MK Irish’s 2023/24 pre-season fixture list ended with a 2-0 defeat away to Leighton Town on Tuesday night.
It was another test against higher level opposition and again there were several positives to take away from the performance and into the start of our league campaign next week.
The Leighton Town goals came either side of half-time, the first turned in from a cross following a quick counter attack; the second after an unfortunate goalkeeping error.
Five minutes into the game the visitors had a golden chance to open the scoring out of nothing. Owusu Kyeremateng’s clearance down the right was met by a perfect Mason Spence flick on, resulting in Mason Davies racing clean through on goal.
The young forward took it in his stride well but took waited just a fraction too long in getting his shot away and a last-ditch challenge from Leighton Town prevented what looked a certain goal.
It was Leighton Town threatening next and they nearly took the lead in fortuitous circumstances, floating in a cross from the right that needed acrobatically tipping over the bar from Kyeremateng.
The resulting corner was met by a free header from point blank range which, luckily for the away side, was straight at the keeper and parried away strongly.
It had been a lively opening fifteen minutes of the game which culminated in the opening goal which came from the hosts.
A quick counter attach saw Irish stretched at the back, the ball was worked out to the right side, and some excellent movement from former Newport Pagnell forward Albie Hall saw him find the space to touch the cross past Kyeremateng and into the far corner to make it 1-0.
MK Irish responded well to going behind and the majority of the following ten minutes were spent in the Leighton half, keeping possession well and probing the Leighton Town defence, but not creating any clear-cut chances.
Despite the Irish pressure and being limited to counter attacks only, the home side were fashioning the more dangerous and it took a perfectly timed sliding block from Shaheim Ward to keep the score at 1-0.
Driving infield from the right was Spence, before laying off to Smith who’s first time effort skipped across the turf and just past the far post.
Leighton Town’s direct style of play on the counter was hurting Irish and it was another cross in from the right that brought the danger, somehow being headed over from just a couple of yards.
With five minutes left in the half, Leighton had their best chance to double the lead after S. Ward caught on the ball at the back, and despite looking like a clear foul, it wasn’t given, leaving Irish outnumbered three to one.
The pass was then perfectly timed to the advancing forward on the right, leaving him clean through on Kyeremateng’s goal however the shot was poor and dragged wide of the target.
And just before the break Irish went close to equalising through Ollie Coleman. Stepping forward from his deep lying midfield role, he took a shot from around 35 yards out which drifted just over the top right corner.
One change was made by MK Irish manager Terry Shrieves at half time, as Stephen Brooks replaced Andre Olukanmi.
Smith had the first meaningful effort of the second half, whipping a trademark free-kick just past the top left corner.
Irish had started well after the break and an excellent piece of play from Davies followed by a finely weighted and timed through ball saw Ty Ward with thirty yards of space to run into, bearing down on the Leighton goal.
Unbelievably, an astonishing decision from the linesman on the far side put a halt to play as he raised his flag for one of the worst offside decisions we’ll see all season – Ward was at least three or four yards on.
MK Irish captain Ward did get another chance to level things up almost immediately after, albeit a much harder one, picking up the ball 25 yards out and driving a shot towards the bottom left corner that was saved well.
Ward’s influence on the game was increasing now and after evading a couple of challenges as he drove forwards, he drove a pass into the feet of Davies who collected it well before being fouled right on the edge of the Leighton penalty area.
The free-kick was taken by Spence, floating just over the top left corner.
After struggling in the early stages of the second half, the next two chances were two in quick succession for Leighton. First it was striker Jake Watkinson, who so nearly scored a fantastic goal, shooting fiercely from distance and seeing his effort crash off the underside of the bar.
Next it was a brilliant save from Kyeremateng to keep the deficit at one, tipping over the bar to stop a powerful effort from close range.
Two changes then came for Irish, as Junior Masvaburi came on for Davies and Jude Murphy replaced Kyeremateng in goal.
What followed was an unfortunate introduction for Murphy, as following a Leighton Town corner, he failed to gather the high loose ball and it fell kindly for the home side, turning it in to make it 2-0.
As the game neared its close, it became more bitty with a lack of chances and quality on display from both teams.
Keelan Shand was brought on for the closing stages, replacing Callum Hirst, and was involved quickly, finding space on the left and crossing in – not before displaying a rare step-over – towards Brooks, who’s volleyed effort on the turn was straight at the Leighton goalkeeper.
Popping up in space again on the left was Shand just moments after, laying a pass back into Ty Ward’s path who expertly delivered a teasing first time cross in, which dipped perfectly into the six yard box and somehow evaded three Irish forwards, any of who would’ve only needed the slightest touch to guide it home.
The final whistle went soon after ending a close fought battle between two good sides.
With pre-season now over for MK Irish, attention and excitement can turn towards the opening day of the league season – this time next week away to Real Bedford.