Part one of Dons’ two-part challenge to go top of League 1 was completed on Saturday as they beat Barnsley 2-0 at stadium:mk.
Second half strikes from Dele Alli and a sublime effort from Will Grigg earned Dons all three points against the Yorkshire side, moving within three points of the summit.
And with a win on Tuesday night against 19th place Scunthorpe will see them go top on goal difference.
Karl Robinson, who served the first of his four-match touchline ban on Saturday, made two changes to the side which started against Sheffield United seven days earlier. Out went Samir Carruthers and Ben Reeves - the latter through injury - with Darren Potter returning at the heart of the midfield and Daniel Powell on the left flank. Loan signings Jonson Clarke-Harris and Devante Cole were both on the substitutes bench.
Potter’s return gave the midfield a much calmer aura from the very off, and he played a key role in Dons’ opening effort after just four minutes. Winning the ball with a bullish tackle on the touchline, Potter played Grigg in. Spinning Lewin Nyatanga, Grigg spotted Dean Bowditch’s run in behind and slid him through. One on one with Ross Turnbull, Bowditch lifted the ball over the rushing keeper, but George Williams was on hand to clear off the line.
Barnsley also started brightly though, and looked keen to get forward quickly to take advantage of Dons’ lack of pace at the back. Milan Lalkovic’s cross darted towards goal more like a shot, but with David Martin on his toes, was able to punch away. And the visitors would have been ahead after 14 minutes but for Dele Alli’s vital interception with Alex Kiwomya poised to bullet a header home.
Dons’ lack of pace at the back was exposed again after 25 minutes when Lalkovic once again got in behind, but with only Kyle McFadzean chasing and George Waring completely unmarked in the middle, the Slovakian’s extra touch took him too wide, allowing the Dons defender to bully him out of play.
Things weren’t really clicking up front for Dons as moves continued to break down in the final third. They thought they’d taken the lead 11 minutes before the break though, courtesy of some sublime skill from Dele Alli. Cutting in from the left flank, the 18-year-old embarrassed Williams by breezing past him, and from a tight angle, fired across Turnbull. His strike came back off the upright, off the back of Turnbull’s head before being tapped in by Grigg, only for the celebrations to be cut short, courtesy of the offside flag.
Barnsley started the second half the brighter, but it was Dons who took the lead 12 minutes after the restart. A high ball pumped into the box wasn’t dealt with by Jean-Yves M’Voto as he battled in the air with Bowditch, heading as far as Alli on the edge of the box. Composed, he poked left footed into the bottom corner through a crowd of bodies to leave Turnbull with no chance.
And it could have been two barely a minute later, but Grigg couldn’t control his effort, latching onto the end of Baker’s fierce cross.
But they wouldn’t have to wait much longer, and it came courtesy of a moment of magic from Grigg in the 63rd minute. Chesting the ball down, Grigg’s second touch sent M’Voto packing and he was in. Rounding Turnbull, Grigg rolled in the second to give the home side a cushion.
Dons should have been home and hosed with 19 minutes to go. With Grigg once again at the centre of the move, he shelled the ball wide to Baker, who twisted and turned George Smith, but his fierce strike was well saved by Turnbull.
Barely a minute later, Turnbull was again called into action when Baker found himself in a similar position, but laid it off to Jonson Clarke-Harris who stung the palms of the keeper from 12 yards.
Both he and Devante Cole, who replaced Daniel Powell, looked eager to impress in front of their new fanbase, and both certainly had chins wagging come the full time whistle, with some impressive runs and touches to get moves going.
Cole could even have added a goal to his impressive debut in stoppage time, but couldn’t direct his effort after Jordan Spence’s low cross.
Celebrations were business-like at the full time whistle, with the next hurdle coming on Tuesday, with Dons poised to reach the top of the pile.
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Spence, McFadzean, Kay, Potter, Alli, Baker (Green 76), Powell (Cole 62), Bowditch (Clarke-Harris 62), Grigg
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Hodson, Baldock, Carruthers
Barnsley: Turnbull, Berry (Scowen 78), Nyatanga, Hourihane, M’voto, Smith, Williams, Pearson, Lalkovic (Phenix 81), Waring, Kiwomya (Oates 69)
Subs not used: Davies, Ramage, Digby, Lita