Forte favours the Saints as Dons lose hope of top two

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DONS let slip a two goal lead against promotion rivals Southampton as they all but kissed goodbye to their automatic promotion chances.

Gary MacKenzie’s first half header was doubled when Sam Baldock fired home early in the second half, but three goals in 11 minutes, two from Jonathan Forte and one from Lee Barnard, saw Dons’ St Mary’s hoodoo continue.

Karl Robinson named the same team for the third straight game, and Keanu Marsh-Brown shook off a groin strain that had troubled him in the week to make the bench. But it was Southampton who made the better start with some great passing play in the attacking third in and around Dons’ penalty area. Richard Chaplow had a shot on goal from just outside the box but it was straight at David Martin who gathered safely.

As 10 minutes passed, Dons began to get a little foothold in the game. With Gary MacKenzie and Mathias Doumbe standing firm at the back, their usual passing game began to come through, with Rowan Vine showing his quality with two reverse passes that anyone would be proud of - however Baldock was not quite quick enough to get on the end of either.

Saints came closest to scoring on 16 minutes when full-back Dan Harding put in the work down the left flank to get to the byline, swinging a great cross into the area, but it flashed across the face of goal, just out of reach of Rickie Lambert and Lee Barnard.

Daniel Powell was linking up well with Vine and Baldock, though the latter was once again pitted against a giant centre half in Jose Fonte and was often muscled out of harms way by the Portuguese.

Dons were nearly made to pay for a rarely-spotted MacKenzie mistake. The big Scot seemed to trip as he went to clear, presenting Guly Do Prado the ball on the edge of the area, but cutting back onto his left foot, Do Prado blazed over the bar.

Adam Lallana was having a quiet game by his standards, but came alive to jink a run past both Danny Woodards and MacKenzie to fire a pop-shot at goal, although his effort was comfortably saved by Martin as Barnard sniffed at the chance of a rebound.

Straight up the other end and Dons forced a corner when Powell and Baldock once again combined, leaving Radhi Jaidi with the last touch over the line. With the two centre halves up, Peter Leven’s corner was perfectly met by MacKenzie to score his second for the club 10 minutes before the break.

The defender was then called upon in more familiar territory moments later when he threw himself in front of Barnard as he was about to pull the trigger, as Saints went forward in search of an immediate retort, which never came.

Home fans’ pulses were sent racing when Lallana was fouled on the edge of the box by Leven on the stroke of half-time, but after his initial effort cannoned off the wall, his second bite of the cherry wasn’t much better as the offside flag went up.

However, Saints started the second half with a fire in their belly, and looked like drawing level when Harding and Lallana broke into the area seconds after the restart, but after that chance went begging it was Dons who struck next.

Woodards’ throw was flicked on by Vine into the path of Stephen Gleeson who spun a pass wide to Baldock in the penalty area, and beating Danny Butterfield for pace, the Dons striker smashed the ball threw Kelvin Davis to double the visitors’ lead five minutes after the break.

The goal, Baldock’s 11th this season, acted as a real wake up call for the hosts as they went on the all-out attack to get back in the game. Do Prado and Lallana were beginning to have more of an influence on the midfield, but the Dons backline was holding up well - Lambert was merely a footnote in proceedings at that point.

A host of substitutions held the game up around the hour mark, with loanees Marsh-Brown and Adam Clayton coming on for Baldock and Vine, but they couldn’t have predicted what the next 15 minutes would bring.

Saints made a sub of their own, and he scored with his first touch to bring the home side right back into the game. Lambert did well to hold play up on the right flank, and sent over a decent cross for Forte to tap in at the far post.

But Saints weren’t done there as two minutes later they equalised. Doubling up on Woodards, Lallana and Harding combined for the latter to send across a low ball, that Martin could only palm into the path of Forte once again, and he had the simplest of tasks to fire home.

Without a front man Dons looked aimless going forward, so Jabo Ibehre was introduced with 20 minutes to go at the expense of Powell. The home side nearly completed a miraculous turnaround when Martin made a fantastic one handed instinct save from Barnard’s header, but the Saints only had to wait three minutes more when Barnard found space beyond Woodards to smash past Martin and suddenly the game had turned on its head.

Lallana was having the time of his life on the left flank, twisting and turning Woodards in knots as he went in search of a killer goal, but he saw a shot zip narrowly wide of Martin’s far post with 10 minutes to go.

Marsh-Brown, who was causing trouble of his own at the other end, saw a shot make its way through a crowd of players after a melee in the penalty area. But with Davis well beaten, it trickled just past the post as Dons began to get an upper hand with time running out.

Marsh-Brown was again at the centre of the actions for Dons’ next chance. After being scythed down by Dean Hammond on the edge of the box, Leven curled a beautiful free-kick around the wall, beating Davis all ends up, but the ball came agonisingly back off the crossbar with two minutes still to play.

The defeat sees Dons remain fifth in League One and now set for the play-offs at best, but it could have been so much better.

Referee: M Russell, attendance: 22,377 (598 away).

Southampton: Davis, Butterfield (Richardson, 72), Jaidi, Fonte, Harding, Hammond (c), Chaplow (Forte, 63), Lallana, Do Prado (Stephens, 66), Barnard, Lambert. Subs not used: Bialkowski, Martin, Seaborne, Connolly.

MK Dons: Martin, Lewington (c), MacKenzie, Doumbe, Woodards, Leven, Gleeson, Chadwick, Powell (Ibehre, 72), Vine (Clayton, 60), Baldock (Marsh-Brown, 64). Subs not used: Searle, O’Hanlon, Chicksen, Balanta.

Bookings: Gleeson, Fonte, Hammond.