MATHIAS Doumbe scored his second goal in the space of a week as Dons picked up another vital League 1 win, this time away at Bournemouth on Saturday.
Tom Flanagan flicked on Dean Bowditch’s corner for defensive partner Doumbe to slide home in the narrow 1-0 win at Dean Court, marking Dons’ third win in seven days. And while it wasn’t the most attractive of victories, Flanagan believes that dogged displays away from home are what is necessary if Dons are to get promoted this season.
“It was a bit of a battle and you feel like a hero at the end, which is nice,” he said. “When we walked off the pitch with a 1-0 win, the reaction from the fans showed how big a win it was. It’s a massive boost.
“A lot of people still have to play each other in the top half and we’ve played everyone really.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing and performing like that then it will be brilliant.Everyone’s enjoying themselves at the moment.
“Winning games like this really does help. Going in the dressing room and you feel like a team after you’ve won a game like this.
“Even when we drew against the top teams, not getting beaten makes you feel so much better because there is nothing worse than getting beaten.”
While sides around them have dropped points along the way, Dons manager boss Karl Robinson said he was delighted to have come out of a busy seven-day period impressing on the pitch and with a haul of nine points.
“They have all been different performances,” he said. “Oldham was classy with goals galore, Bury was strong and professional and we should have won by more, and then this was a gritty, typical away performance.
“The pleasing thing was that each game presented a different set of circumstances and we dealt with them all.”
A new look midfield lined up for Dons at Dean Court. Without the suspended Stephen Gleeson and injured Darren Potter, Robinson was forced to move Shaun Williams forward to play alongside Alan Smith in the centre of the park, while Flanagan replaced Williams alongside Doumbe in the centre of the defence.
So light was Robinson on numbers in fact, that 16-year-old George Williams made the substitutes’ bench.
The game lacked an abundance of chances, and was very much a midfield battle with both sides looking physical in the centre of the park.
In a frantic opening, both exchanged five minute spells of pressure as they looked to strike an early advantage,
The lively Jay O’Shea saw an early strike from the edge of the penalty area go just wide of Cherries keeper Darryl Flahavan’s upright, while Donal McDermott forced David Martin into a good stop low to his right to keep the home side at bay.
Bournemouth looked comfortable with the ball at their feet and took the game to the Dons back line, skipping past challenges in the midfield and swinging in crosses from both sides.
Dons’ best chance of the half came after 25 minutes when a Williams free-kick evaded the home defence and fell to Doumbe at the far post, but his shot-come-cross was just out of reach of Charlie MacDonald as he flung himself forwards to get a touch.
Bournemouth really should have taken the lead though two minutes later though when James Tavernier gave the ball away in midfield, allowing Harry Arter to slip the ball in behind to Matt Tubbs who was clean through on goal. Under no pressure though, the striker put the ball wide of the mark, much to the relief of Robinson on the touchline.
And his relief turned to jubilation on the half hour mark when Doumbe gave Dons the lead. Bowditch’s corner on the left was flicked on at the near post by Flanagan and his central defensive partner was quickest to react to the deflection at the far post as he hoisted the ball into the roof of the net for his second goal in three games, putting the visitors a goal to the good.
Bournemouth really should have been level within four minutes when McDermott, who spent time on loan with Dons in 2009, evaded two challenges on the right before picking out the unmarked Scott Malone in the penalty area, but the winger’s swinging shot flew well over the crossbar, to the disbelief of the fans behind to goal.
The midfield battle continued for the remainder of the half, with neither side looking like adding to the score as they approached the interval. Dons were reduced to 10 men for a time as Smith was left feeling a stray hand in the face opening a nasty cut on his head, but it didn’t affect the visitors’ style too much.
MacDonald was looking as industrious as ever up front, but faced a huge challenge in the shapes of giant defensive duo Stephane Zubar and Miles Addison. He was making some intelligent runs though and held up play well to bring in Daniel Powell, Bowditch and O’Shea to the attack.
Bournemouth started hurriedly in the second half, almost in a rush, while Dons looked more than happy to continue at their own pace, particularly around the defence.
Wes Thomas stung the hands of Martin five minutes after the restart as he tried his luck from 20 yards, but it was straight at the Dons keeper, who easily gathered it up.
And Martin was rooted to the spot when Malone tried his luck from the edge of the area seven minutes later, but fortunately for the keeper, Malone’s dipping volley dropped just wide of the post as the home side continued to press for an equaliser.
Dons should have doubled their lead on the hour mark but lady luck just isn’t looking down on MacDonald at the moment.
