RYAN Lowe was the unlikely hero as he netted the only goal of the game in Dons’ comfortable 1-0 home win against Leyton Orient on Wednesday night.
The 34-year-old striker has had a troubled few weeks at stadium:mk, but repaid his manager’s faith in him with the decisive first half goal against a poor Orient side.
The visitors briefly looked to have nicked an undeserved point in stoppage time, but Kevin Lisbie’s effort was rightly ruled out for handball.
Lowe kept his place up front after Dons’ 0-0 draw with Cambridge City last Friday, while new striker Ibra Sekajja – who signed on loan from Crystal Palace just three hours before kick-off – made the bench. Angelo Balanta replaced Jay O’Shea, and Dean Bowditch returned to the starting line-up for the first time in four games after injury kept him sidelined for most of October.
Dons managed to spurn 37 chances in their cup draw at Cambridge City, so it was hardly a surprise that, after just four minutes, they had already created two decent opportunities to open the scoring against Orient.
After 46 seconds, Jon Otsemobor released Luke Chadwick through the centre of the park, though his drive was straight at Ryan Allsop in the Orient goal. Three minutes later, Bowditch made a similar run in behind, but a heavy touch left him reaching to dink the ball around Allsop, and the retreating Nathan Clarke was able to clear up the situation.
Lady Luck certainly hasn’t been looking down on Dons lately. Karl Robinson was left looking to the sky for some sort of helping hand to get the ball in the back of the net, as after 14 minutes, Balanta tried his luck from range, only to see the ball spill out of Allsop’s hands and spin onto the post.
The home side were nothing if not patient in their build-up play as Orient stood off. Stephen Gleeson and Darren Potter were given freedom once again to play freely in the midfield, while Bowditch in particular had acres of space to play in on the right flank.
Orient should have been reduced to 10 men after half an hour, though naturally, everyone inside the ground saw David Mooney kick Dean Lewington as the pair tangled on the touchline, apart from the linesman on top of the incident and the all important man with the cards, referee Robert Lewis.
Lowe forced Allsop into another good save as Dons continued to dominate proceedings, and the keeper’s heart will have been in his mouth when his punch went straight up in the air, narrowly missing the crossbar as the ball dropped out for a corner.
Orient enjoyed a short spell on the ball, but it was a mistake from Bowditch that led to their best chance of the half as Martin Rowlands picked up a loose ball and cut inside Otsemobor before being crowded out as Shaun Williams, Antony Kay and David Martin all piled in to clear the danger.
With four minutes to go before the break, the breakthrough finally came. Bowditch was released down the right once more, but this time managed to pick out Lowe at the far post to smash home.
While the striker was mobbed by his team-mates, Robinson and his staff enjoyed their own celebration in the dugout, probably more out of relief than anything else. And it certainly will have lightened the mood in the changing rooms as the sides returned there at half time.
That advantage could have been wiped out just 90 seconds after the restart when Mooney found space in the centre of the penalty area but shot powerfully straight at Martin – the keeper clutching the ball thankfully to his chest.
And Mooney should have done better again five minutes later when Potter was caught dawdling on the ball by Scott Wagstaff, who slipped his striking partner through only to again fire straight down Martin’s throat.
It was certainly a more spirited Leyton Orient team in the second half as they looked more up for the fight, though as soon as they let the home side have possession, they were made to chase around the park.
Gleeson was proving to be the main force behind Dons again, and often dragged his team-mates forward as he drove powerfully into the Orient half. And he got the wheels in motion for another Dons move which called for Allsop to be at his very best to keep out Chadwick with 22 minutes remaining.
With Balanta in acres of space out wide on the left, he broke to the byline and cut back to Chadwick on the penalty spot. His shot looked for all the world to be skidding in through the crowd of bodies, but the Orient keeper did brilliantly to get down low and get a hand to the ball, tipping it up and over the bar.
Lowe, looking full of confidence following his earlier strike, chased down everything up front and showed a real striker’s instinct when, from nothing, and with his back to goal, he turned on a sixpence and struck low, though it wasn’t troubling Allsop as the ball flew wide of goal.
The impressive Bowditch lasted 75 minutes on his return before being replaced by Adam Chicksen on the left flank, injecting pace and vigour into the game late on. Five minutes later he was joined by Charlie MacDonald, who replaced the goal-scorer.
Tempers threatened to boil over when Lee Cook was adjudged to have fouled Gleeson on half-way – each then grabbing handfuls of shirt as they scuffled under the referee’s nose, but both escaped with just a booking.
Lisbie almost broke the hearts of the Dons fans in stoppage time when he appeared to rise highest to knock the ball in at the far post for a dramatic equaliser. However, referee Lewis took no time in chalking the goal off, and booking Lisbie for using his hand to get the decisive touch.
And there was more late drama when Orient manager Russell Slade was sent from the touchline after arguing a throw-in decision in front of his dugout, clearly still feeling aggrieved by the, rightfully, disallowed goal.
Despite some light late scares, Dons were able to see out the remainder of stoppage time, lifting themselves one place to eighth in the league 1 table ahead of Saturday’s visit from Sheffield United.
Referee: Robert Lewis
Attendance: 6,985 (299)
MK Dons: Martin, Otsemobor, Lewington, Williams, Kay (Doumbe 84), Gleeson, Potter, Bowditch (Chicksen 75), Balanta, Chadwick, Lowe (MacDonald 80)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, MacDonald, Alan Smith, Alli, Sekajja
Leyton Orient: Allsop, Sawyer, Chorley, Griffith (Cox 73), Clarke, Odubajo, Cook, Rowlands (Jimmy Smith 80), James, Wagstaff (Lisbie 65), Mooney
Subs not used: Jones, McSweeney, Baudry, Brint
Booked: Rowlands, Gleeson, Cook