MK DONS boss Karl Robinson was over the moon after watching his side ease past a disappointing Leyton Orient 4-1 at stadium:mk on Tuesday night.
First half strikes from Charlie MacDonald and Shaun Williams sandwiched a Kevin Lisbie tap in for the visitors before Jabo Ibehre and Daniel Powell completed the rout in the second period.
The scoreline looks comfortable and Dons barely needed to get out of second gear against the London club as they strengthened their grip on a League 1 play-off spot with nine games remaining.
“I thought we were excellent,” Robinson said. “We controlled throughout the 90 minutes and deserved to win comfortably.
“As the game progressed, we did get a bit panicky because we knew the quality they possess and that they could have nicked a goal.
“But I thought we were brilliant from start to finish, and we looked really strong.
He added: “We were without Stephen Gleeson, Alan Smith and Gary MacKenzie, and Jabo Ibehre and Dean Bowditch both came on as subs. This is as happy as I have been for a long time.”
After the reverse fixture back on Boxing Day – which saw Dons run out comfortable 3-0 winners at the Matchroom Stadium – Tuesday night’s relative walk in the park still didn’t stop Robinson feeling nervous as Dons wasted several good chances in the second half.
Asked if he felt comfortable during the game, Robinson said: “It didn’t feel like it for me! But to score seven goals against a team we struggled against last season shows how far we’ve come.”
It took less than three minutes for Dons to assert their authority on the game as MacDonald tapped home from two yards.
He tapped in Mathias Doumbe’s simple ball across – a move lifted straight from the training ground and one that showed the early signs of Dons’ dominance.
And the home side were looking good for their lead, with Powell and MacDonald linking up well for Luke Chadwick and then Jay O’Shea to shoot on goal – both efforts blocked by the Orient defence.
But the away side managed to pull level on 13 minutes, though there was an air of controversy about it. Jamal Campbell-Ryce knocked in a fairly direct corner which looked to be heading straight into David Martin’s gloves. But Ben Chorley seemed to block off Martin and Kevin Lisbie got the final touch as the ball gently rolled into the net – Martin understandably furious with referee Danny McDermid, but protested to no avail.
Campbell-Ryce’s corners were a real cause of concern for Dons – and Martin fumbled another, this time getting caught up underneath Darren Potter’s feet as he looked to collect the deep cross.
It didn’t take long for Dons to regain the lead though, and they did so midway through the first half. O’Shea found space on the left and bent in a right-footed cross and it was met in the air by Williams who sent Orient stopper Paul Rachubka the wrong way with his header.
O’Shea could have had one of his own a minute later when the ball bounced kindly for him on the edge of the box, but Rachubka did well to get down and palm the ball around the post.
Dons penned Orient into their own half as they flowed forward looking for a third goal. O’Shea came close again, Powell struck wide and Williams nearly doubled his tally for the evening when Orient’s defence went missing.
A rare break from the away side could have earned themselves another equaliser against the run of play when an unmarked Jimmy Smith ghosted into the area and latched on the end of Lisbie’s cross, but Martin got down well to save.
Dons looked comfortable on the ball in every area of the pitch. Williams hardly missed a tackle in the centre of the park as he epitomised a box-to-box midfielder, while Tom Flanagan looked a seasoned pro at the heart of the hardly-troubled defence as the hosts cruised into half time with a 2-1 advantage.
And their control of the game continued into the second half as Orient were simply forced to chase the ball all over the field.
Rachubka made a decent save to keep out Williams’ 30 yard drive in the only real chance of the opening 15 minutes of the half as Orient struggled to maintain any possession, particularly in the final third.
O’Shea thoroughly deserved a rest and was replaced by Ibehre in the 67th minute. And the former Orient hero nearly scored with his first touch as he got on the end of Williams’ corner, but Rachubka did well again to keep the header out.
Another substitute, this time Bowditch, was at the centre of Dons’ next chance as he spread the ball wide to an unmarked Powell in the penalty area, however he took a touch too many as he tried to beat Rachubka – the keeper doing well to save at his feet.
But Orient failed to clear and Bowditch found himself on the edge of the box with the ball at his feet, and felt he had a decent penalty claim turned down as his powerful drive looked to be blocked by the hands of former Dons skipper Chorley, but referee McDermid waved away the protests once again.
The visitors looked clueless going forward, struggling to link passes together as they threatened to counter, but all too often picked out a Dons shirt in defence
Ibehre put the game out of Orient’s reach with 10 minutes to play when Powell was given too much time to pick out a cross, and though Rachubka did well to save MacDonald’s initial effort, the ball squirmed underneath the hapless keeper for Ibehre to easily tuck away Dons’ third.
It was quickly 4-1 when Powell lashed home from inside the penalty area with seven minutes remaining – really putting the result beyond any doubt.
While Dons weren’t really tested defensively, it was a make-shift back four which took to the pitch against Orient, with a half fit Dean Lewington taking over in the middle. And boss Robinson paid tribute to his skipper, who braved two days of pain to lead the side out again.
He said: “Dean Lewington shouldn’t have played. He was only 50 per cent fit to play. He told me ‘Gaffer, you haven’t got anyone else to play, I’ll put up with the pain. I won’t be able to walk until Thursday, but I’ll be fit for Saturday.’ He’s a proper captain.”
As seems to be the way of late, Dons’ result was echoed by those around them in the play-offs, though Sheffield Wednesday dropped points against Walsall as Dons remain fifth in the League 1 table.
“We’d rather Wednesday drop points,” Robinson said. “We’ve still got United to play so we can still affect them. It’s an awful lot of pressure for them to handle, with a big expectation and big crowd – it’s very difficult to handle it week in week out.”
And the big matches keep on coming as Dons prepare to face local rivals Wycombe Wanderers away on Saturday – a game Robinson is very keen to win, to be the top club in the region again. But the Chairboys are in great form – three wins in four lifting them out of the relegation zone.
He said: “I want that title, I want to be the pride of Buckinghamshire, but we’re going to face a really tough Wycombe side.
“We need everyone to rally around us and have a really good push to the end of the season. If we don’t get automatic, we have a very interesting play-off campaign to plan for.
“We should enjoy where we were at the moment. We’d have taken this at the beginning of the season and I think it’s a great time for Milton Keynes.”