OPINIONS might have differed in the camp as to whether Giles Coke deserved his red card in Milton Keynes – but there was no argument that his dismissal was a pivotal point in the Shakers’ fifth game without a win.
Even though Richie Barker’s men had been somewhat battered on Pancake Day, the first-half scoreboard at least showed them on level terms after David Amoo’s excellent finish had been cancelled out by Dean Bowditch's header.
In three crazy minutes, however, the whole game had been flipped when Coke was handed his second yellow for pulling Daniel Powell’s shirt on the edge of his own box.
The midfielder had barely disappeared down the tunnel when Cameron Belford brought Alan Smith crashing down in the penalty box, and Bowditch slotted calmly home from the spot.
“It’s 85 yards from goal and a pull of the shirt – I'm not sure when that became a yellow card,” questioned manager Barker. “There were worse challenges and he (the referee) told us before the game that he would do his best to prevent bookings but he got his yellow card out pretty quickly to me.
“Without getting myself into too much trouble I felt right from the start that it was going to be hard for us and that he wouldn’t do us any favours.”
Steven Schumacher, the Shakers’ captain, took a less sympathetic view.
“I don’t think Cokey has got any argument, to be honest,” he said. “I think he won the ball for the first one but unfortunately in this day and age you get booked for strong, aggressive tackles.
“For the second one, maybe he hasn’t thought about it and just pulled the kid back. I’m not sure the referee has got any option but to give a yellow card for that one.”
Both manager and captain would agree that the Shakers looked a more compact unit with 10 men than they had with 11.
Although they had snatched a lead after just 10 minutes when Schumacher played Amoo through for his fourth goal of the season, Mark Hughes had already cleared one Bowditch header off his own line.
Powell’s pace out wide caused Joe Skarz all manner of problems, and it was from the winger’s cross that the equaliser arrived on 20 minutes. Charlie MacDonald’s header was parried by Belford, and Bowditch capitalised on some slack defending at the far post to level the scores.
MacDonald then hit the base of the post before Belford was forced into a sprawling save from Steven Gleeson’s free-kick.
There was all manner of pushing and shoving at the resultant corner, including one shove on the keeper from defender Mathias Kouo-Doumbe that could have warranted an earlier red card.
Coke got that dubious honour on the stroke of half-time – and once Bowditch had put the home side ahead, there really was a mountain to climb.
But the Shakers defended manfully in the second half, rendering it something of a non event.
And they very nearly stole a point when Hughes stuck out a foot and prodded Skarz’s floated cross just wide of the post in the last minute.
It would have been harsh on the Dons, given the balance of play, but considering both Schumacher and Peter Sweeney were forced off through injury in the second half, it was a considerable achievement that Bury were in the game at all in the final stages.
“I was extremely pleased with the attitude in the second half, I thought they were excellent,” Baker said. “Somewhere along the line I knew we were going to get an opportunity. If we could stay in the game and make a few changes with five minutes to go, we may get something. Right at the death, we nearly did.”
MK Dons: Martin 6, Taverner 8, Gleeson 6 (Ibhere 5), Williams 6, Lewington 7, Powell 8 (O’Shea) , Kolo-Doumbe 6, Smith 7, Potter 7, Bowditch 7 (Chadwick), MacDonald 8.
Unused subs: McLoughlin, Chicksen.
BURY: Belford 6, Picken 6 (Eastham 6), Hughes 7, Sodje 6, Skarz 5, Amoo 8, Carrington 6, Schumacher 6 (Harrop), Coke 5, Sweeney 6 (Worrall 6), John-Lewis 7.
Unused subs: Elford-Alliyu, Williams.
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).