JANUARY has notoriously been a tough month for MK Dons but they began 2011 with a bang with a comfortable 2-0 win over a lacklustre Bristol Rovers.
Lewis Guy should have opened the scoring inside two minutes, but Dons fans didn’t have to wait much longer to celebrate the first goal of the new year when Daniel Powell fired home from 20 yards. Peter Leven’s deflected freekick double Dons’ lead after 12 minutes, but only Pirates keeper Mikkel Andersen kept the scoreline decent for the visitors, making a string of top saves to keep his side in it.
Dons began life without Aaron Wilbraham after his shock transfer to Norwich City with the same line-up that beat Bournemouth last week – with Jabo Ibehre as the lone front man, and Sam Baldock on the bench as he returns to full fitness.
Lewis Guy scored within the first five minutes against the Cherries, but perhaps he was nursing a New Year’s hangover when in the third minute, Ibehre’s powerful break and shot rebounded off the post into his path but inexplicably the winger put over the bar from six yards with the goal gaping.
With Dons rampant in the opening spell, both Powell and Guy once more threatened to open the scoring, but their shots were narrowly over Rovers’ keeper Mikkel Andersen’s crossbar.
But it was only a matter of time before the home side took the lead. After making his first start last week, Powell repaid his manager’s faith in the 10th minute with a rocket. Collecting the ball just inside the Rovers half, Powell burst towards goal before firing in from 20 yards for his first goal of the season.
Referee Andy Woolmer was lenient on Rovers in opening quarter of an hour, with two reckless challenges from behind going unpunished, but it was from a far more tame foul that Dons doubled their lead.
In the 13th minute, Byron Anthony was booked for tugging Ibehre’s shirt on the edge of the area. Peter Leven’s freekick took a wicked deflection off the Rovers wall, giving Andersen no chance as it nestled in the far corner of the net.
With Dons comfortably in control, the game settled but with the home side still on top. Much of the game was played out with all but David Martin inside the Bristol half as Dons looked to kill off the game in the first 45 minutes.
A quick one-two between Guy and Ibehre nearly set the big forward through on goal, but a last ditch slide from Danny Coles intercepted the cross.
At the other end, Rovers offered little to nothing in the way of attacking threats, with O’Hanlon and Doumbe untroubled and Martin only fleetingly seeing the ball.
Ibehre again came close when McIndoe, playing his last game for MK before his loan deal expires, played a ball into the box from the left touchline, but Coles once again dived narrowly in front to put the ball out for a corner. O’Hanlon’s header from the set piece though went wide of the mark.
Rovers had their first effort of the game five minutes before the break, when Chris Lines found space 20 yards out, but his low shot lacked pace, and Martin collected.
Just minutes into the second half, former Don Carl Regan was lucky to remain on the pitch after he clipped the heels of McIndoe on the edge of the box. Having already picked up a booking in the first half, the referee gave him a stern warning, but kept his cards in his pocket. Even more astonishing was just a minute later, Anthony’s scything challenge on Lewington didn’t see his second yellow either. Leven’s freekick was brilliantly tipped around the post by Andersen, but Dons felt their opposition should have been down to at least 10 men.
Dons maintained the pressure they enjoyed in the first half with a string of corners, and Rovers unable to fully clear their lines.
Referee Woolmer continued to have a torrid few minutes when Ibehre looked to be pushed in the back as he challenged for a header on the edge of the six yard box but once again Dons appeals were turned away much to the disgust of Karl Robinson and John Gorman on the bench.
Lewis Guy made way for Sam Baldock on the hour as the striker returns from injury, just as Rovers began to make an imprint in the game. Ibehre cleared a corner off the line, and Martin had to have his wits about him when Jo Kuffour shot on the turn after Eliot Richards left Lewington in his wake.
Substitute Luke Chadwick, replacing the excellent Powell, almost made an immediate impact with 20 minutes remaining, when captain Lewington’s cross appeared to evade everyone but found the former Manchester United man on the edge of the area, but his rising shot flew just over the crossbar.
Dons were showing true class all over the pitch as once again they came close to ending the game. Gleeson’s elegant chip found Chadwick in space on the right, and his cross was picked up by Baldock in the area. Evading one challenge, he cut onto his left foot and bent a shot around keeper Andersen, but the ball cannoned off the far post. Andersen was called into action when McIndoe’s powerful effort came his way, keeping the scoreline respectable when the rest of the team had seemingly given up.
He brilliantly tipped another Baldock effort around the post with five minutes to play and again in stoppage time, with the striker looking desperate to open his 2011 account.
But for all their pressure, Dons couldn’t find another opening in the Rovers defence but won their second game on the bounce and looked comfortable throughout. The result lifts Dons to eighth, just two points from the last automatic promotion spot – a stark contrast to the League One table just seven days ago.
Dons travel to bottom club Yeovil on Monday as they look to continue their rich vein of form.
Referee: Andy Woolmer Attendance: 7,185
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington (c), Doumbe, O’Hanlon, Woodards, Gleeson, Leven, Powell (Chadwick, 68), Guy (Baldock, 61), McIndoe (Chicksen, 81), Ibehre
Subs not used: Searle, MacKenzie, Carrington, Johnson.
Bristol Rovers: Andersen, Regan, Sawyer, Lines, Coles, Campbell (c), Hoskins, Anthony, Kuffour, Reece (Hughes, 45), Swallow (Richards, 45)
Subs not used: Green, Brown, Pell, Tunnicliffe, Blizzard
Bookings: Anthony, Sawyer, Regan, Campbell