Dons gave their travelling fans an ideal Christmas present with a gritty 2-0 win over Crawley on Boxing Day.
Though it won’t win any awards for finesse, the bobbling Checkatrade.com Stadium pitch made for an slow and ugly match, but it didn’t stop Stephen Gleeson firing in a spectacular volley to open the scoring after 21 minutes.
Patrick Bamford scored his 15th of the season on the hour mark to make sure, though he should have added a third to make it comfortable shortly afterwards.
Sergio Torres rattled the bar for the home side, while Gary Alexander and Jamie Proctor wasted good chances too as Dons moved up to 10th in the League 1 table.
For the third match in a row, Karl Robinson named an unchanged side following wins against Wolves and Port Vale.
The uneven and bobbling Checkatrade.com Stadium pitch was certainly more suited to Crawley’s style of play than Dons’ and they certainly made the brighter start. Lee Hodson miscued what looked like a simple ball, allowing Nicky Adams in on goal but he shot wide, before Gary Alexander fired a free header straight at David Martin from six yards in a tough opening 10 minutes for the visitors.
Although the home side were looking more comfortable than their visitors, Dons began to get used to the nature of the surface and started to get the ball down and keep possession. Patrick Bamford, who came in to the game scoring in his last two outings, took on the Crawley defence with a winding run to unleash Dons’ first real chance on goal in the 21st minute, though his strike was deflected wide of the mark.
But it was from the resultant corner that Dons opened the scoring, and it was from another Stephen Gleeson stunner. Gleeson, who scored the opener against Port Vale hovering outside the box at a corner, took up residence 25 yards out once more, and after Samir Carruthers’ corner was only half cleared, the Irishman unleashed an unstoppable volley into the back of the net, gifting Dons the lead.
Crawley boss John Gregory was already forced into making one enforced change early in the game, when Nicky Adams couldn’t shake off a Dean Lewington tackle, but he was forced to make a second just before the break when skipper Dannie Bulman took a nasty blow to the head when challenging at a corner.
The shake-ups allowed Dons to settle down, and looked the more comfortable as the game headed towards the break. Both Ben Reeves and Bamford fired just wide of the mark with rasping efforts, but keeper Paul Jones wasn’t tested - even if he did dive just to make sure.
Substitute Sergio Torres had the home side’s best chance in first half stoppage time though, latching on to a hopeful pump forward, just edging ahead of Gleeson in the chase on goal, but his attempt to lift the ball over Martin found the roof of the net.
Dons were forced into a substitution of their own early in the second half, but not before a gilt-edged chance for Crawley was wasted by Alexander. Shaun Williams clashed with the striker earlier in the half and was still feeling the effects when Mat Sadler bombed on to cross deep. Williams was unable to chase back, allowing Alexander free passage to the ball, but sensationally fired wide. Williams would only last another couple of minutes before being replaced by Antony Kay.
The change proved nothing more than a road-bump for Dons though as they doubled their advantage four minutes later. Intercepting in the centre of the park, Dale Jennings spotted Bamford’s run between the centre backs and played him in. Racing through on goal, he coolly slotted past the on-rushing Jones to put Dons 2-0 to the good.
Kay was on the field just a handful of minutes on Saturday before picking up a booking, and he didn’t last much longer again at the Checkatrade.com Stadium. Clashing with Jamie Proctor in the air, the Crawley man took offence and gave the defender a shove in the back. Kay appeared to want nothing to do with any aggravation, but Gleeson raced over and got involved too, sparking handbags from both sides. The trio picked up yellow cards for their involvement - Gleeson earning his fifth of the season meaning he’ll miss Sunday’s clash with Brentford.
Crawley then enjoyed their best period of the game, putting Dons under pressure in a bid to get something from the occasion. Torres rattled the crossbar with a sweetly-struck effort from the edge of the box but for all their territory, Martin was barely troubled.
Bamford should have finished the game off with 17 minutes remaining when Gleeson’s ball through caught the Crawley defence trying to play the offside trap. With no flag though, Bamford was foiled by Jones who raced off his line to close the angle, grabbing it at the second attempt.
Proctor then had Crawley’s best chance of the game with 10 minutes remaining as he beat Kay for pace to get in behind, but it looked like he took too much time in picking his spot, allowing Martin to close the angle and put off the striker as he fired into the keeper’s chest.
Things went from bad to worse for Crawley as Billy Clarke was given his marching orders for a nasty looking challenge on Lee Hodson on the half way line. Referee Sebastian Stockbridge wasted no time in showing him the red card, reducing the home side to 10 men with five minutes to go.
The win made it four in a row for Karl Robinson’s men, as they head to Griffin Park and a game with Brentford on Sunday.
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge
Attendance: 3,249 (265)
Crawley Town: Jones, Hurst, Sadler, Connolly, Clarke, Alexander, Drury, Walsh, Bulman (Torres 41), Adams (Proctor 14), Jones
Subs not used: Essam, Sinclair, Smith, Malins, Maddison
MK Dons: Martin, Hodson, Lewington, Williams (Kay 55), Spence, Potter, Gleeson, Reeves, Carruthers, Jennings (Baldock 67), Bamford (Smith 90)
Subs not used: Flanagan, McLoughlin, Galloway, Banton
Booked: Lewington, Proctor, Kay, Gleeson
Sent off: Clarke