ALL thoughts are now on the play-offs after Dons ended their regular season with a 2-1 victory at Oldham Athletic, setting them up for a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Peterborough.
Goals from Angelo Balanta and Keanu Marsh-Brown sandwiched Carl Winchester’s spectacular strike as Karl Robinson’s men left Boundary Park in a fifth place League One finish, and in excellent spirits going into a two-legged affair against rivals Posh as they close in on their Championship dream.
Robinson made nine changes to the team which secured a place in the top six last Saturday against Notts County, with Sean O’Hanlon and Marsh-Brown the only men to keep their places in the starting line-up.
The opening 10 minutes passed by without incident as the new-look Dons side settled well, while Oldham tried to no avail to attack the defence playing together for the first time.
Adam Clayton saw a long-range free-kick comfortably saved by Dean Brill and Marsh-Brown also tested the Latics keeper as the away side began playing high up the pitch, enjoying the lion’s share of possession early on.
The game needed a spark, and it came in the 28th minute. Catching Oldham on the break, and riding a challenge in the centre-circle, Clayton battled forward when Oldham players tried to get back. The on-loan Leeds man’s pass looked to be intercepted by Winchester, but his poor touch allowed Balanta to pounce and as he entered the penalty area he neatly chipped the ball over Brill to give Dons the lead.
And that spark didn’t just work out for Dons as the Latics equalised seven minutes later. Collecting the ball on the edge of the penalty area, Winchester more than made up for his mistake, unleashing a spectacular shot into Stuart Searle’s top corner, offering Dons’ keeper no chance and waking up the home fans
The game was now flowing back and forth, but it was Dons who came closest next when Marsh-Brown made it to the by-line on the right. His cross was over Jabo Ibehre in the centre but found Balanta at the far post, although his header came despairingly off the crossbar with Brill just a spectator nailed to his line.
Dons continued to press for the lead into the second half, and it came just five minutes after the break. Ibehre showed great persistence to chase down Jean Vyes M’Voto who dawdled on the ball in the area, and robbed the defender and played the ball back to Marsh-Brown. Switching onto his right foot, he hit a low shot which looked to be straight at Brill, but a deflection off an Oldham leg took it agonisingly out of the keeper’s reach as Dons went 2-1 ahead.
Sam Baldock, Dan Powell and Charlie Collins were all given a run out in the closing minutes as Dons ended the game with six academy-raised players on the pitch come the full time whistle - a feat which Robinson was proud of.
He said: “I was very impressed. We weren’t just playing people for the sake of it, they were playing because they’re good enough. Not one young player got caught up in the occasion or looked like they were lacking.
“That’s not a side that is in the lower echelons of the division or fighting relegation. They were one of the better teams at the beginning of the season and we have proven that we can cope with resting nine players and go and compete with anybody.”
He was also pleased with the slice of luck in Marsh-Brown’s winner as Dons ended their season with back-to-back wins.
Robinson said: “It was going in the bottom corner, but took a deflection and went in the opposite side, so Keanu will be claiming it. If you shoot, then you deserve your luck.
“We’ve had an awful lot of strikes go against us this year that have taken deflections, but I think we need to take more shots. And it shows you if you shoot more, you get a bit of luck.”
Robinson is now fully focused on the play-offs, and admitted he cannot wait for Sunday and that first leg against rivals Posh.
“Everyone is fit, everyone who we wanted to get minutes on the pitch did so,” Robinson said. “We got goals at the right time, and we are 100 per cent up for the play-offs. We can’t wait. It’s just pure and utter excitement.
“I cannot wait. I’m devastated it’s on Sunday. I’m not happy with the players because I wanted it sooner!
“We’ll prepare properly, the players are as fit as they’ve ever been. We have been very professional against Oldham and hopefully we can carry this great performance into the play-offs.”