Dons go west to make best start to a season

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DONS have made their best ever start to a league season after grinding out a 1-0 victory against Yeovil Town on Tuesday night.

Sam Baldock’s ninth minute goal was enough to secure all three points – Dons’ third win in the west country in a week, and their first ever at Huish Park.

But Darren Potter was sent off late in the game for time-wasting, taking some of the gloss off the victory which lifted Dons into third place in League 1, albeit at this early stage.

Manager Karl Robinson isn’t getting too carried away though after seeing Dons draw at home with Hartlepool, then win away at Exeter – with a Carling Cup win at Cheltenham sandwiched in between.

“It’s a great start, but we also got three points at home against Hartlepool last season, so it’s swings and roundabouts,” said Robinson.

“I don’t care about the league, I care about us winning football matches. It’s a great start to the season, but we know we have more gears to come through, and the quicker we get through them the better we will become.

“I want to see more of the football we play in the first 20 minutes of games, to stay in it and take our chances, and one day we will.

“The wins mean the world to me. We know where we want to take this club, so any victory we get – regardless of where it is – is special. This is a great victory and a platform for us to go on to bigger and better things.”

Victory at Yeovil wasn’t pretty, but was the sort of performance that Dons struggled to put in 12 months ago.

Adam Smith, with the ink still wet on his new loan deal from Tottenham, went straight into Robinson’s starting line-up in place of Adam Chicksen, while Dean Bowditch started against his old club, replacing Luke Chadwick. And with confidence sky high after Saturday’s 2-0 win at Exeter, Dons took just nine minutes to take the lead.

Angelo Balanta shed his man in the centre of the park, and spotted Baldock pulling off the back of Paul Huntington and sent the ball his way. Keeping onside, the 22-year-old blew past the defender to race through on goal. There was still a lot to do as keeper Jed Steer closed the angle, but Baldock coolly side-footed across the ‘keeper for his first goal of the season.

Dons controlled the pace of the game, hardly breaking sweat as they passed the ball around slickly in midfield. Baldock tried to return the favour to Balanta as his clever reverse pass found the Colombian in space, and his curling effort looked set to double Dons’ lead but for the left hand of Steer who palmed to safety.

Yeovil began to get the upper hand with 10 minutes of the first half remaining and were unlucky not to be awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area when the ball appeared to strike Gary MacKenzie’s hand, but referee Graham Scott waved play on.

The man in the middle was being particularly pedantic, and had four names in his book by the time 45 minutes were up, without a bad challenge in sight. And that would prove costly for Dons later in the game.

They should have been high and dry in the second half, but Baldock, Balanta, MacKenzie and Stephen Gleeson were all guilty of missing great chances.

Yeovil continued to press for the equaliser, throwing everything they had at Dons in the final 10 minutes, but MacKenzie was at his imperious best and David Martin was hardly tested.

The gloss was taken off the win slightly when Potter received his second yellow card and subsequent one-match ban for time wasting late on as he waited for Smith to take a throw-in, meaning he will now miss Saturday’s home game with Chesterfield.

“I thought Darren Potter was unbelievable tonight,” Robinson said. “I shouted to him not to take the throw. I didn’t want the central midfield player taking throw-ins with a minute to go, so he was just waiting for Smith to come and take it but he got booked.

“But that’s part of the rules, it’s been done and we have to move on and make sure we can fill the hole for Saturday.

“I thought for the first 20 minutes we were untouchable. I spoke to Paul Wotton and he said at times we were like Real Madrid – they couldn’t get the ball off us.

“In that time we missed four or five gilt-edged chances. Then in the second half we came out and started really well. We had Sam Baldock’s two chances, Jabo Ibehre’s, MacKenzie’s, Balanta’s chances, and we have to take them when we come away from home.

“If you don’t, then you end up with a scrap like we did in the last 10 minutes or so. Thankfully we held on and got our first win here.”

And Robinson was delighted with the performance of Smith who barely knew his team-mates’ names before travelling to Yeovil.

He said: “The way he played out there, it looked like he’d been here all pre-season. You wouldn’t think he only turned up and played in a five-a-side game when we got the deal done.”