of picking out Nick Blackman, who later shot wide before forcing Dons’ David Martin to make a sprawling save, lurking six yards out.
Sheldrake gave Neill Collins the benefit of the doubt when he sent Lowe sprawling to the turf towards the end of the first period while substitute Alan Smith, whose header settled last season’s corresponding contest, could not connect with a Lewington centre.
With George Long having earlier denied the Dons marksman with an equally impressive block, United were on the verge of continuing their solid if not spectacular progress.
But then until Sheldrake’s controversial call brought it to a shuddering halt.
“There’s no point in dwelling on things,” Williams said. “And that’s not what we’re going to do.
“We’re still in a really good position and we’ll keep working hard to try to get to where we want to be.