David Martin saved a penalty to ensure Dons made it five wins in a row on the road for MK Dons as they beat Coventry City at Sixfields on Saturday.
Dons’ teenage-laden attack looked untouchable in the first half as the away side dominated, culminating in Dele Alli’s spectacular opener six minutes before half time.
But a rejuvenated City side emerged for the second half and twice came close before captain Carl Baker spun in the box to equalise for the home side 12 minutes after the restart.
With Dons misfiring up front, Karl Robinson replaced James Loveridge with Izale McLeod, who waited barely two minutes before lobbing Joe Murphy to restore Dons’ lead with 23 minutes to go.
And Martin earned his money at the other end when he guessed right to keep out Baker’s spot kick after Antony Kay brought down Callum Wilson in the area with 20 minutes to go, ensuring Dons picked up all three points.
Dons named the same side which lost a week earlier at home to Wolves, with loanee youngsters Matthew Kennedy and James Loveridge leading the line for Karl Robinson’s team as they chased their fifth away win in a row at Sixfields.
Dean Bowditch’s game would be short lived as his torrid season continued. After playing a neat through ball to Kennedy, which was subsequently saved by Joe Murphy, Bowditch immediately fell to the ground holding his hamstring - yet another blow after missing the first six months of the season through injury.
It meant a big afternoon for 17-year-old Giorgio Rasulo though, who replaced Bowditch, making his longest appearance in Dons colours.
The visitors were proving to be particularly stingy with possession in the opening half hour, as the teenage attack of Loveridge, Kennedy, Rasulo and Alli exchanged neat passes amongst themselves to pull the Coventry defence all over the field. Despite their dominance though, they created little in front of goal, as Murphy kept his powder dry.
City though did create most of the few clear-cut chances of the half. Mark Marshall left Dean Lewington on his backside but zipped his shot the wrong side of the post, and Callum Wilson saw his powerful run from half way ultimately come to nothing as he was forced ever wider by Jordan Spence, allowing George Baldock to easily clear inside the six yard box.
As Dons’ teenagers continued to look threatening, it was the most experienced of them, 17-year-old Alli, who would score what could be the goal of the season six minutes before half time. Rasulo’s corner from the right was deep, but was only headed up into the air by Jordan Willis. Alli, hovering 20 yards out, watched it down onto his right boot, launching an unstoppable volley past Murphy.
Coventry had a fire lit under them at half time by manager Steven Pressley, as they twice threatened Dons’ lead early in the second period. First, Nathan Eccleston managed to worm himself some space in the area, but fired straight at David Martin, before Mark Marshall cut inside Baldock to bend one goalwards only for the keeper to once again be a match for the effort.
There was nothing he could do about Carl Baker’s equaliser 12 minutes after the restart though, as the City midfielder was given time and space in the area to turn and shoot across goal into the far corner to equalise.
Dons simply weren’t at the races for the opening 20 minutes of the second half. Gone was the zip and vigour of the first half as the front line stuttered and struggled to keep hold of the ball.
But that was until Izale McLeod came onto the field with 65 minutes gone, and within two minutes had fired Dons back in front. Capitalising on some slack Coventry defending which drew Murphy to the edge of the penalty area, McLeod nipped in front of Jordan Willis and easily lifted the ball over the top of the stranded keeper to restore Dons’ lead.
It looked as though the advantage would be short lived when Antony Kay barged Callum Wilson to the ground in the penalty area, leaving referee Graham Horwood pointing to the spot barely five minutes after McLeod’s strike. But Martin guessed right, flying to his right to keep out Baker’s spot kick, and then reacting brilliantly to fling an arm at Wilson’s follow-up effort to keep Dons ahead by the slimmest of margins.
The goal and the penalty save certain blew the wind back into Dons’ sails, as they set about defending their lead from as high up the field as possible. The experienced heads of Alan Smith and Izale McLeod were joined by Mark Randall in the closing stages as Dons looked to close out the game.
There were a few scares late in the day, as John Fleck positioned himself well on the edge of the box, but blasted his shot well over the top when it was rolled his way.
Peterborough’s 2-0 defeat against Wolves means the gap to the play-offs remains three points, though Posh have a game in hand.
Referee: Graham Horwood
Attendance: 2,782 (1,051)
Coventry City: Murphy, Webster, Fleck, Baker, Eccleston (Delfouneso 69), Prutton (Robinson 80), Seaborne, Willis, Wilson, Clarke, Marshall (McGeough 75)
Subs not used: Burge, Christie, Adams, Thomas
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Baldock, Spence, Kay, Alli, Smith, Powell, Bowditch (Rasulo 11 (Randall 80)), Kennedy, Loveridge (McLeod 65)
Subs not used: Burns, Galloway
Booked: Wilson, Baker, McLeod