IT WAS a scrappy affair, but Dons comfortably saw off 10-man Bury 2-1 at stadium:mk on Tuesday night to secure back-to-back League 1 wins for the first time since early December.
A Dean Bowditch double in the first half proved enough for Dons to brush past lowly Bury who had Giles Coke sent off for picking up two yellow cards after David Amoo had given the visitors a shock early lead.
Boss Karl Robinson admitted it wasn’t a vintage performance from his side on the night, but said the most important thing was to come away from their two homes games in three days with six points, having put five goals past Oldham on Saturday.
“It was a weird game,” he said. “The pitch didn’t help, it dried up in comparison to Saturday when it stayed really quick.
“It was a very professional performance, but I’m fuming with their chance at the end and I’m disappointed with the chances we missed. We dilly-dallied on the edge of the box and we need to be more ruthless.
“But we’ve won the two home games on the spin and it’s very pleasing to get over the line with all six points. We’ve proved this place is still a fortress.”
And for the second time in as many games, Dons were awarded a rare penalty at stadium:mk.
Bowditch coolly slotted home both spot-kicks to increase his impressive scoring record to four goals in the last three games. But Robinson was left questioning the penalty decisions that did not go Dons’ way – namely a blatant pull on Daniel Powell in the second half that went unpunished.
“The penalty on Saturday was a weak one I thought,” he said. “But there was one that wasn’t given in that game, and one here on Powell that was as blatant as you’ll see.
“Maybe he (referee Darren Drysdale) had the decisions he had already made in the back of his mind.”
After Saturday’s rampant 5-0 victory over Oldham, Dons were quickly back to their best against Bury, with Alan Smith firing just over the crossbar early on.
Bowditch thought he’d opened the scoring after seven minutes when he did well to get on the end of James Tavernier’s cross, but Mark Hughes cleared off the line, despite Dons’ celebrations that the ball had crossed the line.
When Coke scythed Stephen Gleeson down from behind, there were many in the stands calling for a straight red card, but referee Drysdale opted to just book the on-loan Sheffield Wednesday man – although he would later pay the price.
And it was Bury who shocked the majority of the threadbare stadium:mk crowd – a season’s low 6,404 – as they took the lead against the run of play after 10 minutes. Racing through onto Stephen Schumacher’s pass, former Dons loanee Amoo neatly rounded David Martin to tap into the empty net.
It took Dons a while to shake off the shock of going behind, but it lasted just 10 minutes as Bowditch headed the home side back on level terms, and there was no debating whether or not the ball had crossed the line this time.
On level terms, Dons looked the more likely to score the next goal. Martin was more of a spectator for much of the game, while his counterpart Cameron Belford in the Bury goal was kept busy with a string of shots from Powell and Charlie MacDonald.
Gleeson took offence to a foul on Dean Lewington, which the referee saw worthy of his 10th booking of the season, leaving the midfielder with a two-match ban starting this Saturday for the trip to Bournemouth.
The scrappy affair wasn’t helped by the deteriorating state of the pitch which was showing signs of age and the recent frozen weather conditions as it hampered Dons’ passing style.
Darren Potter looked slightly out-of-sorts which prevented the quick attacking style of play that is usually seen at stadium:mk, but Dons were given a helping hand into the game just before the break.
Lucky to still be on the field after his earlier booking, Coke petulantly pulled back Mathias Doumbe as he looked to break into the midfield, giving referee Drysdale no choice but to give the Bury man his marching orders.
This left the Shakers with an uphill task, and the slope was made even steeper when Smith was taken down by Belford in first half stoppage time as Dons won their second penalty in as many games – Bowditch firing home a second penalty in two games and second goal of the night.
As expected, Bury simply put everyone behind the ball after the break, as Dons went in search of a killer third to wrap up the game.
And it should have come from 12 yards again when Powell was floored by Joe Skarz, but this time the referee waved play on, despite it looking a more clear-cut penalty than the one he had awarded in the first half.
Dons bombarded the Bury goal, with Bowditch keen to get his hat-trick and MacDonald eager to score his first goal of the year.
Both had brief sights of goal before they were pounced on by the busy Bury defence as their bunker mentality kept Dons at bay, meaning they created very little themselves at the other end.
But they could have wrecked the night for Dons deep into stoppage time at the end of the game as Hughes latched onto the end of long ball from Skarz, but his shot was rushed and weak, providing Martin with a rare touch of the ball – a wake-up call for the otherwise solid Dons defence.
The win further cements Dons’ play-off position, although they remain in fifth in the table, seven points adrift of Sheffield United in the second automatic promotion place, and they have now played a game more.
Man of the match Bowditch was delighted to come away from the two tough encounters with Oldham and Bury with six points, while increasing his lead as the club’s top goal scorer this season with 13 in all competitions.
He said: “I’ve got in some good spaces lately and luckily I have stuck them in the back of the net. But that’s what I’m there for. Even though I’m playing out wide, I’ve got to contribute.
“The penalties went in the same place. I’m glad the keeper went the wrong way again too, I don’t think he watched my penalty from Saturday! I was confident stepping up to it, and I thought if I had a good enough connection and luckily it went our way.
“Bury showed that they can make things very difficult. They did well to keep us out, and we couldn’t get that third goal to finish them off.
“And they could have nicked a draw right at the end and it would have been two points lost.
“That’s something we need to work on because we need to see teams off, especially when they’re down to 10 men. I’ve heard it said before, but sometimes it is more difficult playing against just the 10 men. But I’m glad we got the three points.”
The decision to send off Coke in the first half incensed the Bury bench as they believed that neither of his offences warranted even a booking. But Robinson was left scratching his head at their protests, saying he felt that Coke was lucky just to be on the field after his first challenge.
“I don’t know what they’re moaning at. He’s come in from behind and nearly broke Stephen Gleeson’s leg – he was lucky to get away with just a yellow card,” said the Dons boss.
“And then he pulls a player back which is another booking. It was soft, yes, but that’s the law of the game.
“It’s a weird game to sum up. It was scrappy. It was just one of those halves where if we scored one, we’d have gone on to score four or five. It just didn’t seem to go in for us.
“I know the fans will be frustrated because they see the opposition down to 10 men and we got five on Saturday. It doesn’t always work like that though. But the most important thing is the three points.”
With Paul Slane expected to finally arrive at Dons from Celtic next week, Robinson admits he is still actively seeking out further additions to his side as they look to mount a serious challenge on the last automatic promotion spot, with Charlton still wait out in front despite being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Rochdale while Dons were beating Bury.
“There’s an awful lot of work going on behind the scenes,” said Robinson. “We are trying to bring in other players to strengthen what we’re trying to do. We’re knocking on a lot of doors.”
Dons now face two long away trips in as many weeks – first a trip south to play-off chasing Bournemouth at Dean Court on Saturday, before travelling north to Victoria Park to face Hartlepool a week later.
The Cherries were big spenders in the January transfer window, having forked out an estimated £800,000 for Crawley striker Matt Tubbs, as well as signing former Dons loanee Donal McDermott and completing five other loan deals. They sit just outside the play-off places in eighth.
Dons’ last trip to Dean Court ended in a 3-2 defeat, and the two clubs shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw at stadium:mk in October.