A brilliant Izale McLeod brace helped Dons cruise to a comfortable 3-0 victory over 10-man Walsall.
Making his first start since November, McLeod fired Dons ahead after half an hour before winning the penalty which not only saw Ben Reeves double the lead, but saw Saddlers skipper Andy Butler sent for an early bath. McLeod capped a match winning performance with 21 minutes to go, rifling in to complete the rout.
David Martin, who had little to do all afternoon, played his part, saving a Michael Ngoo penalty with two minutes to go.
Dean Bowditch was the most noticible absentee from Karl Robinson’s side, having not travelled having suffered a slight recurrence of the injury which kept him out for most of this season. New signing Ryan Hall was fit enough for the bench. Izale McLeod started for Dons for the first time since November 23, 2013.
And he was certainly the dangerman in the opening 15 minutes. Twice he beat defender Paul Downing for pace to get in behind, first hitting the side netting and then forcing keeper Richard O’Donnell into a good save low to his left.
The strong winds whipping around the Banks’s Stadium was causing havoc for O’Donnell as he tried to kick long. Each time, the ball held up in the air around half way. McLeod was making best use of the conditions too, chancing an attempt from 20 yards out, lobbing the ball high into the air where it deceived O’Donnell, coming down onto the bar before falling behind.
It was a pretty one sided opening in favour of the away side. Ben Reeves and Stephen Gleeson looked tenacious in the middle of the park, breaking up Walsall’s infrequent attacks.
Lee Hodson rattled a strike just wide of the post before Dons finally took the lead on the half hour mark, and it was a well-deserved strike from McLeod. Beating the offside trap to reach Reeves’ through ball, the striker took his time to draw out O’Donnell before brilliantly lobbing the keeper to put Dons deservedly 1-0 up.
Going behind kicked the home side into gear somewhat, but David Martin remained untested despite Walsall’s period of pressure.
And they were given a mountain to climb three minutes before the break when McLeod once again beat Walsall’s offside trap, but he was cynically scythed down in the box by Saddlers skipper Andy Butler. Referee James Linington showed no hesitation in immediately awarding the penalty, and sending Butler for an early bath. Reeves made no mistakes with the spot kick either, sending O’Donnell the wrong way to send Dons in 2-0 at the break.
Styles seemed to go out the window for both sides in the second half. Dons, playing into the wind and against 10 men, struggled to keep possession for long, while a rejuvenated Walsall frantically tried to get a lifeline back into the game. But more often than not, they were too eager and guilty of overplaying.
And for that, they’d pay the penalty as McLeod doubled his tally for the afternoon, firing Dons 3-0 ahead. Beating the offside trap once more to latch on to Dean Lewington’s simple ball over the top, McLeod lashed home left footed putting the result beyond doubt with 21 minutes remaining.
It could have been even better for Dons, had Reeves’ shot not been deflected narrowly wide by Downing after a fast break on the right flank from Samir Carruthers.
Martin was finally called into action with two minutes to go, when Antony Kay was adjudged to have fouled a Walsall body in the area as a goal-mouth scramble ensued. Michael Ngoo, on his debut for Walsall, hit a tame spot kick though, and it was comfortably kept out by the Dons keeper.
McLeod was given a standing ovation when he left the field in the last minute of normal time, richly deserved for an outstanding performance on his return to the starting line-up.
Dons stay 10th with the win, but what it lacks in League 1 movement, it more than made up for in confidence building.
Referee: James Linington
Attendance: 4,136 (362)
Walsall: O’Donnell, Purkiss, Butler, Chambers, Manton, Lalkocic, Westcarr (Ngoo 64), Downing, Benning, Sawyers (McQuilkin 81), Brandy (Featherstone 76)
Subs not used: Hemmings, Lewis, Baxendale, Hewitt
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Hodson, Kay, Spence, Gleeson, Potter, Reeves, Carruthers (Hall 85), Powell (Baldock 85), McLeod (Chadwick 90)
Subs not used: Smith, Alli, McLoughlin, Galloway
Sent off: Butler