ANY slim chances of automatic promotion were put to bed on Saturday as Huddersfield Town comfortably saw off Dons with a 3-1 victory at stadium:mk.
First half goals from Scot Arfield and Lee Peltier, either side of a Peter Leven missed penalty, meant the Terriers had a 2-0 lead at the break. Huddersfield had a penalty of their own from Arfield saved in the second period, before Danny Cadamarteri’s header made it 3-0 with 22 minutes from time.
Mathias Doumbe headed in a consolation with two minutes remaining, but Dons were already well beaten, and while all hopes of a top two finish were finally put to bed for the hosts, Lee Clark’s men maintained their own slim chances of beating Southampton to be runners-up to Brighton in League One.
Angelo Balanta returned to Dons’ starting line-up for the first time since November and Sam Baldock also returned in place of Jabo Ibehre who had impressed in last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Swindon.
But as ever for Karl Robinson’s men it was Daniel Powell who looked the most lively to score from the kick-off, testing Town keeper Ian Bennett within the opening 90 seconds with a decent left-footed strike from the edge of the box, but the 39-year-old stopper was equal to it.
And short of a couple of goal kicks, the visitors hardly touched the ball in the first five minutes as Dons went about scoring the opener. Powell again forced Bennett into a good stop, this time from inside the area, but his powerful shot was straight at the stopper.
Huddersfield continued to struggle to win possession in front of their lively travelling support - their only half chance in the first 15 minutes coming from a Gary Roberts corner which evaded everyone in the box, going out for a goal kick on the far side. But of course it was in fact the visitors who took the lead in the 23rd minute. A mistake in the midfield saw the Terriers three on two against Dons at the back, and it was Arfield who lashed home a spectacular right-footed strike past David Martin from all of 20 yards out.
Dons got their chance to go level just five minutes later when Powell was brought down by Jamie McCombe, but Leven’s penalty - low to Bennett’s left side - was superbly stopped by the former Birmingham City keeper.
With that momentum behind them, Town soon scored their second. After referee Roger East over-ruled his assistant to give a corner, no Dons player picked up Peltier who headed in with 10 minutes of the first half to play.
The home side nearly got a life-line before the interval when Leven’s chipped pass fell to Baldock in behind, but his header forced an excellent save from Bennett who tipped over the bar. And the keeper made another excellent save from the resultant corner as Balanta’s shot came through a crowd.
Dons began the second half the way they began the first - on top and desperate to get the goal that would help them back into the game. Baldock came closest to getting it in the opening five minutes when Powell’s low cross deflected into his path, but Bennett was a match for his light flick goalwards.
Arguable Dons’ best chance arrived 12 minutes into the half when Gleeson carried on his run and collected Powell’s one-two, but his cross was well deflected by Terriers skipper Peter Clarke, cruelly out of reach of Baldock who was unmarked at the far post.
Powell again tested Bennett with his low drive from the edge of the box as the home side continued to search for a way back into the game. However, the game was nearly put to bed when - on the hour - Gary MacKenzie slid in on Benik Afobe and referee East was quick to point to the spot once again. But a second penalty brought another sensational save as Martin denied Arfield.
There were no mistakes seven minutes later though when Roberts’ free-kick was deflected past Martin by Cadamarteri to make it 3-0. But with the game gone, Dons still went forward in search of what would have been nothing more than a consolation.
Baldock saw another free header sail over the crossbar and Keanu Marsh-Brown found Bennett too many times with crosses from both flanks. But with 90 seconds remaining, Doumbe leapt the highest to attack another Leven corner, finally beating Bennett to give the home fans something to cheer about.
Marsh-Brown had a glorious opportunity in stoppage time to reduce the gap further, but he blazed over the bar from 12 yards and all Dons thoughts suddenly turned to Monday’s trip to Plymouth and securing a place in the play-offs.
Dons boss Robinson took the positives from the defeat, saying he was still pleased with the performance of his side.
He said: “I thought the football we played was excellent. Lee Clark said that they didn’t deserve their 2-0 lead and I agree with him.
“The football we played, the momentum we had, and the way we retained the ball - it was almost the perfect performance. I know it sounds silly, but when you don’t win the game, it’s a ridiculous thing. But we missed too many great chances.
“I’d love to see the stats again because we must have had double their number of shots. But what it has shown us is that we are very capable of carving up a team that has cost an awful lot of money to assemble and who should be getting out of this league automatically.
“In the second half, Sam had chances, Keanu had three or four shots, Powelly did too - it was like the Alamo at times. But I’m still pleased that we could perform like that against a team like Huddersfield. It was as good a performance as we have seen in the last two or three weeks.”