THREE first half strikes ensured Dons left Rochdale with all three points on Saturday, winning 4-1.
Rowan Vine opened the scoring after 15 minutes, and two excellent strikes from Daniel Powell and Stephen Gleeson meant the writing was on the wall for Dale after 45 minutes.
But the home side fought bravely in the second half, and Craig Dawson bundled the ball over the line to give the home side hope in the dying minutes before Sam Baldock’s penalty two minutes restored the three goal lead and ensured Dons remain well in the play off hunt.
Karl Robinson was forced into making one change to his team, with Sean O’Hanlon after being sent off last Saturday against Brighton, with Dan Woodards coming in to replace him.
The physical Dale approach was evident from the off, and they could have had the ball in the net when Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro out-jumped Woodards at the far post from a deep Nicky Adams cross, but David Martin was a match for it, diving for it on the line.
Luke Chadwick then took a couple of shots at Owain Fon Williams’ goal, neither of which particularly tested the keeper.
Both sides were restricted to shots from range in the early exchange but it was Dale who had the better of it – Akpa Akpro and Adams both had shots closed down by Doumbe, while a second Adams effort went just wide of the post.
But it was Dons who took the lead after 15 minutes. After his good work on the right to win a throw in, Daniel Powell brushed Joe Widdowson and sent in a cross to Rowan Vine, who swung a high leg to scoop it high into the net to put his side ahead.
The home side came close with a dipping volley from Matt Done, but the lead was doubled just four minutes after Vine’s opener.
A quick exchange between Vine and Chadwick opened up Dale, and with Powell in acres of space 20 yards out, the former Manchester United winger played in the youngster to rocket past Fon Williams, putting the visitors 2-0 up.
David Martin has been the hero in recent weeks, with Dons keeping three clean sheets in a row, and he was to thank for Rochdale not getting immediately back in the game. In the melee from a corner, the stopper flew across his line to palm away not once but twice before throwing himself bravely at the feet of Done, clutching the ball to his chest.
Rochdale enjoyed a spell of territory in Dons’ half, but created little. With Martin dominant with anything in the air, the home side were often forced to cut back from promising positions down the flanks. Nicky Adams was enjoying a lot of space down the Dale right as Lewington drifted inside, but his joy was not matched by the rest of his team mates as they struggled to make headway going forward.
While Keanu Marsh-Brown was having a quiet day, the same could not be said for his fellow attackers. Vine, Powell and Chadwick were enjoying space to cut apart the Dale defence, and but for some deep defending, could have been high and dry.
But it was not until first half stoppage time that Dons killed off the game. Marsh-Brown’s cross was cleared away but only as far as Gleeson 25 yards out, and it took an age for the ball to drop, but as it did, the Irish international fired in on the half volley, offering Fon Williams no chance as it flew into the top corner, giving Dons a 3-0 lead at the break.
The second half began in a similar vain to the way the first ended. While Dale seemed to enjoy more of the ball, they were suffocated in possession and just couldn’t work any angles on the Dons goal, restricted to hopeful shots from range.
And the home team really should have pulled a goal back 10 minutes after the break when Done was set through on goal by Chris O’Grady, but Martin closed the angle brilliantly to block the shot. But Woodards’ clearance didn’t get out of the area as it was collected by O’Grady once more, but his volley was played straight into the ground, bouncing harmlessly over the cross bar.
And Dale continued to dominate possession but with each minute, their chances ebbed away.
Substitute Jabo Ibehre was just inches away from putting Dons four up latching on to Chadwick’s well timed ball – one of Dons few chances created in the second period.
Dons defence was holding firm as Dale continued to press for a shed of hope from the game. Woodards, returning to the starting line-up after an ankle injury, kept O’Grady silent on the Dale left, while Liam Dickinson replaced Adams as the home side resorted to lumping long balls up the middle.
Sam Baldock continued his return from injury, replacing Vine with 15 minutes to play and took up a great position in the box ahead of his first touch, but Woodards’ cross was just behind the front man.
Another substitute Stephen Hughes was showing his quality in the centre of the midfield, winning some crunching challenges and showing a cool head as the clock ran down.
Dale fans had something to cheer about eight minutes from time when Atkinson’s corner was only half cleared by Woodards, and Craig Dawson got the final touch as it was bundled over the line.
But Dons restored the three goal lead two minutes from time from the penalty spot. Jabo Ibehre’s powerful close range shot was blocked by the arm of Marcus Holness somewhat harshly by referee Moss. Baldock stepped up and confidently smashed the ball down the middle to give Dons a well deserved away victory.
Dons stay sixth in League One, but the result will come as a massive boost ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Charlton Athletic, who could only draw at home with Tranmere Rovers.
Referee: J Moss Attendance: 2,837
Rochdale: Fon Williams, Wiseman, Widdowson, Holness, Dawson, Kennedy, Jones (c), Done, Akpa Akpro (Atkinson, 76), O’Grady, Adams (Dickinson, 58)
Subs not used: Edwards, Barry-Murphy, Thompson, Gray
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Doumbe, MacKenzie, Woodards, Leven (Hughes, 64), Gleeson, Marsh-Brown (Ibehre, 61), Powell, Chadwick, Vine (Baldock, 75)
Subs not used: Searle, Chicksen, Flanagan, Stirling
Bookings: Leven, Widdowson, Jones