IT MIGHT not have gone in like he expected, but Charlie MacDonald celebrated scoring his first goal of 2012 as Dons wrapped up an easy 3-0 win over Exeter City on Saturday.
Mathias Doumbe’s deflected effort opened the scoring before MacDonald missed Alan Smith’s pin-point pass with one foot as it hit the other and went in off the post.
Jabo Iberhe’s second half strike then wrapped up all three League 1 points for Dons 12 minutes from time.
His goal comes after a 13-game dry run since his strike in the 3-3 draw on New Year’s Eve against his former club Brentford. And while he ran off, almost embarrassed to celebrate, he admitted he was delighted to be back among the goals again.
MacDonald said: “It was definitely mine, it didn’t go in how I wanted it to, but it was definitely mine! Hopefully I’ll go on a bit of a run now for the run in.
“It wasn’t even a shot – I tried to put Powell in on the edge of the box, but I missed it and it hit my other foot and went in off the post. I’ll take that all day long, because lately I’ve hit the post, the crossbar, the keeper has saved shots.
“It has been frustrating, but the team is on a good run. Even if I’m not scoring, it’s good to see the team still winning.”
And his strike certainly pleased manager Karl Robinson who kept faith in his striker, who now has 10 goals since signing in September.
“I’m over the moon for him,” Robinson said. “He celebrated like he won the World Cup! He believes in what we’re doing here, he puts his body on the line week in, week out and puts himself in the positions to score.
“There was an element of luck to his goal, but he’ll take it and go from strength to strength. Both our front men have scored, and that’s something that has improved.”
Controversy struck before the players had even got changed at stadium:mk as Exeter revealed they had only travelled to the game with their red and white home strip – an obvious clash with the all white of Dons. This meant the home side were forced to play in their all black kit, something which angered Robinson.
“They forgot their kit. They came with their home kit. John Gorman said ‘they can’t see us, we’re blending in with the empty seats!’
“I don’t know if it was deliberate, or whether it was a mistake, but we had to deal with it. I wasn’t happy about it at the beginning. It’s not good. I don’t agree that we’ve had to change our kit on our home pitch.”
It didn’t seem to make much difference though, as Dons took the ascendency from the first minute when Dean Bowditch tested Artur Krysiak’s resolve with a shot inside the first 30 seconds, with the keeper forced to tip the recently crowned player of the month’s effort around the post.
They looked well in control of the game all over the pitch in the early stages, dominating the possession count with midfield orchestrator Potter back calling the shots.
After lady luck abandoned Dons four days earlier in the 1-0 home defeat to Yeovil at stadium:mk, she gave them a shot in the arm after 17 minutes when Doumbe’s long-range effort took a wicked deflection off City’s Danny Coles, cruelly lifting the ball over stricken Krysiak’s dive and into the top corner, handing Dons a deserved lead.
David Martin was called into action for the first time on the 25 minute mark, easily scooping up Jamie Cureton’s spinning volley from the edge of the box.
A great bit of build-up play could have led to a second for Dons two minutes later, when Daniel Powell held up play brilliantly in the area before laying off to Alan Smith before Jay O’Shea just over hit a pass through to Powell.
But within a minute, Dons were 2-0 up. Smith did well to win the ball in the midfield and sent an early ball across to MacDonald, who missed his intended pass to Powell on the edge of the area, but deflected the ball off the base of the post and into the corner of Krysiak’s net. The end of his goal-less run came much to the delight of his team-mates, even though MacDonald seemed a little embarrassed to celebrate the goal.
It should have been 3-0 10 minutes before the break when Doumbe’s low cross was palmed away only as far as O’Shea on the edge of the six-yard box, but some desperate Exeter defending saw his shot deflected just wide.
To his credit, Krysiak wasn’t having a bad game in the Exeter goal. Unlucky with both deflected goals, he made a number of key saves as the half wore on to keep the score respectable before the break.
After a lively Exeter start to the second period, Dons were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty six minutes in when O’Shea’s quick feet were taken from under him, but referee Iain Williamson felt he made too much of the trip, and waved play on.
Cureton was proving to be the only threat Exeter had going forward, and his clever piece of skill, knocking the ball over Flanagan’s head, before turning and shooting deserved more, but it was straight at Martin who comfortably clutched it to his chest.
