Exeter 3-1 MK Dons - Tisdale's return turns sour for Dons

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It was a disastrous return to St James Park for Paul Tisdale as MK Dons slumped to a 3-1 defeat to Exeter City.

Having spent 12 years at the club, Tisdale could only watch on from the visitor's dugout as Nicky Law was left with a tap-in after just seven minutes. It would get worse 10 minutes later when Jake Taylor beat Lee Nicholls to double the lead as Dons headed in at the break looking totally clueless.

But they looked a different team in the second period, and were handed a vital life-line back into the game when Joe Walsh headed home Ryan Watson's corner. But Walsh would go from hero to villain when he and Nicholls conspired to allow Law an even easier second, killing off any chance Dons had of coming back into it.

Results elsewhere once again have let Dons off the hook in that they remain four points off the automatic promotion spots.

With all eyes on Paul Tisdale on his return to St James Park, he named two former Exeter players in his line-up in the form of Ryan Harley and David Wheeler. Kieran Agard dropped to the bench despite scoring in the 2-1 win over Oldham on Tuesday night, with deadline day signings Ste Walker and Jake Hesketh alongside him.

But those players on the bench saw their team-mates fall behind after just seven minutes, and it was poor from a Dons perspective. Allowed time to bring the ball under control, Jonathan Forte flicked the ball over his shoulder for Nicky Law to tap home as straight forward a goal he will ever score – at least until the second half.

Tisdale was getting a few choice songs aimed in his direction from the Exeter fans, and those only gained momentum when Jake Taylor doubled the lead 10 minutes later – his scuffed effort just about rolling over the line after leaving Lee Nicholls flat-footed.

With the home side stretching play out wide, Dons' narrower 4-3-3 formation was ditched when the second goal went in for the more familiar 3-5-2, but it did little to stem the tide as Exeter continued to pour forwards and should have made it 3-0 on the half hour when Law again linked up with Forte to dance through the defence, but drew a vital save from Nicholls to deny him.

Almost summing up Dons' first half performance, their best chance game 10 minutes before the break when a long ball to Aneke finally reached him, and after cutting inside Craig Woodman, found Wheeler in the area but his lay-off took it away from Alex Gilbey who was primed to shoot.

For as poor as Dons were in the opening half, they made the best start to the second period. Playing their best football of the match in the opening three minutes earned them the reward when Joe Walsh powered home Ryan Watson's corner to give the visitors a lifeline.

Incredibly, Aneke could have levelled two minutes later but forced a good low save from Christy Pym in the Exeter net.

Jake Hesketh was introduced to the fray, replacing the ineffective but oft-booed Ryan Harley, and immediately made an impact, forcing Pym into action as he over-lapped on the left with Lewington.

The change of the tide had Exeter on the ropes, and it looked like Dons were going to be level when first Aneke and then Wheeler both had great chances put wide.

But a catalogue of errors at the back would ultimately put the game to bed for the home side with 19 minutes to go. A long ball sent over the top for Law to chase led an an inexplicable moment of miscommunication between Walsh and Nicholls allowed the Exeter man an even simpler finish than he had in the first half to make it 3-1.

Referee: Stephen Martin

Exeter City: Pym, Sweeney, Woodman, O'Shea, Lee Martin, Law, Holmes (Kane Wilson 69), Forte (Bowman 86), Moxey, Taylor, Collins

Subs not used: Hamon, Aaron Martin, Williams, Donovan Wilson, Dean

MK Dons: Nicholls, Lewington, Walsh, Cargill, Martin, Watson, Houghton (D'Ath 86), Gilbey, Wheeler (Walker 74), Harley (Hesketh 54), Aneke

Subs not used: Moore, Baudry, Agard, McGrandles