DONS kept the pressure on the sides above them after they comfortably saw off Colchester United 5-1 on Saturday.
After an uneventful opening, the visitors found themselves trailing to a 23rd minute Matt Heath header, but kicked into high gear when Charlie MacDonald equalised 15 minutes later. And when Tom Flanagan scored his first goal for the club in first half stoppage time, Dons never looked back.
Comfortably in control throughout the second half, MacDonald added his second and Dons’ third with 15 minutes remaining, before Stephen Gleeson and Jabo Ibehre added further strikes to complete the rout at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
With the sides around them also picking up wins, Dons remain fourth in League 1, but are still well in the hunt for the play-offs and within touch of the automatic spots.
Despite the heavily one-sided scoreline, manager Karl Robinson admitted he had to read his side the riot act at half time after their lacklustre performance in the first 45 minutes.
“I went really mad at half time,” he said. “But the players were arguing with each other. One player said ‘if you think that’s good enough, you might as well leave now.’
“One player admitted he was a million miles away, two more said the same. We had a big argument, and a few home truths laid into them, but second half we were a touch of class. We looked clinical, with precise passing, good defending – all the components necessary for a good team.”
And having now scored 11 in just two games, Robinson believes his side are much stronger than they were 12 months ago.
He said: “I want to improve as a manager. I make mistake, I will lose games, but I want to keep learning and getting better. I look at the team last year and I don’t think we score enough goals. But you look at the table now and we have +17 goal difference, after scoring six in the FA Cup.
“We are definitely better and stronger than last year but we are a million miles away from where we want to be, and that’s winning the league and getting into the Championship.”
Robinson later praised Colchester for their performance in the opening half an hour.
David Martin was the busier of the two keepers as he did excellently to keep out good efforts from Andy Bond and Anthony Wordsworth as the home side pressed for the opener.
And it finally came 23 minutes in when Matt Heath was left unmarked six yards from goal to head past the stricken Martin.
The goal acted as a wake-up call for the visitors as they began to string passes together - something they had struggled to do prior to Colchester scoring.
And after a good flowing move down the right, Daniel Powell sent the ball in for Charlie MacDonald to strike at the near post, pulling Dons level seven minutes before the interval.
From there, there was only going to be one winner as Dons began to surge forward. And they were rewarded from an unlikely source in first half stoppage time. Stephen Gleeson’s deep corner fell kindly for Tom Flanagan, who controlled well before lashing home left footed into the bottom corner to score his first goal for the club, taking them in 2-1 at the break.
The second half began with a fiery rivalry beginning to form between Colchester’s Ashley Vincent and Dons skipper Dean Lewington. Both exchanges fouls in the strong physical battle in front of the travelling Dons fans, and their man was to come out on top.
Controlling the play comfortably, Dons never looked in trouble of losing their lead, though never called United stopper Ben Williams into action either. That was until the 74th minute when Charlie MacDonald tapped in from Mark Beevers’ low ball across the box to effectively wrap up the result at 3-1.
But Dons weren’t happy to settle for a two goal lead, playing to the old adage of attack being the best line of defence.
Powell fired just wide, Bowditch had a vicious shot blocked and Jabo Ibehre just mistimed his acrobatic overhead kick. Despite being two goals ahead, Karl Robinson was still fuming with each chance missed.
But he certainly wasn’t angry when Gleeson struck with the outside of his right boot 20-yards out, nestling neatly in the bottom left putting Dons 4-1 ahead with three minutes remaining.
And Jabo Ibehre tapped in deep into stoppage time to complete the rout at 5-1 and completing their biggest away win of the season.
Dons remain firmly in fourth place in the league, but are beginning to open a gap to the chasing pack as the season enters the all-important Christmas period.
Afterwards, Robinson said: “I thought for 30 minutes, Colchester were sensational, with the way they moved and passed the ball. But their goal came from horrific defending from a corner which I am furious about. But from there on in, we dominated.
“It’s only Colchester’s second defeat at home, so that shows how good a team they are.”
Tom Flanagan’s goal just before half-time was a key moment for Dons as they went in leading at the break. And the young defender said he knew he had a good chance of finding the net after his first touch, but he didn’t know what to do to celebrate
He said: “I’m thrilled with my goal, but the result says everything and that’s what we should concentrate on.
“I have had some stick about my finishing recently so it should silence some critics in the dressing room! I was pleased. I had an idea in my head that I’d score after the first touch. I struck it clean enough to go in – it avoided a few bodies which was lucky but I’m due a bit of luck!
“I didn’t know what to do, I probably couldn’t tell you what I did do, but I was thrilled and went over to the fans. We were struggling in the first half an hour and they really helped.”
Flanagan’s performances of late have been good enough to keep Scottish international Gary MacKenzie out of the side. And with the manager’s selection headaches are happening all over the pitch at the moment, Flanagan is delighted to be keeping his place in the starting 11.
He said: “If I do what I did here every week, I’ll keep my place in the team, but that’s getting a bit ahead of myself! I will play every game I’m asked to and I’m thrilled to be playing at the moment.
“When I’m at training or in the dressing room and I look at who I’m keeping out of the team, I think I must be doing something right.
“I’m nowhere near the finished product, but I’m getting there. And to keep someone like Gary MacKenzie out of the team, I’m thrilled.
“If Mark Beevers goes back to Sheffield Wednesday at the end of his loan spell, I would like to play alongside Gary because I haven’t played with him much. It’s a bit of a free-for-all at the moment to get in the side and that’s only going to help us.
“Shaun Williams isn’t getting in the team at the moment, and any team in this division would take him. He’s being kept out by Gleeson and Potter because they’re playing so well.
“If we can keep that competition up all over the pitch then we will get promotion and that is ultimately the goal of the club and of the players.”
Next up for Dons is the local derby with Wycombe Wanderers at stadium:mk next Saturday. Wanderers are currently second from bottom after winning promotion last season.