A poor Arter corner was cleared away by Bodwitch, and MacDonald beat McDermott to the bouncing ball and raced into the Bournemouth half. With only the keeper to beat, his strike from just inside the area beat the keeper but came agonisingly back off the crossbar. He wasn’t given a chance to redeem himself though as he was replaced by Jabo Ibehre moments later.
Without the usual partnership of Potter and Gleeson in the centre of the park, Dons couldn’t really their usual passing game going, and the sandy Bournemouth pitch didn’t really help their cause either. Smith and Williams provided solid cover in the middle though, and gave Dons the upper hand in the midfield.
Smith has been showed a marked improvement in his performances in his spell with Dons and his progress continued against Bournemouth. Replacing Gleeson at the heart of midfield, Smith was a solid physical presence and was disciplined in his positioning – rarely allowing himself to venture too far into the opposition’s half. His physical approach to tackling left him with another booking to his name though.
With the clock ticking down, Bournemouth began to turn the screw, forcing Dons back into their half. But they struggled to create anything solid in front of goal, with the miserly Dons defence winning over.
But deep into stoppage time, Thomas should have earned his side a share of the points when he capitalised on a rare defensive error, but incredibly missed the target from 10 yards out with Martin well beaten.
But with the crisis averted, Dons held on for a valuable three points, lifting them to fourth in the table. However, Sheffield Wednesday’s win over rivals United in Sunday’s Steel City derby relegated Dons back to fifth, though they have a healthy gap back to chasing Carlisle.
Afterwards, Robinson praised his players for their determined performance and is keen for their form to continue into a busy March.
“I thought we were the better team for the 90 minutes,” he said. “They are as good as we’ve played in recent weeks, and this is a massive win.
“Bournemouth will be a tough challenge for anyone who comes here. We’ve come here and looked very strong despite having to shuffle our pack.
“Three of our regular starting 11 weren’t fit so it makes it more pleasing.
I don’t think we missed anyone because we won – I love winning, and I don’t care who it’s against!
“It has been a great week, three wins out of three. We have to brush ourselves off now and prepare to go up north. Hartlepool away will be very difficult.”
With neither side dominating the attack, it was up to the defences to take the plaudits from the game at Dean Court.
While Zubar and Addison looked solid for Bournemouth, the defensive partnership between Doumbe and Flanagan looked equally as strong as they kept another clean sheet.
And while they looked comfortable for the majority of the game, Flanagan said the defence nearly let all their hard work be undone at the death,
He said: “It was a bit if a struggle today. We had enough chances to win it by more – Charlie hit the bar and Powelly had a couple of shots. But defensively we did our jobs right and if we keep a clean sheet and can score, we’ve never going to drop points.
“We’re a bit disappointed with their chance at the end but perhaps our luck is changing, which would be nice. When I turned round, there was an awful lot of swearing! I thought it was going to hit the post and I just that David (Martin) would get back to it.
“We had been under the cosh for 45 minutes, it’s nothing to worry about now though!
“In the second half, they only really had two chances and I wouldn’t say they were clear cut. As a back four we were under pressure but it would probably be different if you asked Dave.
“But that all starts from the front, and when Jabo came on, he was defending from the front. They were getting the ball wide and putting crosses in so it wasn’t like we were smashing balls forward like Stevenage.”
With Doumbe scoring his second goal in a week, Dons’ defence have netted a vital 11 goals this season, but Flanagan says as long as the team is doing well, it doesn’t matter where they come from, even if the defence is leading the way of late.
“We are getting a little bit of stick for that!” he joked. “I’m claiming the assist for the goal too!
“Me and Mathias have a good partnership, we just have to get Gary (MacKenzie) on the scoresheet now with his presence in the box.
“But it’s a team thing, blocking people’s runs and doing smart, savvy things. I’ve been lucky and the ball has dropped to me a few times this season.”
And while Flanagan may only be in the side because of injuries and suspensions, he’s pleased with his progression and keen to remain in the manager’s selection thoughts with a busy month ahead.
He said: “I’ve been told, with my age and injuries, to expect to be in and out of the side. Last season in a game like this one they would have put Dean Lewington at centre half, and I’m pleased that I’m there in the manager’s thoughts.
“When I do play, I try and take every opportunity. We kept a clean sheet, I felt I played well. I was a little rusty in the first half, but you expect that being in and our of the side.”
And he will certainly have his work cut out next Saturday as Dons make the long journey north to take on Hartlepool.
Their form at Victoria Park hasn’t been glowing this season, but has seen a remarkable turnaround since the New Year, conceding just twice in their last five outings at home.
However, Dons will be going into the game with more momentum after Hartlepool were hammered 5-0 at the hands of relegation strugglers Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park on Saturday.