MK Dons 2-0 Crawley: Dons made to work for the win

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Dons showed no signs of a Manchester United hangover against Crawley Town, though they had to graft hard to win 2-0.

While there was less of the glitz and glamour of Tuesday night, Dele Alli’s 15th minute strike put Dons into a deserved lead, though it could have been five or six by that point.

Alas, chances went begging and the solitary goal separated the sides, but the visitors were given a huge opportunity to level things up when Izale McLeod was sent tumbling by Kyle McFadzean in the box. McFadzean was given his marching orders, but McLeod saw his penalty saved by the feet of David Martin.

Benik Afobe, who had already rattled the woodwork, got a well-earned goal in the last minute of the game to wrap things up for the 10 men.

After the jubilation of Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over Manchester United, Karl Robinson made three changes to his starting line-up, omitting two of his top performers in Ben Reeves and Will Grigg. Reeves was ill for the visit of Crawley Town, while Grigg was replaced by Tuesday’s other goal-scorer, Benik Afobe. Tom Hitchcock also lined up for his first start in a Dons shirt.

Lining up for Crawley meanwhile was Dons’ all-time leading scorer Izale McLeod.

Confidence was obviously sky high going into the clash with Crawley, and Dons could arguably have had the game wrapped up inside six minutes with the amount of chances they had to open the scoring.

Dean Bowditch and Dele Alli both saw shots blocked at close range, Afobe twice tested Brian Jensen’s resolve and Daniel Powell rattled the frame of the goal in the opening exchanges.

But they wouldn’t have to wait much longer before they scored the first of the afternoon. Powell’s powerful run forward saw him shoot from the edge of the box, but Dean Leacock got a block in. The deflection though only fell into the path of Alli, who bent the ball around the out-stretched glove of Jensen to give Dons a 15th minute lead.

Rather than spur Dons on for more, the goal settled the game into a more pedestrian pace. Crawley were finally able to spend some time on the ball, though there was little of a threatening nature. Such has been the trend of the season so far, any potential dangers were dealt with comfortably by McFadzean and Kay in the centre, making life quite quiet for David Martin between the sticks.

Alli, fresh from an exceptional performance in midweek against Manchester United, and full of confidence after his goal, was once again dictating the play in midfield, but infuriated himself, not just his manager when driving forward, but over-egged his pass through to the eager Tom Hitchcock.

There were a few moments of bother for Dons towards the end of the half as they dallied on the ball in the penalty area, rather than putting their foot through the ball to alleviate pressure. McLeod was within inches of Gwion Edwards’ low ball across the face of goal.

At the other end, Hitchcock missed a glorious opportunity to double the lead on the stroke of half time, taking his eye off the ball and swinging at thin air as Baldock’s hard work on the right flank went begging.

There appeared to be something of a hangover from Tuesday in Dons’ play, particularly in the early stages of the second half. There was a distinct lack of ideas going forward, so while Alli and Mark Randall, who replaced Potter who appeared to be carrying a knock, were battling hard to graft out space in the centre, there was little for them to offload to in front.

Dons’ missed opportunities almost came to haunt them with 21 minutes to go, when a new hero, and a former one, switched roles to become villains. McLeod was put through on goal by a booming ball over the top, but appeared to go down easily on the penalty spot under pressure from McFadzean chasing back. Referee Mark Heywood wasted no time in pointing to the spot, and sending off the former Crawley Town defender. McLeod stepped up to take the penalty, but much to the delight of the Cowshed in front of him, his low drive was brilliantly stopped by the feet of David Martin.

Dons immediately countered, but Afobe’s touch took him too wide, allowing Jensen to get a big block on the shot.

The drama certainly lifted the home supporters and the atmosphere inside the disappointingly sparse stadium:mk crowd. Barely three minutes later, Dons would rattle the frame of the goal again, when a free kick on the edge was teed up to Afobe, but his low drive came off the base of the post, before hitting Jensen on the back of the head and evading danger.

Going down to 10 men didn’t appear to be hampering Dons though, in fact they looked the better team in the closing stages. Afobe in particular looked dangerous, forcing Jensen to get his weight behind a powerful strike just inside the box to keep the home side out.

There were scares for the home side though - Gavin Tomlin nearly pounced as Dons once again failed to fully clear their lines, but Martin got a block to the initial shot, and Baldock had to clear his second off the line.

Afobe got his reward for a strong afternoon showing, lashing home from 10 yards out to ensure the win and avoid the potential banana skin.

Referee: Mark Heywood

Attendance: 7,148 (244)

MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, McFadzean, Kay, Baldock, Potter (Randall 54), Alli, Bowditch (Spence 69), Powell, Hitchcock (Carruthers 66), Afobe

Subs not used: McLoughlin, Flanagan, Grigg, Randall, Rasulo

Crawley: Jensen, Oyebanjo, Dickson, Henerson, Leacock, Edwards (Harrold 78), Smith, McLeod, Walsh, Bawling (O’Connor 17), Tomlin

Subs not used: Ashdown, Bradley, Young, Banya, Rose

Booked: Tomlin, Carruthers, Harrold

Sent off: McFadzean