Match report: Stevenage 4 MK Dons 2

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MANAGERLESS Stevenage took advantage of 10-man Dons as they ran out 4-2 winners at the Lamex Stadium on Tuesday night.

Dons took the lead after just two minutes when Jay O’Shea tapped into an empty, but from there it was all Stevenage. Michael Bostwick equalised midway through the first half from nowhere when his shot from range beat David Martin and the sides went in level at the break.

But two silly yellow cards from Mathias Doumbe saw Dons reduced to 10 men on the hour mark, giving the home side the upper hand. And they took full advantage with two quick-fire headers from Scott Laird and Darius Charles to put Boro 3-1 to the good.

Substitute Tom Flanagan gave Dons a late lifeline but Gary MacKenzie put into his own net in the dying stages to put the game out of reach, confining Dons to their second defeat in a week.

Karl Robinson was without Darren Potter in the centre of midfield – the former Sheffield Wednesday man suffering with flu. He was replaced by O’Shea, with Luke Chadwick pushed into the middle of the field. MacKenzie also returned to the starting line-up, replacing Saturday’s goal-scorer Tom Flanagan.

Stevenage, playing in front of their new manager Gary Smith who was in the stands for the game, nearly took the lead within seconds of kick-off as Chris Beardsley slid to meet Lawrie Wilson’s cross but the ball sailed well over the bar.

But it took less than two minutes before Dons were in the lead, scoring with their first attack. Adam Smith crossed from the right, but his cross was well blocked by keeper Chris Day, however he only parried it as far as O’Shea who was able to side foot into an empty net unchallenged for 1-0.

There were shakes of the head from Robinson later though as Stevenage looked to get back in the game – but while the home side had the better of the play in the opening 15 minutes, they struggled to make Martin work.

O’Shea was looking like a man determined to make an impact and stake his claim for a regular first team place, and was the star performer in the Dons midfield. But he could have done better with his 20th minute shot after some good skill saw him go past two players, though he sent the effort well wide of Day’s goal.

Stevenage drew level out of nowhere after 25 minutes though, when the ball was popped back to Bostwick 25 yards from goal, and his low skimming shot zipped past Martin at full stretch – harsh on the keeper who had hardly touched the ball so far.

The game threatened to be a thriller from the opening minutes of play, but chances were few and far between for both sides. While Stevenage saw more of the ball and were able to play on the front foot, they created little in front of goal, with a deflected Darius Charles effort their only opportunity of note. Dons though struggled to hold onto the ball on the slick surface, almost lost without Potter to navigate in the middle of the park.

As the clock ticked towards half-time, Beardsley nearly put Boro in front when Doumbe misjudged a routine header away, allowing the striker a free sight of goal in the penalty area. But strangely, he opted to take a touch rather than test Martin allowing Dean Lewington to get back and send him wide where the chance was ultimately squandered.

Dons seemed to struggle on the wet surface, losing their footing often and watching their passes skip off the pitch and out of play as Stevenage looked the more comfortable in the light rain, though the sides went in level at the break.

The second half started in a similar fashion to the way the game kicked off – this time though Jabo Ibehre’s early shot hit the wrong side of the net as Dons went about retaking the lead.

Stevenage quickly found their feet and were soon back in the ascendancy, pelting the Dons box with plenty of high balls to test Martin and his defence.

O’Shea forced a good save from Day 10 minutes after the restart when he latched onto Smith’s long hopeful ball forward, but an unmarked Charlie MacDonald in the centre was probably the better option for the Irish midfielder.

Things took a turn for the worse when just after the hour mark. Doumbe, who was needlessly booked for handball earlier in the half, picked up his second booking for a reckless challenge on Beardsley on the touchline, forcing Dons down to 10 men for the remaining half an hour.

Robinson acted quickly to replace Dean Bowditch with Flanagan, but the defender could do nothing to prevent Laird from heading in the resultant free kick, giving Stevenage the lead for the first time in the match at 2-1.

And their lead was doubled three minutes later when Martin was beaten by another header, this time from Charles as the home side looked to punish the 10 men of Dons.

It could have been even worse two minutes later when Beardsley put yet another header on target, but this time Martin was there to tip the ball over the bar.

Dons’ uphill task wasn’t helped by the fact that they still couldn’t get to grips with the slick surface, losing possession too easily as they tried to take players on and playing balls too long for MacDonald and Ibehre to chase as the game slipped away from them.

Dons gave themselves a lifeline with five minutes to go though as substitute Flanagan headed home Stephen Gleeson’s cross to reduce the deficit to a single goal, making for a tantalising finale.

But all hopes of a miraculous comeback were crushed when MacKenzie put into his own net two minutes from time.

The result sees Dons remain fifth in League 1 ahead of a vital clash with promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday next Tuesday, and must get back to winning ways if they are to keep up with the leading pack.

Attendance 3,345 (510 away)

Referee: G Scott

Stevenage: Day, Wilson, Laird, Charles, Ashton, Byrom (Edwards 88), Roberts, Freeman (Long, 68), Beardsley (Cowan, 80), Bostwick, Henry

Subs not used: Julian, Shroot

MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Smith, MacKenzie, Doumbe, Gleeson, Chadwick (Powell, 77), O’Shea, Bowditch (Flanagan, 63), Ibehre, MacDonald

Subs not used: McLoughlin, Baldock, MacNamee

Booked: Byrom, Doumbe, Ibehre, Smith, Cowan

Sent off: Doumbe