GARY MacKenzie was the goal-scoring hero as Dons saw off local and play-off rivals Peterborough United at stadium:mk on Monday night.
The defender, who was imperious at the back all night, scored his first goal for Dons in the second half in a spectacular game, which saw both sides hit the woodwork in a real League One showcase.
David Martin returned to the starting line-up after an ankle injury ruled him out of the clash again Colchester last time out, and Peter Leven returned to the team having served his two match suspension. And despite speculation surrounding his future, Craig Mackail-Smith started for Peterborough.
In a rapid opening 60 seconds, both keepers had a touch of the ball. First Joe Lewis was tested by a Stephen Gleeson effort from range, and then David Martin was called into action when Lee Tomlin fired at goal - neither keeper was troubled though.
Dons played the opening 10 minutes on the whole with the ball at their feet - making the Posh midfield work hard chasing the ball, but not really creating many openings. Peterborough in possession seemed reliant on long balls for Craig Mackail-Smith to chase.
Posh began a light spell of possession, which ultimately bore fruit who shots from Tomlin go well over the crossbar. Martin was called into action when Charlie Lee swung a boot at a half-cleared corner, and seeing it late, the Dons stopper palmed away with his right.
A defensive mix-up between Mathias Doumbe and MacKenzie nearly allowed Mackail-Smith through, but the League One player of the year got the ball tangled in his feet, and had to offload to George Boyd. However, Dean Lewington was wise to his intentions, and barged in front of the winger to clear.
In a great move between Daniel Powell and Sam Baldock, Leven struck powerfully from 25 yards out which Lewis could only tip over as both sides began to put some excellent moves together, testing their opponents’ resolve.
Peterborough came closest to scoring in the 28th minute when Mackail-Smith pick-pocketed Gleeson in the centre of midfield and threaded a pass through to Boyd, who turned inside MacKenzie and curled a right-footed effort on goal, but it didn’t curl enough as it came back off the foot of the post - a wake-up call for Dons’ defence.
Going straight up the other end, a goal-mouth scramble was eventually cleared after Danny Woodards found himself six yards out and getting two bites of the cherry following Rowan Vine’s cross - both blocked though by Gabriel Zakuani.
It was then Dons’ turn once again to enjoy a spell of pressure. Baldock’s touch just let him down after a glorious 50-yard pass from Doumbe picked him out in the box, and Leven’s shot flew narrowly wide, before Posh broke rapidly to catch Dons on the break.
Boyd twisted his way through MacKenzie and Gleeson and fired dangerously - a shot Martin could only parry into the path of Mackail-Smith, but from nowhere MacKenzie blocked just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Luke Chadwick, not to be outdone by Boyd, then went on a mazing run of his own, back-tracking before taking on and passing Tommy Rowe with ease before firing a high shot straight at Lewis five minutes before the break.
Leven still had time to hit the post, shooting from range, and Rowe had a shot saved by Martin in stoppage time as a breathless first half came to an end with honours even.
The pace maintained well into the second half as Dons went about taking the lead. Leven’s cross from the right flank nearly allowed Vine and Baldock a shot on goal, but Lewis was quick to react, putting the ball out for a corner as the noise in stadium:mk rose from both sets of supporters.
At the other end, Tomlin was beginning to find his range - this time his shot was on target but straight at Martin who nearly parried into the path of Mackail-Smith, but the dominant MacKenzie beat him to it, clearing his line well.
Posh showed exactly why they have scored so many goals this season with a lightning counter attack, which nearly opened Dons up at the back, but a poor touch from Rowe allowed Gleeson to nip in and clear for a throw. Another defensive mix-up, this time from Martin, allowed Boyd to feed Mackail-Smith in the penalty area, but from six yards out, the keeper redeemed himself by smothering the shot from the source.
The game continued to flow from end to end with each side looking capable of scoring, but both defences stood up well to the attacking threats.
But then with 22 minutes to go, Dons finally made the breakthrough. Leven’s deep corner was only half cleared as far as Chadwick and Doumbe on the right flank, and the latter’s cross fell just in front of Baldock. But Lewis made a hash of the catch, presenting the ball kindly to MacKenzie, and he toe-poked the ball over the line, sending the home fans into raptures.
Keanu Marsh-Brown, who replaced Vine before the goal, was spinning Mark Little into knots and so nearly doubled the lead when he cut inside onto his right-foot, but his effort went just over the bar, with Lewis struggling to get near it.
Dons appeared to have a stonewall penalty waved away by referee Graham Scott when Lewington looked to have been barged down from behind by Little as Posh broke, but substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Laing fired well over from close range to ease the tension for the home fans.
Peterborough kept the pressure on, and another substitute David Bull, forced Martin into a fine finger-tip save over the bar.
As the clock ran down, it was clear that both midfields were exhausted, but there was still enough energy in Powell to nip past Boyd and send across a brilliant low pass, but Marsh-Brown’s touch sent the ball agonisingly across the face of goal and wide at the far post.
With 30 second plus stoppage time to go, Dons should have wrapped the game up. MacKenzie won a header in the centre of midfield which evaded everyone and found Jabo Ibehre with no-one between him and goal. But he dwelled on the ball, allowing Lewis to close down his effort and the danger was averted.
Deep into stoppage time, Marsh-Brown and Baldock combined for the former to bring another great save out of Lewis, but the one goal was enough to separate the sides at the full time whistle.
Dons leapfrog Bournemouth into fifth place in League One, moving within a point of Peterborough and three behind Huddersfield in the second automatic promotion place.
Referee: Graham Scott, attendance: 10,019
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Doumbe, MacKenzie, Woodards (O’Hanlon, 90), Gleeson, Leven, Chadwick (Ibehre, 77), Powell, Baldock, Vine (Marsh-Brown, 62). Subs not used: Searle, Stirling, Balanta, Chicksen
Peterborough: Lewis, Little, Kennedy, Zakuani, Lee (Davis, 69), Boyd, McCann, Rowe (Medez-Laing, 76) Bennett, Tomlin (Bull, 75), Mackail-Smith. Subs not used: Langmead, Wesoloski, Bull, Medez-Laing, Davis, Basey, Jones.
Booked: Tomlin, Zakuani, Vine