MATCH REPORT: Walsall 0 MK Dons 2

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DONS returned to winning ways, and the top six, with a 2-0 victory over Walsall on Saturday.

After a quiet opening 30 minutes at the Banks’s Stadium, the game came to life when Saddlers keeper James Walker handled outside the area. Defender Lee Beevers stepped up between the posts, but could do nothing about Dean Lewington’s free kick as it put Dons into the lead. Jabo Ibehre capitalised on a fumble from Lee Beevers just before the break. Walsall manager Dean Smith was sent to the stands at halftime, but would have been proud of his sides performance in the second half as they battled bravely to get back into the game. And they were unlucky not to do so when Claude Gnakpa shot came off both posts before being cleared away, but Dons were comfortable despite not etending their lead further.

Tom Flanagan kept his place in the side with Gary MacKenzie still struggling with injury. Shaun Williams dropped to the bench, while Dean Bowditch wasn’t included in the squad through illness. This gave Charlie MacDonald his first start since September 10, playing alongside Jabo Ibehre returning to his former club.

Dons settled into their style from the kick-off and made Walsall chase the ball from the opening whistle. Comfortably on top in the midfield, they created a handful of half-chances in the first 15 minutes but nothing really concrete. The home side similarly created little - a long ball in behind for Jon Macken to chase the only thing that may have had Dean Lewington’s defence worried, though it was comfortably collected by David Martin.

The first 30 minutes saw very little given away by either side in front of goal. Dons opted to pitch long balls up for Ibehre to hold up, though the tight Walsall defence stood strong, outnumbering MacDonald as he struggled to make inroads.

But a moment of madness from Walsall keeper James Walker gave Dons a huge advantage after 32 minutes. As Powell raced after a long ball forward, the keeper caught the ball outside of penalty area, with the referee having no choice but to send him off. Without a keeper on the bench, Dean Smith was forced to play Lee Beevers between the sticks.

Rubbing salt into the wounds, Lewington confidently stepped up to take the free kick, bending the ball into the far corner of the net to put Dons into the lead – a set-piece even a regular goalkeeper would’ve struggled to keep out.

The sending off put Dons in pole position as they looked to extend their lead before the break. But MacDonald was caught the wrong side of the offside trap and Darren Potter’s audacious 40-yard lob attempt fell just over the bar and fresh from scoring on Tuesday night, Stephen Gleeson rifled in a close effort which sailed just past the post.

But the second did come with a minute to go before half time. Chadwick looked as though he had lost possession of the ball to keeper Lee Beevers, but the stand-in fumbled it straight into the path of Ibehre, who looked offside, but had the simplest of tasks of finishing into the empty net for 2-0.

Walsall bravely battled on though, and had two good chances in stoppage time to get one back but a brilliant block from Flanagan kept a goal-bound Alex Nicholls effort away.

But as the half-time whistle blew, Dean Smith’s choice of words didn’t please referee Phillips and resulted in the Saddlers’ boss being sent to the stands for the second half.

And with Dons sensing blood, they went hunting for further goals in the second half, with Ibehre twice coming close in the opening two minutes.

But Walsall continued to commit men forward, looking for a way back into the tie. They won a series of corners in 10 minute a period of pressure shortly after the break but failed to make Martin work.

Walsall seemed galvanised by what had happened to them, and were really making Dons work for the result. But lady luck was not shining down on the Saddlers as Claude Gnakpa fired past in a shot that had Martin beaten, but cannoned off both posts before Flanagan cleared.

At the other end, Lee Beevers was proving to be a worthy replacement in goal. While he struggled to hold on to initial shots, he was quick to react to rebounds, pouncing on the ball bravely to keep his side in with a chance.

Charlie MacDonald was unlucky not to come away from the Banks’s Stadium without a goal for his efforts on his return to the first team, but just couldn’t find that all-important yard away from his marker to get in a decent shot. He was replaced by Shaun Williams with 18 minutes remaining.

The home side continued to chip away at Dons and looked arguably the more likely to score in the second half. Jamie Paterson should have done better with his volley from the edge of the box, and he had another bite of the cherry with 10 minutes to go as he tried to bend one into the far corner.

Dons created chances too, but made things easy for Lee Beevers – too often firing straight at the keeper, giving him a chance to make some important saves.

And he wasn’t the only one, with Martin called into action with a minute to play, leaping at full stretch to keep Paterson at bay once more.

But the full times whistle sounded with Dons worthy of their three points, returning to the League 1 play-off spots.

Referee: David Phillips

Attendance: 3,712 (484 away)

Walsall: Walker, Sadler, Butler, Smith, Macken (Paterson, 35), Hurst (Gnapka, 45), Lee Beevers, Taundry, Nicholls, Peterlin. Wilson

Subs not used: Lancashiure, Jarvis, Grigg

MK Dons: Martin, Doumbe, Lewington, Mark Beevers, Flanagan, Gleeson, Potter, Chadwick (Balanta, 63), Powell (McNamee, 79), Ibehre, MacDonald (Williams, 72)

Subs not used: Chicksen, McLoughlin

Booked: Smith, Chadwick, Gleeson, Williams

Sent off: Walker