IT was comfortable if not emphatic as MK Dons beat Hartlepool 1-0 at stadium:mk on Saturday.
Ryan Lowe’s 15th minute strike, his third in four games, was enough to settle the tie in favour of the home side. In truth, it could and should have been a lot more. Lowe could’ve had two or three more to his name, while Angelo Balanta was inches away from converting Mathias Doumbe’s second half cross. And Darren Potter could’ve wrapped it up with five minutes to go but he crashed hit shot against the bar.
Hartlepool offered little up at the other end, though Charlie Wyke probably should have done better when the visitors enjoyed a rare venture into the Dons half.
After being withdrawn just 25 minutes into his debut at Brentford last Saturday, Zeli Ismail returned to the bench, with Dean Bowditch taking his place in the starting line-up having missed the trip to Griffin Park through injury. Jon Otsemobor too was missing through injury after he pulled a groin muscle during the defeat.
And it appeared Hartlepool’s Evan Horwood suffered a similar fate just three minutes into the game at stadium:mk, forcing John Hughes’ hand into making the first substitution of the game, replacing his stricken defender with Darren Holden.
For Hartlepool, who have won just once this season, it looked an almost impossible task going into the game to come away with something. Dons set up with a high defensive line and pegged the visitors into their own half. Stroking the ball around nicely, they created two half decent chances in the opening 10 minutes when first Luke Chadwick headed over before Dean Bowditch’s free kick was hammered into the wall.
But the breakthrough did come after quarter of an hour courtesy of Ryan Lowe. Another of Bowditch’s free kicks wasn’t properly cleared, and Darren Potter clipped a beautiful ball back into the box for Lowe, who beat the offside trap as the Pools line stepped up, wrapped his right boot around it into the corner of the net.
He could have doubled the lead 60 second later when he found himself unmarked on the edge of the area, but rushed his shot, almost passing the ball gently back to keeper Scott Flinders who took a routine catch.
Ironically, it was Lowe who prevented Dons from taking a two-goal lead after 23 minutes when Angelo Balanta’s block was tipped away by Flinders, but as Lowe got tangled trying to win the rebound, Bowditch’s follow-up hit struck the striker as he lay in the goal mouth – though somehow he fooled the referee into giving an MK Dons corner.
Everyone thought they’d gone 2-0 up after 32 minutes as Shaun Williams headed home Bowditch’s corner from the left, but while the goal music chimed through stadium:mk, Scott Flinders routinely took a free kick to resume play – a push in the build-up to Williams’ header the probable cause for his effort being chalked off.
They were the only side who looked remotely like troubling the scorers though – without the ball, Hartlepool could do nothing but chase the ball as Dons briskly passed the ball around. Flinders was keeping the visitors in it in the first half, and he needed to be on top of his game to keep Chadwick’s curling effort out just before the break, while at the other end, David Martin may as well have sat in the Cowshed such was his level of activity.
But he needed to be alert when Charlie Wyke found himself clean through on goal 10 minutes into the second half, but fortunately for the snoozing defence, Martin stood tall and palmed the ball away before pouncing on it – a stark warning, as if one were needed, that one goal wasn’t going to be enough.
As the one-way traffic resumed though, Dons came within inches of killing the game off for good. Lowe just missed connecting with Bowditch’s cross, while Balanta was caught on the hop when Doumbe’s cross found it’s way to the far post. And the winger should have scored when another Bowditch cross fizzed across the face of goal, but somehow the on-loan QPR man failed to convert from inside two yards. He would be replaced on the hour by Zeli Ismail.
As Hartlepool weathered the storm, something suddenly clicked, and they realised they only needed a goal to salvage something from the game. They pressed their back line up the field, forcing Dons to attempt to play in behind them – bread and butter for Bowditch and Ismail who continued to pepper the box with crosses, just out of reach of the hard-working Lowe.
As the clock ticked down, the midfield battle began to take precedence, but there was still time for Darren Potter to clatter against the bar from 10 yards out, while substitute Charlie MacDonald poked and prodded as Flinders failed to hold on to Chadwick’s long-range effort.
So while it was a comfortable 1-0 win in the end, Dons will be the more disappointed of the two sides at full time, not putting Hartlepool to the sword when they should have. But with other results in their favour, Dons move up to fourth in League 1, now just two points off the top.
Referee: Roger East
Attendance: 7,164 (111)
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Doumbe, Williams, Kay, Potter, Gleeson, Bowditch, Balanta (Ismail, 61), Chadwick, Lowe (MacDonald, 81)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Smith, Chicksen, Powell, Sekajja
Hartlepool United: Flinders, Humphreys, Collins, Horwood (Holden, 4), Franks (Poole, 70), Monkhouse, Sweeney, Baldwin, Richards, Wyke (Rutherford 80), Howard
Subs not used: McHugh, Murray, Johnson, Boagey
Booked: Sweeney, Baldwin