A Carl Baker goal after just three minutes was enough for Dons to take all three points at home to 10-man Port Vale on Saturday.
In a comfortable victory, Baker’s third minute strike should have been added to by Ben Reeves and Benik Afobe in the first half but for some wayward finishing from the two front men.
Chris Lines made life much harder for the visitors just before half time, head butting Dele Alli to earn himself an early bath, and effectively ending any remote chances of a second half fight back from Vale.
Having made six changes last time out against Port Vale, Karl Robinson made four more swaps for the home visit. Daniel Powell and Dele Alli returned to the starting line-up, as did Darren Potter and Antony Kay, having served their one-match suspensions. Samir Carruthers missed out, serving his ban.
Having scored his first Dons goal against Vale last time out, it took Carl Baker just two minutes to fire Dons into the lead in the reverse fixture. Benik Afobe’s ball through to Dele Alli was over-egged just a touch, allowing Carl Dickinson to get a toe to it. But that forced on-coming keeper Chris Neal to make a reactionary save to keep the ball out of his own net. The rebound fell to Baker on the edge of the box, and switching onto his left foot, and then back to his right, he fired the ball into the bottom corner of the net to give Dons an early advantage.
The opening 15 minutes was all MK Dons as Vale struggled to deal with the fast-passing midfield unit. Daniel Powell looked a threat with the ball at his feet, while Dele Alli looked fresh and ready to make an impact after three weeks without a game. And his neat inter-play with Ben Reeves almost doubled the lead after 14 minutes, though Reeves’ strike on the volley was straight at the thankful Neal who gobbled it into his arms.
As the game approached the half hour mark, Dons continued to put the pressure on the visitors and as such, their defensive line began to creep ever higher. So much so, that it wasn’t a surprise when Antony Kay picked up the ball 30 yards from goal and chanced his arm. However, the blocked ball dropped only as far as Alli on the edge, who attempted a curler but just missed the upright.
Vale barely saw the ball in the opening half hour, let alone for long enough to mount a decent attack. There chances were limited, but David Martin needed to be alert to Dany N’Guessan’s 25 yard strike, which bounced in front of the keeper, though it was straight at him.
The visitors’ task was made much harder when former Dons loanee Chris Lines was shown a straight red card for a ‘head butt’ on Alli. Alli felt he should have won a penalty when he twisted Frederic Veseli so much, the defender needed an armful of shirt to stop him. The decision wasn’t given and the ball was cleared to half way, where Alli felt the need to get some retribution with a needless foul. But Lines took exception to it, and after squaring him up, forced his head into Alli’s, who though he made a meal of it, was justifiably given his marching orders with little hesitation from Gary Sutton in the middle.
Dons though were unable to capitalise before the break, though Reeves had a chance to double the lead three minutes before half time, but dragged his shot wide when he really should have done better.
But his chance was bettered on the stroke of half time when Baker crossed in on a sixpence for Afobe, but incredibly the striker headed wide with the goal gaping.
The second half continued in a similar vain, with Dons very much in the ascendency. Baker looked threatening with the ball on the right flank, while Reeves and Afobe were coming into the game more and both saw decent shots blocked, as did Kay with another long-range attempt.
Dons should have been high and dry in the 67th minute though, but for some astonishing decision making from Afobe. Pinching the ball from Veseli, Dons’ leading scorer was through on goal, but rather than trust his convictions and chance his arm, he waited, and waited for Powell to arrive on the scene, only to pass the ball behind the on-coming winger, averting any danger for Port Vale.
Robinson made two changes with 19 minutes to go, introducing Will Grigg and Dean Bowditch to the action, replacing Reeves and Powell. Bowditch instantly showed why, running the length of the field to put in a great delivery for Afobe, only to see it deflected out of play.
Dons never looked out of control against the 10 men. Even when threatened on the counter, the home side were quickly back in number, with Martin a passenger for the most part. Kyle McFadzean in particular performed brilliantly in the air, giving N’Guessan, and later his replacement Ben Williamson, nothing to feed off.
With other results going in their favour, the win lifts Dons to fourth place, and perhaps more significantly, means they can go top out-right should they win their three games in hand.
Referee: Gary Sutton
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Spence, Kay, McFadzean, Alli, Potter, Baker (Green 87), Powell (Bowditch 71), Reeves (Grigg 71), Afobe
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Hodson, Flanagan, Randall
Port Vale: Neal, Yates, Dickinson, Robertson, Lines, Daniel (Birchall 84), O’Connor (Dodds 69), Brown, Marshall, Veseli, N’Guessan (Williamson 62)
Subs not used: Boot, McGivern, Duffy, Birchall, Campion
Booked: Reeves, Baker, McFadzean
Sent off: Lines