It was a smash-and-grab victory for Sheffield United as took all three points in a 1-0 win at stadium:mk on Saturday.
Having missed a chance seconds earlier, Stefan Scougall latched on to Conor Coady’s neat through ball, rolling the ball past David Martin for what turned out to be the only goal of the game after 23 minutes, though Dons can think themselves unlucky not to come away with something from the game.
A triple substitution five minutes after the half time break brought about a distinct change in the way Dons played, with a far more attacking set-up. Sanmi Odelusi and Alan Smith both threw themselves into the action, but United piled men behind the ball, making life ever harder for Dons to carve out a clear chance.
With Karl Robinson’s ever-growing injury list, he was left to name teenagers Harry Hickford, Danny Collinge and Will Summerfield on the substitutes bench. Without Stephen Gleeson and Darren Potter, Robinson’s ‘Rolls Royces’, Dele Alli and Ben Reeves filled in as the holding midfielders. Larnell Cole was handed his first start after signing on loan from Fulham on Tuesday.
While it was shaping to be a thrilling encounter, neither side really looked on top in the opening 20 minutes. Both midfields were enjoying time on the ball, but neither looked particularly troubled by the other. For Dons, 17-year-old Alli slotted into the play-making role well, and was involved in almost everything the home side attempted when going forward. Their best chance came when Dean Lewington spotted keeper Mark Howard a few yards off his line and attempted an audacious lob. Howard made it back onto his line though, tipping the ball out for a corner.
Chances looked to come at a premium, but two came in quick succession for Stefan Scougall. First, he poached the ball from Jose Baxter, trying a cheeky flick but it went well wide. But with Baxter’s furious rant at him still ringing in his ears, he made up for the miss by firing United into the lead barely a minute later. Latching on to Conor Coady’s defence-splitting pass, Scougall bent the ball around David Martin to give the visitors a 24th minute lead.
The goal did little to spark Dons into life though. Ben Reeves, playing a much deeper role in Gleeson’s absence, dragged his shot well wide of the mark.
United boss Nigel Clough was forced into two enforced substitutions in the opening 40 minutes, with both John Brayford and Jamie Murphy hobbling down the tunnel but the disruption didn’t play much into Dons’ hands. Despite winning a handful of corners, Dons couldn’t force Howard into a save of any kind, and went in trailing at the break.
It could have been even worse three minutes after the restart when the Dons defence failed to deal with what appeared to be a routine Flynn ball into the box. As Kay failed to clear the initial effort, Coady’s follow-up was blocked by Lewington, but only as far as Baxter who beat the stricken Martin, but not Spence, who cleared off the line.
That was enough for Robinson to ring the changes as he made a triple substitution. Off went Luke Chadwick, Daniel Powell and Larnell Cole, replaced with Alan Smith, Ryan Hall and Sanmi Odelusi.
And it seemed to shift momentum in their favour somewhat, and certainly created a bigger attacking threat as Smith and Odelusi used their stature to manufacture something up front.
But United still looked dangerous going forward, and a swift passing move allowed Baxter through on goal, but his strike was well saved by Martin. And Dons hit back quickly on the break as Odelusi lost his man, but his low drive into the middle was scooped up by Howard, with McLeod waiting beyond him to pounce.
Odelusi was in the thick of the action, making a real nuisance of himself to the United defence. Twice he out-muscled Neill Collins to climb highest and win dangerous headers, but he couldn’t quite direct them.
It was all Dons in the final 15 minutes as they desperately sought an equaliser. The threat of Smith and Odelusi was causing all sorts of problems for the visitors, but with enough men back behind the ball, Dons’ threat was muted.
The defeat does little to Dons’ remote play-off chances, still sitting ninth.
Referee: Darren Drysdale
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Baldock, Spence, Kay, Alli, Reeves, Chadwick (Smith 51), Powell (Hall 51), Cole (Odelusi 51), McLeod
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Hickford, Collinge, Summerfield
Shef Utd: Howard, Harris, Brayford (Davies 17), Hill, Flynn, Doyle, Baxter, Collins, Coady, Scougall (Kennedy 81), Murphy (Porter 40)
Subs not used: Long, Miller, Paynter, Reed
Booked: Hall, Baxter