The year ended on a sour note for MK Dons as they lost their first League 1 match since September, going down 3-0 to Walsall.
Boxing Day’s 1-0 win against Notts County saw Dons miss a glut of chances, and it was more of the same at stadium:mk two days later, only this time the opposition made them pay.
Simply more clinical in front of goal, Walsall were ahead after just 81 seconds when Darren Potter turned into his own net. Potter played a key role in the Saddlers doubling their lead an hour later when his header back to David Martin allowed Tom Bradshaw to tap in, before completing the scoring with 14 minutes to go.
The result sees Dons drop down to fourth in the standings, now four points from the summit, but still with a game in their pocket over the leading trio.
In Karl Robinson’s 250th game in charge, he reverted to the side which beat Oldham 7-0 a week ago. It meant two changes to the side which started on Boxing Day’s 1-0 win over Notts County, with Samir Carruthers and Will Grigg stepping in to replace Daniel Powell and Benik Afobe.
It was hardly the start Robinson would’ve wanted to his landmark game though as Dons found themselves a goal within 81 seconds. Andy Taylor lined up a free kick on the right-hand touchline and whipped it in with his left foot. It seemed the evade everyone but the hapless Darren Potter in the middle of a crowd of bodies, deflecting cruelly into his own net.
It acted as a catalyst for the home side though, as they began to flow forwards in their usual fashion, unperturbed. Dele Alli was seeing a lot of the ball and looked keen to drive on, while Grigg and Carl Baker both had shots blocked as they sought a quick response. It wouldn’t come though.
Dons continued to force the issue, but saw little in the way of a clear-cut chance. Dean Bowditch curled an effort just wide of the upright cutting in from the left, while Baker was doing the same on the opposite flank with similar results.
In fact, it was the visitors who should have doubled their lead seven minutes before the break when Romaine Sawyers and Tom Bradshaw broke two-on-one, but with the former sliding in the latter, Bradshaw could only shoot straight at David Martin, letting Dons very much off the hook.
Bradshaw lost the attentions of Kyle McFadzean twice more before the half was done - the first saw Martin race out to tackle him on the edge of the box before tipping a low drive just wide of the post with the second.
There was much more about both sides in the early exchanges of the second half and it lead to a much more open game. Grigg had a header deflected wide, while Sawyers almost teed up Bradshaw again, only for Antony Kay to intercept inside the six-yard box.
It was threatening to be one of those days for the home side when Dean Bowditch blocked Dele Alli’s deflected shot on the line as it appeared to be going in. He was flagged offside when he backheeled the ball into the net, but was immediately taken off for Benik Afobe.
Arguably Dons’ best player in recent weeks, Darren Potter turned villain for the home fans as his hopeless header back to Martin left the keeper stranded in No Man’s Land, allowing Bradshaw to finally find the net for Walsall, doubling their lead after 61 minutes.
It prompted Robinson to switch out both wide men Carruthers and Baker - neither of whom had been especially productive - replaced by Daniel Powell and Danny Green in a bid to breathe new life into the front line.
But it didn’t work as Walsall put the silver lining on the final game of 2014 by adding a third with 14 minutes to go. Only on for a matter of seconds, Malvind Benning managed to beat the offside trap and though Martin got a hand to his strike, no-one could keep tabs on Bradshaw who made no mistake in lashing the ball into the empty net.
It was processional football after that, with the game out of reach. Afobe’s header onto the roof of the net was as close as Dons would come in what would be a disappointing end to an otherwise excellent month.
Referee: Mark Haywood
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Spence, Kay, McFadzean, Potter, Alli, Carruthers (Powell 66), Bowditch (Afobe 55), Baker (Green 66), Grigg
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Baldock, Flanagan, Randall
Walsall: O’Donnell, Taylor, O’Connor, James Chambers, Downing, Forde (Benning 76), Cain, Adam Chambers, Cook (Baxendale 86), Sawyers, Bradshaw (Manset 87)
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Purkiss, Flanagan, Grimes, Manset