DONS took a huge step towards securing a League 1 play-off spot with an effortless 3-0 win over Scunthorpe United on Saturday.
Dean Bowditch, Daniel Powell and Shaun Williams hit the back of the net as Dons cruised to victory at Glanford Park, leapfrogging Huddersfield Town into fourth place with just three games remaining.
And all three goals had a level of significance to them – Bowditch’s strike extended his lead at the top of Dons’ scorers charts, Powell entered double figures with his second half goal, and Williams’ 40-yard drive means he now has six in seven games from the centre of defence.
Charlie MacDonald turned provider once again as he chipped in with another two assists on Saturday to add to his two against Tranmere, turning in a man of the match performance for the visitors.
He said he was pleased to be adding something to the games, even if he wasn’t hitting the net himself.
“I haven’t been able to get on the scoresheet but I’ve got four assists,” he said. “It’s nice to add something to the team when you’re not scoring. It’s valuable that we have so many players who can chip in with goals, while other sides have just one main goal threat.
“Here, we have five or six players who can get you a goal. It’s a squad game and it’s unbelievable that we’ve got more than 100 goals this season and they’ve been shared out.
“Shaun (Williams) is on nine, Powell has 10, and Bowditch is on 14 and is top scorer. We have players creeping into double figures and that’s great. If we can take this form into the play-offs, knowing we can score goals from all over the pitch, then it’s something the others haven’t got.”
Dons boss Karl Robinson praised his side’s performance, singling out MacDonald’s excellent display as they edge closer to securing a play-off spot.
“It was a great performance,” he said afterwards. “It was very professional. Scunthorpe have not lost in 10 and we’ve beaten them in a professional, classy way. We were happy with the rain, because when the pitch gets wet we’re at our best, and not many can cope with us.
“It’s great to have Bowditch back, plus MacDonald was exceptional again and created two goals.”
And it was thanks to MacDonald’s neat play in the penalty area which created the opener for Bowditch after 11 minutes. Adam Chicksen spotted MacDonald’s run in behind the defence, and the striker squared for Bowditch to slide home past home keeper Sam Slocombe.
Scunthorpe, without a defeat in 10 before the game, began to find their feet, but struggled to create anything clear-cut in front of goal. David Martin, a spectator for much of the game, had to be on his toes when Jordan Robertson raced through, but a last ditch challenge from Chicksen averted the danger.
And the home side should have been level on the half hour mark when Mark Duffy capitalised on Dean Lewington’s slip to go one-on-one with Martin, but the keeper did brilliantly to keep out his goal-bound effort.
While chances on goal came at a premium, Dons nearly went two goals up just before half time when Stephen Gleeson’s drive was parried by Slocombe, but Powell couldn’t quite get to the loose ball before the keeper pounced on the ball at the second time of asking.
The drab first half came to a close, and threatened to spill over into the second. But when MacDonald broke the offside trap 10 minutes after the restart to slide the ball across for Powell, he could hardly miss as he fired the visitors into a two goal lead.
While the 238 travelling Dons supporters were in full voice, nothing could be heard of the home support, other than the groans of discontent as they watched their side struggle to keep hold of the ball, as Dons made them chase around the park.
And while the game won’t go down in the books as a classic, Dons had two great chances to extend their lead – first when Bowditch narrowly missed Lewington’s breakaway ball after Josh Walker’s tame free kick at the other end, and again when MacDonald got in behind only to see his shot well saved by Slocombe.
Dons have been left lamenting refereeing decisions all season long, but got one in their favour with 19 minutes to go when Jordan Robertson appeared to strike Gary MacKenzie in the face off the ball. Initially, referee Carl Berry waved away MacKenzie’s protests, and play looked set to continue with a Scunthorpe free kick.
But Mr Berry was called over by fourth official Nigel Smith and the pair conversed on the touchline, before Berry returned to show Robertson a straight red card.
Dons looked to exploit their man advantage and came within inches of extending their lead when Lewington’s free kick on the edge of the penalty area had keeper Slocombe beaten but he couldn’t beat the frame of the goal, though the keeper did brilliantly well to pounce on MacDonald’s effort on the line.
Shaun Williams put the final nail in the Scunthorpe coffin five minutes from time when his outrageous 40 yard drive somehow made it through a crowd of players before skipping off the turf past the despairing dive of Slocombe to make it 3-0.
There was a late black mark on the game for Dons though as Martin went down injured, and was replaced by Ian McLoughlin, whose only involvement was to take a goal kick deep into stoppage time.
With Huddersfield Town going down 1-0 to Preston at Deepdale, Dons leapfrogged the Terriors into fourth place in the table with just three games remaining.
“We have managed to take over fourth place, and it’s up to us to keep it,” added MacDonald.
“We want to finish fourth and play the second leg at stadium:mk. It’s massive to have your own crowd behind you for the second leg.
“But we need to take every game as it comes and the play-offs will take care of themselves. If we can pick up three wins, then we will go into those games with huge confidence.”
And while his striker is keen to carry form into the play-offs, Robinson still isn’t counting his chickens until his side are fully confirmed in the top six, even though he admitted a two-legged battle with Huddersfield is looking more and more likely as the season goes on.
He said: “We had our target before the game, and that was to catch Huddersfield. They are a very good team and we know how hard it is to play against them.
“It’s a bonus to get into fourth and we want to finish above them. It’s one place higher than we finished last season and we’re going all guns blazing for the rest of the season.
“It’s a good week for us as a football club. We’ve not got good memories of Scunthorpe, and we showed tremendous class.
“I cannot wait for next week! We’re ready for it.”
Dons will have a tough task of keeping hold of their newly acquired league position though as they take on Sheffield United at stadium:mk on Saturday as Danny Wilson’s men will be looking to edge closer to automatic promotion with a win over Dons.
The last time the two sides met was back in October when goals from Richard Cresswell and Matt Phillips sandwiched a Stephen Gleeson strike as United ran out 2-1 winners at Bramall Lane.