Dons bounce back to automatic spots

Dele Alli scored the only goal of the game at Colchester.
Dele Alli scored the only goal of the game at Colchester.
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Despite picking up just a point from a possible nine, Dons’ win on Tuesday night saw them move back into the automatic promotion spots.

It was far from a vintage display at the Weston Home Community Stadium, but Dele Alli’s solitary goal handed Karl Robinson’s side a narrow 1-0 win which saw them climb into second in League 1 at the expense of Swindon Town.

For Dons, it was their third away game on the bounce. After defeats at Bradford City last Monday and Gillingham on Saturday, a lot more hinged on the trip to Essex than most would’ve expected eight days prior.

Dons have found life notoriously tough against League 1 strugglers in recent years, and they certainly made a mountain out of a molehill against Colchester.

The opening 45 minutes though were a synch. Back on a flat surface, rather than the bobbling tops at Valley Parade and Priestfield, Darren Potter and Dele Alli were back to running the show.

The visitors dominated the possession count and spent most of their time in the Colchester half, but typically struggled to create anything clear cut to trouble keeper Sam Walker.

At the other end, under-fire keeper Ian McLoughlin had fairly little to do, other than hoist a few clearances up field. A brief spell of Colchester pressure saw a couple of strikes well wide of the mark, not giving the keeper much to do.

Hearts were in mouths when Dele Alli took a serious whack on the ankle courtesy of Chris Porter and remained on the ground, requiring treatment. The 18-year-old hobbled on, and would get his revenge and some just before half time.

He sought revenge on Porter and left his foot in the next time the pair met in the midfield, but would ultimately run off celebrating two minutes before the break.

Dons have been toothless at corners this season, but when Antony Kay scooped the ball over his shoulder and back into the danger area after a half-cleared set piece, Alli was given the freedom of the penalty area to beat Walker and fire Dons into the lead.

Will Grigg, returning to the starting line-up for the first time in three games, was in for another fruitless evening of chasing for no reward.

Left isolated up front on his own, the striker played more with his back to goal than facing it and didn’t even get a chance to get a shot off.

But he wasn’t alone. Chances were at a real premium, and but for a fine second half stop from McLoughlin to keep out Gavin Massey, Colchester were made to pay for their one defensive slip of the night.

Alli was given on too many boots for Robinson’s liking and was withdrawn after 64 minutes. And that was the first sign of Dons shutting up shop and protecting their lead.

But it didn’t stop Colchester from forcing the issue in the closing stages as their relegation battling instincts kicked in.

Robinson later described the final 10 minute onslaught as potentially the most pivotal period of the season for his side as they held on against an ever-more desperate Colchester side throwing everything, including their keeper, at the goal to get an equaliser.

But with Dons’ defence looking back to their stingy selves again with Kyle McFadzean restored to the heart of the back four, nothing made it in McLoughlin’s direction, and if it did, it was never troubling the Irish stopper.

Not only was it Dons’ first win in four, it saw them return to the automatic promotion spots as they climbed into second. Now they’ll be expected to stay there, but there’s a certain Posh problem standing in their way next.