There was a battle for the headlines at stadium:mk on Tuesday night as Dons returned to winning ways against League 1 leaders Doncaster Rovers, hammering them 3-0.
Dean Bowditch struck the post before substitute Izale McLeod scored his first goal since returning to the club to put Dons deservedly ahead just before half-time. Daniel Powell, fresh from signing a new contract then fired Dons two goals to the good 11 minutes into the second half after a great nod down from McLeod as Doncaster barely threatened. But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Stephen Gleeson, who not only surprised most by returned from his broken foot which ruled him out for three months, but went on to score with only his second touch to wrap things up for Dons and boost them back into the top half of the table.
Gleeson was the surprise inclusion on Karl Robinson’s bench to take part in first team action again after breaking his foot in December, ironically the day before playing against Doncaster.
With David Martin still out injured, Ian McLoughlin remained between the sticks, but there was almost egg on his face within 60 seconds when he raced out of his area to clear an ambitious Doncaster ball forward, only to miscue and miss it completely. Fortunately, Shaun Williams was on hand to mop up his compatriot’s error.
Dons just about edged the opening 20 minutes, despite Doncaster having the ball in the net after 15. James Harper’s bouncing volley from the edge of the box beat McLoughlin, but play was pulled back quickly for a foul on Powell in the build-up, much to the midfielder’s annoyance.
The home side were playing some nice stuff in midfield, with Chris Lines having two decent curling efforts on goal, while Darren Potter looked back on form with some neat one-touch passes and clever runs high up the pitch to keep the Doncaster defenders on their toes.
Gary Woods in the Doncaster net was counting his lucky stars after 32 minutes when Dean Bowditch’s free kick came back off the post, hitting him on the back of the head before bouncing back into play. Ryan Lowe reacted quickly to the loose ball, but so did Paul Quinn who hoisted the ball away before the striker could get his shot away.
Two minutes later, Lowe was through again after a neat ball in behind from Potter - again though his shot was blocked.
There was some bad news to follow though as Chadwick went down injured, having played on from some early rough-housing from the Doncaster midfield. He was replaced by Izale McLeod with 10 minutes to go in the first half as Dons switched to play two up front.
Chadwick’s injury would come to be a blessing in disguise though as with six minutes remaining in the half, Lowe found himself in space on the edge of the box, unleashed a shot which was parried into the path of McLeod and he couldn’t miss, netting for the first time since his return to the club in January to put Dons 1-0 to the good - a lead they fully deserved going in at the break.
Dons continued to play on the front foot and take the game to the league leaders, so it was no surprise when the home side extendedd their lead 11 minutes after the restart. With the ink still wet on his new contract, Daniel Powell sent home a rocket from the edge of the box after Doncaster failed to clear Adam Chicksen’s cross, leaving Woods with no chance but to pick it out of the net.
The second goal threatened to light the fire under the lacklustre Rovers as James Coppinger forced McLoughlin into a fine low save on the hour mark. But that was about as much trouble as they caused.
It was a rejuvinated Dons side that graced the stadium:mk pitch from the one seen in recent months. McLeod continued to be a threat with every ball played up to him, giving the Doncaster defence a torrid time. Lowe too seemed to be thriving in the hole behind McLeod, looking to cause trouble as he floated between the Rovers midfield and defence.
There was more good news for Dons too as Stephen Gleeson made his return to action with eight minutes remaining and sensationally scored with his second touch. Izale McLeod nodded down Powell’s cross to the Irish midfielder lurking on the edge of the box and his low, hard drive darted into the bottom corner to wrap it up for the home side.
Dons climb to 11th with their first win since New Year’s Day, and the positives for once were the highlight of the game.
Referee: Keith Stroud
Attendance: 6,804 (453)
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Lewington, Kay, Williams, Chicksen, Potter, Lines, Powell, Chadwick (McLeod 36), Bowditch (Doumbe 74), Lowe (Gleeson 82)
Subs not used: Flanagan, Baldock, Rasulo
Doncaster Rovers: Woods, Quinn, Husband (Bennett 63), Jones (Griffin 46), Hume (Paynter 57), Harper, Cotterill, Lundstram, Spurr, McCombe, Coppinger
Subs not used: Maxted, Wakefield, Sinclair, Howieson
Booked: McCombe, Cotterill