MacDonald had a glorious chance to put the game to bed when Bowditch’s excellent cross from the left beat Krysiak at the near post, but the Dons striker was just beaten to it as the ball stalled a yard out before being cleared.
Martin was the busier of the two keepers early in the second half and was called into action again just before the hour when substitute Chris Shephard cut inside from the Exeter left and shot low aiming for the corner. But Martin was down quickly, parrying the ball before using his legs to scoop the ball to safety.
He made the best save of the game with 22 minutes remaining though, diving almost the length of the goal to stop John O’Flynn’s deft header which looked to be dipping in at the far post.
A double substitution from Robinson with 20 minutes remaining looked to give Dons a new injection of life in the attacking third, with Luke Chadwick and Ibehre introduced for the tiring Bowditch and Powell.
Chadwick was immediately part of the action as he raced onto the end of an outrageous ball from the outside of MacDonald’s boot, but after a lung-bursting run couldn’t return the pass to the striker.
Fellow substitute Ibehre put paid to Exeter’s chances of a late fight back when he latched on the end of Doumbe’s through ball and raced clear of the City defence to calmly slot past Krysiak 12 minutes from time, taking a bow in front of the Cowshed in celebration.
It was nearly champagne time when corner taker Jay O’Shea spotted Tom Flanagan unmarked at the far post and dropped the ball onto his right boot, but the defender’s booming volley was brilliantly saved by Krysiak, though it was hit so quickly that he knew little about it.
And the keeper certainly earned his money when he leapt at full stretch to tip Smith’s header over the crossbar in stoppage time.
There was still time for Richard Logan to blaze high and wide from 10 yards when clean through on goal, but the win sees Dons remain fifth in League 1 and still well in the hunt for the automatic promotion places.
“The game seemed to be panning out in a similar way to the game on Tuesday,” goal scorer MacDonald said after the game. “But the difference was that we were making the keeper work, whereas on Tuesday that wasn’t happening.
“And in fairness their keeper kept the score down with some great saves. But we’ve scored three goals and kept a clean sheet and everyone’s delighted in the changing room.
“Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve in football. On Tuesday, we didn’t deserve to get anything out of the game – if you don’t make the keeper work and hit the target you’re not going to win games.
“It was our downfall against Yeovil but we put that right. We got a couple of lucky goals but it was a convincing 3-0 win.”
Robinson echoed his striker’s views, believing that their luck might have finally changed.
He said: “It’s funny how we had the same chances, and yet a deflection got us on our way. This game is incredible. The players moved the ball very well because the pitch is getting worse.
“I felt having Darren Potter back in there controlling the game was key for us. Charlie MacDonald up front created a goal threat all the time. We are going from strength to strength. It was a very good performance.
“I thought Smith and Potter were men in there. They won their tackles and headers. Smithy needs to be told he’s playing in midfield because enthusiasm to get goals is incredible! Jay O’Shea is beginning to make a name for himself too.
“I thought their keeper was excellent. Charlie MacDonald, Tom’s strike, the header from Smith – it could have been an awful lot more but it wasn’t to be. But we weren’t at our best, but we were good enough to win 3-0.”
Robinson admitted though that while his side were comfortable against Exeter, who now find themselves in the relegation zone, Dons had plenty more in the locker. He did, however, point his finger at the pitch for hampering their usual passing style of play.
“I don’t think we were in top gear,” he said. “Once you see us on a better pitch, you’ll see us up our game a bit. The weather is improving so there might be some more growth in the grass which means the pitch will improve, and we haven’t got a game here for 10 days which gives it time to breathe.
“It’s hampering us quite a bit because the bobbles don’t help. We lose our fluidness, but it’s just an excuse. The players are dealing with it well and if they can continue this run we’re on we’ll be unstoppable until the end of the season.”
Dons have a week to prepare for their trip to Chesterfield next Saturday, marking the beginning of a busy 14 day schedule for the club, which will see them play five times.
After Saturday’s trip to the b2net Stadium, they face Leyton Orient at stadium:mk, a trip to Wycombe and then back-to-back home games against Carlisle and Brentford to round out a busy March.