SHAUN Williams’ last minute penalty earned Dons a thoroughly deserved 1-0 victory over League 1 promotion rivals Sheffield United on Saturday.
Dominating the Blades throughout, it took a late Darryl Westlake foul on the brilliant Angelo Balanta to finally give the home side a slim advantage over the side in second place.
It had looked like it wasn’t going to happen though, as Dons blazed chance after chance over the bar, but Williams made no mistake in slotting his spot-kick past George Long in the dying stages to secure all three points.
Karl Robinson named an unchanged squad from Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Leyton Orient, with goal-scorer Ryan Lowe keeping his place up front. Sheffield United also kept the same 11 which drew 0-0 with Swindon in midweek.
Ian Wright said Dons needed to kill off teams earlier in games, and it looked as though the players took that advice on board as they went straight after United from kick-off.
A good move between Balanta and Lowe saw Luke Chadwick fire just over after two minutes, and three minutes later Lowe again broke down the right flank and put a delightful ball across the face of goal, but it was just out of reach of the sliding Dean Bowditch.
United did look dangerous on the break though, and probably should have done better when Ryan Flynn breezed past Dean Lewington into the box, cutting the ball back into empty space despite having Blades skipper Michael Doyle up in support.
The visitors were dealt a blow after 25 minutes too, when Tony McMahon pulled up as he chased a ball from Kevin McDonald. He was replaced by Darryl Westlake.
Referee Darren Sheldrake and his assistant in front of the Dons dugout were getting a real ear-full from Robinson as a series of questionable decisions went against the hosts, with the fourth official spending a lot of time with the Dons boss to answer his seemingly endless list of questions.
Despite the referee’s whistle more often than not going against them, Dons continued to be the better side and carved themselves an excellent opportunity on the half-hour when Bowditch’s deep cross was patiently brought down and poked back into the danger area by Balanta beyond the far post, though Lowe couldn’t get enough of a connection on his goalwards flick to get it past defender Harry Maguire.
The ball pinged from end to end as United began to find their way in the game, but Dons had the better of the all-round play. Nick Blackman saw a decent shot go wide and another well saved by David Martin, who had to get down low to keep it out.
At the other end, Bowditch and Balanta put shots high into the stand behind the goal, before the latter nearly bent one into the far corner, stopped by the diving Long in the Blades goal.
Robinson was apoplectic on the touchline as the first half entered stoppage time, with referee Sheldrake once again the subject of his fury. This time he might have had cause as Bowditch looked as though he had been scythed down by Maguire when through on goal. But the man with the whistle dismissed the appeals, as Bowditch was left dumbstruck on his knees on the edge of the six-yard box.
Robinson then raced onto the pitch at the half time break, but ushered his players away from the officials as they tried to protest.
Dons were out of the dressing room early for the second half, and looked geared up to get the opener. And but for some better finishing, they could have been in front within three minutes of the restart.
Balanta slipped Chadwick through on goal, but he cut the ball back to Lowe, in acres of space. With time to compose himself, the striker could only shoot straight at Long, who comfortably saved.
By now both sets of fans were in full voice, urging their sides on, and creating a great atmosphere inside stadium:mk. And it only heightened when Alan Smith entered the fray, replacing Lowe just before the hour mark.
But despite all the pressure, including three corners in a row in front of their own supporters, Dons just couldn’t work a breakthrough. Antony Kay and Chadwick both laced shots well over the bar, and the former saw a decent near-post header fly just wide as Long remained relatively untroubled.
Maguire might have thought himself lucky to remain on the pitch when his studs-up challenge on Darren Potter only resulted in a booking for the United man, though it was looking more and more like ‘one of those days’ for Dons.
Williams hit the free kick into the wall before smashing well over, and Balanta too put one into row Z from 25 yards as time ticked away. United on the other hand, seemed content to leave with a draw.
But their hesitance to go forward would ultimately be their downfall as with two minutes to go, Balanta was tripped by Westlake as he raced away from goal, a sure-fire penalty. And Williams did the honours of tucking the ball away past Long, who had guessed the right way but couldn’t get near the ball.
It was no more than Dons deserved. They were by far the better side throughout the 90 minutes, and move up to seventh with the win, now just three points off the automatic promotion spots.
Referee: Darren Sheldrake
Attendance: 9,835 (1,854)
MK Dons: Martin, Otsemobor, Lewington, Shaun Williams, Key, Gleeson, Potter, Chadwick, Bowdtich, Balanta (Doumbe 90), Lowe (Smith 58)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Chicksen, O’Shea, Sekajja
Sheffield United: Long, Maguire, Hill (McAllister 46), Flynn, Doyle, Porter, Blackman (Miller 74), McDonald, Collins, McMahon (Westlake 25), Marcus Williams
Subs not used: Willis, Cresswell, Ironside, Kennedy
Booked: Chadwick, Maguire, Westlake