FC Halifax Town were knocked out of the FA Cup despite putting up a brave fight as they lost 4-1 to MK Dons.
The Shaymen belied their lower league status as they produced a wholehearted performance against their League One hosts, and were left wondering what might have been but for their profligacy in front of goal.
Town could look back on just as many missed chances as their opponents by full-time, as well as a gutsy effort they can reflect on with much pride.
In a sense though, the result was academic. Not many Town fans will have travelled down expecting much else than a defeat against a side 52 league places above them.
But just seeing their team competing once again, for 90 minutes at least, as equals with a Football League side was a victory in itself.
Town fans could have been forgiven for a wry smile upon entering Stadium mk; the surroundings almost palatial compared to the outposts they’ve visited on their rise up the non-league ladder and in stark contrast to those of Harrogate Railway in the County Cup five days ago.
This tie was as much a reward for their support through the Evo-Stik days as the players’ efforts over recent seasons and the last round at Nuneaton.
Paul Marshall replaced Adam Smith in Town’s only change from the side that started game and the 3-0 defeat at Alfreton last weekend.
But the last thing Neil Aspin will have wantyed from his tried and tested lieutenants was to come and make up the numbers, and it was an assured-looking Town side that gradually crept towards the 20-minute mark with their parity in tact.
The visitors were compact and disciplined without the ball, confident and not afraid to express themselves with it.
The Dons struggled to work up any kind of tempo to their play, with League One Player of the Month Patrick Bamford restricted to a solitary half chance early on which he dragged wide.
Town mustered a half chance of their own, only for Dan Gardner to waste a promising counter-attack that had three on two in Town’s favour after an MK Dons corner was cleared.
Jason Banton then blazed over when extremely well placed before Ryan Toulson’s afternoon was cruelly cut short after an collision with keeper Ian McLoughlin.
Half-time was edging closer with the hosts, if anything, looking increasingly unlikely to score, only for McLeod, who minutes earlier had badly headed Banton’s cross over, to unleahs an unstoppable curling shot from 25 yards.
A delightfully-worked free-kick brought out a superb save by Glennon from Shaun Williams’ low shot moments before Town got the chance they’ll have been dreaming about the night before.
Gardner suddenly burst free from the halfway line and had just enough in the tank to shoot before he was closed down, but McLoughlin kicked his shot away before Paul Marshall’s rebound was blocked.
For all the praiseworthy efforts of the visitors in the opening half, there was an overriding sense that their best chance of the day may have already have passed them by.
The Dons soon doubled their lead when Marc Roberts’ foul on Daniel Powell left referee Darren Bond with no option put pointing to the spot, with Williams sending Glennon the wrong way from 12 yards.
That sparked a flurry of chances as Stephen Gleeson’s shot was brilliantly tipped over by Glennon before Scott McManus then Lee gregory both went mightily close to halving the deficit as Town responded with gusto to falling further behind.
Roberts almost made up for his rash tackle with a bullet header that McLoughlin tipped over before Gardner spurned another glorious chance when he stabbed wide at the far post following Matt Pearson’s rampaging run and cross.
If Aspin wanted his side to give it a good go, then he got what he asked for, but that spell of pressure from the visitors needed to muster a goal if they stood any chance of a comeback.
As it was, McLeod ended what hopes Town had when he tapped in after Glennon had saved from substitute George Baldock’s drive across goal. McLeod was then taken off; his afternoon’s work completed.
Gardner was also replaced shortly afterwards but it could easily have been the Town player basking in a two-goal performance instead.
Town did produce the goal their display merited though when Gregory stuck out a boot to poke the ball across McLoughlin from an acute angle before it trickled into the far corner.
The Shaymen threw bodies forward as they made the Dons sweat for their place in the second round, which was finally put beyond doubt when only Marshall was left in defence as the hosts broke quickly, with substitute Brendan Galloway rounding Glennon to round off the win.
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Lewington, Hodson, Williams, Gleeson (Galloway 71), Potter, McLeod (Rasulo 71), Bamford, Powell, Banton (Baldock 46), Spence. Subs not used: Burns, Otsemobor, Flanagan, Smith.
Scorers: McLeod (39, 69), Williams (53), Galloway (90)
Shots on target: 7
Shots off target: 8
Halifax: Glennon, Toulson (Worthington 26), Ainge, Roberts, Lowe, Marshall, Pearson, Maynard (Wilson 68), Gardner (Love 74), McManus, Gregory. Subs not used: Senior, McReady, Holsgrove, Johnson.
Scorer: Gregory (77)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 6
Town man of the match: Matt Pearson