LIFE without Sam Baldock began with a relatively straight forward 1-0 victory over League 1 new boys Stevenage at stadium:mk on Saturday.
After the previous highs of thrashing Chesterfield and winning at Norwich, it wasn’t a vintage Dons performance, but they still did enough to edge past a stubborn and well organised Boro side who came looking for a point.
Friday night brought confirmation that home grown hero Baldock was on his way to West Ham for a fee thought to be in the region of £2 million, and so the fact that his replacement bagged the only goal of the game helped to lift the mood amongst the Dons faithful as Karl Robinson’s men retain their place at the top of the table.
The signing of Charlie MacDonald from Brentford for an undisclosed fee was announced just a couple of hours before Baldock’s move to east London was completed, and he went straight into the side to face a Stevenage team unbeaten in their first four game in the third tier.
The Hertfordshire side have earned themselves a reputation for grinding out results, and they threatened to do so again after a drab first half that saw both sides fail to register a meaningful effort on target.
Dons were restricted to shots from long range but the best Adam Smith and Shaun Williams could do was find the Stevenage fans behind Chris Day’s goal, while at the other end Darius Charles and Lawrie Wilson were both able to get shots away but they didn’t really test David Martin.
After a torrential downpour at half time came the crucial moment in the game as a piece of magic from Dons finally broke Boro’s resistance.
A perfectly flighted ball over the top of the Stevenage defence by Stephen Gleeson was neatly collected by Luke Chadwick and he had the presence of mind to quickly square the ball to the onrushing MacDonald who tapped in from barely a yard out, much to the relief of Robinson and the Cowshed.
The goal forced Stevenage out, and in the end they will feel a little unlucky not to have a taken a point from the game as three times they came close to forcing an equaliser.
Michael Thalassitis forced Martin to tip the ball over the ball when he was given the space to get a shot away on the edge of the penalty area, and the visitors came close from corners with Luke Chadwick forced to head off the line as the pressure began to mount.
But Dons weathered the storm and could even have increased their lead through Dean Bowditch who twice had half chances to put the result beyond doubt. And it was the three points that Robinson was pleased with on a pretty frustrating afternoon for his side.
“Victory is the most important thing in the industry,” said the Dons boss. “We pride ourselves on playing good football, and we tried to do that, but after the first half I feel like apologising to the paying public because they parked their bus in front of the goal and we looked a bit impatient.
“That’s not us and I told them to be a bit more calculated in the second half and if the goals comes in the 95th minute it doesn’t matter because it’s all about winning.”
Talking about MacDonald’s debut goal, Robinson added. “People who have watched this level of football for a few years know he’s a very sought after striker and we’re glad to have picked him up. I tried to bring him here in the summer but there were things we couldn’t do for financial reasons at the time.
“But with the Baldock situation and most of the football world wanting him, I knew I had to act quickly so I phoned the agent, made contact with Brentford and acted quickly. He was in talks with two other clubs at the same level but the chairman backed me to do it.
“We’re not saying he’s going to replace Sam. I’d like to thank Sam for everything he’s done for this club. I hope he has a wonderful career. But my job is not about Sam Baldock any more, it’s about the football club and it’s almost a perfect debut for Charlie MacDonald.