DONS made it five wins from five as they edged a spectacular Buckinghamshire derby against Wycombe Wanderers at stadium:mk on Saturday.
The seven-goal thriller could easily have been more but for some lapse finishing at both ends, but Dons were on the right end of the 4-3 score as they kept up pressure on the leading pack.
And after their patchy form through September and October, manager Karl Robinson is delighted with the way his team have bounced back to form in emphatic style.
Robinson said: “We’ve got two weeks away from the league now, and what a great table we have got. It’s not bad viewing, we’re sandwiched between the two Sheffield clubs and edging closer to Huddersfield and Charlton.
“We have steamrollered teams this month and it has been magnificent this month, but we need to cut out and rectify the mistakes that Wycombe capitalised on.”
Barely had people settled in their seats before in-form striker Charlie MacDonald collected Jabo Ibehre’s neat lay-off inside the penalty area, but his shot was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Wanderers stopper Nikki Bull just 30 seconds in.
A sloppy opening five minutes saw Dons on the front foot more than the back, but a midfield melee allowed Wycombe’s Joel Grant space 20 yards from goal, but his shot was rushed and he sent it well over the crossbar.
The away side began to shade the game as they capitalised on some loose touches from the Dons defence, earning themselves a string of corners. And it was from one of those that the Chairboys could have taken the lead.
Grant Basey’s corner was cleared away, but his ball back into the box was initially blocked on the line, before Dave Winfield’s header looked certain to cross the line, but for a heroic leap from David Martin to keep the ball out.
But when Dons got their game in order, they cut through Wycombe like a hot knife as they took the lead in the 14th minute. Breaking from his own penalty area, Ibehre raced to the halfway line, before exchanging a neat one-two with Luke Chadwick. Carrying on his run, Ibehre squared across the face of the penalty area to Gleeson who shaped to shoot, but instead slipped in Dean Bowditch. Still with a lot to do, Bowditch cut inside Basey and bent the ball around Bull to give Dons the lead.
The lead should have been doubled three minutes later when Ibehre was sent clean through after great work from Gleeson and MacDonald on the right touchline, but Bull stopped brilliantly with his feet. And 30 seconds later the game should have been out of reach when Ibehre again went through and unselfishly squared to Chadwick, but with an open goal, the midfielder sent the ball sailing over the crossbar.
Dons were winning the ball all over the field, making it extremely tough for Wycombe to get any footing as the game finally settled. Potter was pulling the strings in midfield and often found himself plenty of space to build the attacks, while Flanagan and Beevers looked comfortable at centre back against the limited Wanderers threat.
Mathias Doumbe then went close for Dons as he fired narrowly over the crossbar, but the wasteful finishing would come back to haunt them in the early stages of the second half as Wycombe fought back.
Doumbe lost possession to Grant on the Wanderers right, and the winger turn played the ball to Stuart Beavon to lash past David Martin to equalise.
And things went from bad to worse for Dons as they conceded two minutes later as Marcello Trotta broke through to easily beat Martin one-on-one to give the away side the lead.
But it didn’t take long for Dons to get back to level pegging, just three minutes, as Dean Bowditch was on hand to tap home Chadwick’s cross after Ibehre’s great hold-up play on the edge of the area.
The game was shaping up to be an end-to-end affair, with both sides sensing a victory on the cards. But it was to be the home side that retook the lead with a brilliant bit of skill from Ibehre. Beating the offside trap, MacDonald raced down the right flank and into the penalty area before playing low to Ibehre. But while it looked like his touch let him down, Ibehre made a deft touch to turning his man before flicking the ball in with the outside of his boot past the helpless Bull, sending the home fans into raptures, and putting his side 3-2 to the good with 66 minutes on the clock.
And with the momentum in their favour, Dons netted their fourth five minutes later to put the game out of reach of Wanderers as Doumbe rose highest to meet Gleeson’s corner, leaving Bull with no chance as he found the back of the net to make it 4-2
Dons clicked into cruise control for the remaining 20 minutes, keeping possession well in the midfield with some neat two-touch football as they continued to frustrate the visitors. And they could have extended their lead further when a defensive mix-up between former Dons loanee James Tunnicliffe, Dave Winfield and keeper Nikki Bull allowed a tame MacDonald effort to bounce off the foot of the post.
Wycombe found themselves within a goal of causing an upset as they entered the final minute though when Beavon added his second with a superb effort 30-yards from goal, rocketing into the top corner, with Martin at full stretch unable to keep it out and the score pulled back to 4-3.
This led to a nervy three minutes of stoppage time as Wanderers pushed for an equaliser, but it wasn’t to be as Dons held on for the valuable three points.
Afterwards, Robinson said he was pleased to take the bragging rights from the derby, but admitted his side need to take more of their chances if they are to contend with better sides this season, even though they’ve now scored 15 goals in the last three games.
“What a good win,” Robinson said. “In local derbies, form goes out the window. For 30 minutes, our form was the best I’d seen here. The football we played was sensational, and the first goal was part of that.
“We should’ve put them to the sword and we had chances to do that in the first half, but we came out in the second half, scored three goals and were excellent.
“I’m always worried when we’re losing but I have so much faith in my players. But we cannot keep going behind in games. That’s twice we’ve gone behind and had to dig deep to come back and win.
“It should have been more. Jabo’s chance, Chaddy’s chance – they were gilt-edged. I’ve just said to the players that in the bigger games, you’ve got to put them away and have to be ruthless.”
And the return to goal-scoring form of Dean Bowditch is something else which has put a smile on Robinson’s face. The summer signing started brightly but struggled to keep up his goal tally after a series of knocks and illnesses cost him his place in the side. But with four goals in his last two appearances at stadium:mk, his manager is delighted to have another striker in form as they head into the busy Christmas period.
Robinson said: “Dean Bowditch started the season scoring goals, and put pressure on himself to keep scoring and found it hard to keep up momentum.
“But he’s come back, scored two goals against Nantwich, two goals in the reserves in mid-week and now two again here. It’s not a bad return from the man.”
Dons now have two weeks without a League 1 game, but face a trip next Saturday to League 2 Barnet for their FA Cup second round tie. And Dons look set to meet a familiar old face in all-time top scorer Izale McLeod now plying his trade at Underhill.