IT WAS a return to winning ways for Dons at stadium:mk as they eased past Exeter City 3-0 on Saturday.
Dons couldn’t buy a goal on Tuesday night against Yeovil, but were rewarded early on when Mathias Doumbe’s effort was deflected over City keeper Artur Krysiak.
And Charlie MacDonald will be claiming the goal shortly afterwards, though his deft near-post flick also deflected in off an Exeter leg to double the lead.
Despite a spirited Exeter fight back in the second half, Jabo Ibehre raced clear to make sure of the three points with 12 minutes to go.
Karl Robinson welcomed back Darren Potter to the centre of midfield, replacing the suspended Stephen Gleeson. Adam Chicksen returned to the bench after a promising stint on Tuesday at right back – he was replaced by Doumbe who moved across from the centre, with Tom Flanagan taking over alongside Shaun Williams at the heart of the defence. MacDonald also returned up front.
A fundamental mistake from the Exeter kitman meant Dons lined up in their change black strip at stadium:mk.
Keen to make amends after Tuesday night’s defeat to Yeovil, Dons started brightly. After being named player of the month, Dean Bowditch went about proving his worth and he almost put Dons ahead inside the opening minute.
An attack up the right flank found its way across the box to the front man, but his low left footed drive was brilliantly tipped round the post by Exeter stopper Artur Krysiak.
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, 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 whose cheeky flick deflected off Troy Archibald-Henville to nestle neatly in the bottom corner – MacDonald running off covering his mouth, almost embarrassed to claim it.
It should have been three 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 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 Williams spotted an unmarked Flanagan at the far post and dropped the ball onto his right boot, but the defender’s booming volley was brilliantly saved by Krysiak.
And the keeper certainly earned his money when he leapt at full stretch to keep out Smith’s header in stoppage time.
There was still time for O’Flynn to blaze high and wide from 10 yards, but the win sees Dons remain fifth in League 1.
Referee: Iain Williamson
Attendance: 9,016 (377)
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Doumbe, Flanagan, Williams, Potter, Smith, Powell (Ibehre, 69), Bowditch (Chadwick, 69), O’Shea, MacDonald (Slane, 82)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Chicksen
Exeter City: Krysiak, Tully, Dunne, Archibald-Henville, Sercombe, Cureton, Coles, O’Flynn, Bennett (Shephard, 30), Fortune (O’Brien, 69), Taylor (Logan, 65)
Subs not used: Bauza, Pidgeley