A SECOND half hat-trick from Sam Baldock guided Dons safely past Colchester United at the Weston Homes Community Stadium on Saturday.
Steven Gillespie gave the home side the lead just before the half hour as they led at the break. But Baldock was the hero in the second period, drawing his side level just two minutes after the restart, and missing a host of chances before putting his side ahead on the hour. The 21-year-old secured the victory with four minutes remaining after U’s stopper Ben Williams could only parry Chadwick’s shot into Baldock’s path.
An ankle injury to keeper David Martin in the pre-match warm-up meant Stuart Searle started in goal, and Tom Flanagan was promoted to the substitutes bench. Keanu Marsh-Brown was unable to shake off the groin injury which forced him off on Tuesday against Charlton. Sean O’Hanlon returned from his two match suspension and was named on the bench, and Angelo Balanta returned from the ankle injury which ruled him out since November.
In a balanced opening, which saw both side settle into a passing game, Dons had the first chance of the match. Gleeson’s sliding pass looked as though it was going nowhere, but Rowan Vine’s clever flick forced the play wide to Chadwick. He picked out Baldock in the middle who hit the ball first time, but it deflected off Matt Heath and over the cross bar.
Stuart Searle eased any fears from the away fans by saving well from Anthony Wordsworth’s free kick from the corner of the box, and then brilliantly closed down Kayode Odejayi when he turned Danny Woodards and broke into the penalty area unchallenged.
Dons should have taken the lead on 20 minutes when a mix-up in the Colchester defence allowed Woodards acres of time and space down the right flank, but the full-back’s low cross evaded everyone, flashing across the face of goal when all it needed was a tap.
Searle, making his sixth appearance for the club, nearly undid all his good work earlier in the half when Ian Henderson’s 25th minute cross somehow squirmed under him, but fortunately for the stopper, Dean Lewington was first on the scene to hoist the ball clear.
But he was beaten three minutes later as United took the lead. Odejayi turned away from MacKenzie on the right flank and put in a harmless looking cross, but Doumbe could only get a slight flick on it, directing it perfectly into the path of Steven Gillespie six yards out who side footed into the opposite corner, putting Colchester 1-0 up.
A slip from captain Lewington nearly let Colchester in again as the home side began to have the better of the game, but Dons hardly looked in trouble despite being behind, and the scores staying that until the break.
But within minutes of the restart, Dons were level. Baldock burst past Heath after some good work in the middle by Hughes, to slot calmly past Williams in the U’s net to draw the sides level.
But Gillespie could have instantly put the home side back into the lead when he was left unmarked at the far post, but Searle made himself big and got a foot to his low effort.
With the win in their sails, Dons could have taken the lead when Baldock found space on the edge of the area, but Williams was a match for it. Baldock could have had four goals inside the first seven minutes of the second half, when first he was set free but had his shot blocked, and then when another effort went well over the bar.
David Perkins was pulling the strings for the home team in the second half, and helped create the best chance of the half for Colchester. After running 40 yards, he slipped a pass through to Odejayi just inside the box, and his cross-come-shot slid across the face of goal and nearly fell to Wordsworth at the far post, but Doumbe slid in to intercept and put it out for a corner. In the melee, MacKenzie went down injured, as was replaced by O’Hanlon at the back.
From the corner, Gillespie should have put the home side back in front, but impossibly put wide from point-blank range and from the restart, Baldock then finally took another chance as Dons took the lead. After Powell’s strong run, he played a simple ball through the middle for Baldock to chase and side-foot easily past Williams putting Dons 2-1 up.
After the goal, the game fizzled out. Colchester came close to testing Searle, but their efforts went well wide of the mark, while Dons were limited to counter attacks.
Things really weren’t going well for Gillespie, when, with Dons reduced to 10 men while Chadwick was injured, the goal-scorer found himself unmarked at the far post but astonishingly, hit the roof of the stand behind the goal when the home side really should have been level.
But Baldock completed his hat-trick four minutes from time, putting the result beyond doubt. After Chadwick’s mazing run, he unleashed a shot on goal which Williams could only parry into the path of Baldock, who side-footed his effort into the roof of the net – queue raucous celebrations from the bench.
Colchester continued to create chances though, and could have won the game based on their chances missed. Odejayi headed into the ground from close range, and substitute Ashley Vincent put a header wide – all of which could have aided their side late in the game.
But at the full-time whistle, Dons remain in sixth position, strengthening their grip on the final play off place.
Referee: C Sarginson Attendance: 4,103
Colchester United: Williams, Beevers (Wilson, 88), Clarke, Odejayi, Henderson (Vincent, 68), Perkins, Gillespie, Wordsworth (Bond, 68), White, James, Heath
Sus not used: O’Toole, Izzet, Cousins, Coker
MK Dons: Searle, Woodards, Doumbe, MacKenzie (O’Hanlon, 60), Lewington, Chadwick(Guy, 88), Hughes, Gleeson, Powell, Baldock, Vine (Ibehre, 76)
Subs not used: Chicksen, Balanta, Stirling, Flanagan
Booked: Gleeson, Powell, Clarke