AN EARLY red card gifted Dons the game on Saturday as they saw off Notts County 3-0 to move into second place in League 1.
Full-back Julian Kelly would have been praised for his excellent save on the line in the second minute at stadium:mk had he been playing in goal, but instead he was given his marching orders by referee Darren Sheldrake, giving his side an uphill challenge to get anything from the game.
But despite Shaun Williams missing the resultant penalty kick, Dons made their numerical advantage count by dominating proceedings, with strikes from Angelo Balanta, Clinton Morrison and a wonderful individual effort from Daniel Powell to down the Magpies, comfortably securing all three points.
In truth, the scoreline could have been much greater but for some wasteful finishing, and manager Karl Robinson acknowledges that his side need to do better in front of goal, and should have been further ahead at the interval, rather than by the single goal.
He said: “We probably deserved to be. If it was a boxing match then it probably would have been stopped, but football is a different game.
“You’re judged on the goals that go in the net. It was frustrating, because the way they play route one is difficult.
“We missed the penalty, Dean Bowditch missed another, Clinton Morrison missed one, Mathias Doumbe wasted crosses, and you were thinking ‘where’s the goal coming from?’
“But it was a moment of genius from Gary MacKenzie to get the ball up to Angelo, then the ball between him and Morrison.
“Did you expect him to tap it in? We all know he’s got something out of the ordinary and he did that with a phenomenal finish to set us on our way.
“They made a bit of a competition out of it in the second half, but I knew tactically we had it right, and luckily we got it spot on. We made changes for various reasons, we made substitutions when we needed to and they paid off.”
Robinson opted to make two changes to his back four following last Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with league leaders Charlton. Gary MacKenzie returned from suspension in place of Tom Flanagan, and Mathias Doumbe replaced Adam Chicksen to make his first appearance since picking up an ankle ligament injury in pre-season.
And the full-back looked as though he had never been away as he raced forward to join in with the attacking play.
On Doumbe, Robinson said: “It didn’t look like he’d been out at all. He was outstanding. We know his delivery isn’t always great, but he gets in those positions.
“I knew the way they’d play. I thought they’d try and play onto young Flanagan and Adam Chicksen, and I think we stumped them in their plans.”
In a quite incredible start, Dons were awarded a penalty within three minutes when Dean Bowditch’s shot from close range was blocked on the line by Kelly’s hand, giving referee Darren Sheldrake no choice but to send the defender off.
But unlike in midweek when he opened the scoring, Williams failed to convert as his spot-kick was brilliantly saved by Stuart Nelson, diving low to his left.
Magpies boss Martin Allen acted quickly to make up for their shortage at the back, introducing former Don Jude Stirling to a rapturous reception from the home fans.
Putting the penalty miss behind them, it took Dons until the 10th minute to make their man advantage count. Balanta’s goal was the pick of the bunch as he exchanged a quick one-two with Morrison before racing through, neatly lobbing Stuart Nelson to open the scoring.
With the man advantage, Dons looked comfortable all over the pitch as they made County chase for much of the opening half. Williams tried to make up for his earlier penalty miss with a good shot from range, which had Nelson stretching to keep it out, while Bowditch also forced a good save from the County keeper with his shot through a crowd of bodies.
Dons continued to pepper the County goal with crosses but just lacked that final bit of luck in putting the ball into the net as the visitors offered little in resistance.
Robinson though was growing impatient on the sidelines as his side failed to convert more and more chances – something they have been guilty of a lot lately. But for all their chances, the score remained 1-0 as they went in at the break.
Morrison had the best chance of the second half in the 63rd minute when he got on the end of Doumbe’s brilliant chip into the area, but Nelson was again on hand to save well before pouncing on Chadwick’s follow-up.
David Martin was forced into his first save of the day in the 67th minute when Lee Hughes rifled an effort on goal, but the keeper was at full stretch to keep out his angled shot.
Luke Chadwick saw another effort skip just wide of the post with 15 minutes to go as Dons struggled to make their possession and territory count though the home side never really looked in any great danger as the game began to close out - Sam Sodje’s ambitious overhead kick was comfortably saved by Martin in one of County’s few chances.
But the killer blow came with nine minutes remaining as Dons secured all three points. Bowditch broke down the right flank and with men over, picked out Morrison in the centre who blasted in unmarked to double the lead.
And to top it off, an individual bit of magic from Daniel Powell two minutes later made it 3-0 as Dons conquered over their tiring opponents.
Morrison, on a month-long loan from Sheffield Wednesday, was withdrawn with a minute to play to rapturous applause from the home fans, something that his manager felt he’d earned.
Robinson said: “He deserves it. The way he plays, moves the ball and hold up play is brilliant. And to chip in with the goal too. He showed his quality and I really like him.
“People say they’ve had problems with him in the past – I’ve had arguments with him, I will have arguments with him, I respect him, I tell him what I think, and I will always be there for him. If he puts in performances like he has done, he’s going to keep the fans and me very happy.”
But Robinson remained coy on whether he’d attempt to make the move a permanent one after the striker was told by Owls boss Gary Megson he was free to find another club.
“That’s not something I can answer,” Robinson said. “We have some fantastic players here. Could Clinton be part of something we’re trying to build? We’ll see.
“Clinton knows what I think of him, but there are other complications that go with signing players, and you have to respect the fact that he’s come from a massive club, so you can imagine the difficulties to get him to play with the likes of us. He’s a top man and we are so fortunate to have him.”
The result sees Dons leap to second in the table, above Preston and Sheffield Wednesday on goal difference, five points behind leaders Charlton.
Dons now face a long wait before their next game, which comes next Monday against Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park.