Dean Bowditch marked his return to first team football with a spectacular strike as MK Dons beat Shrewsbury 3-2 at stadium:mk on Saturday.
Dele Alli’s header put Dons into the lead after three minutes, but Ryan Woods equalised for Shrewsbury three minutes later. Chris Long scored then restored Dons’ lead with first professional goal, before Bowditch’s first appearance of the season, topped off with a brilliant goal to make it 3-1. Joe Jacobson pulled one back for Shrewsbury to make for a nervous finish.
Chris Long was handed his first professional start, going straight into the side after signing from Everton on loan. Lee Hodson couldn’t shake off the knock he picked up against Wigan and was replaced at right back by George Baldock, and there was room on the bench for Dean Bowditch for the first time, who has been injured all season .
Fresh from scoring three against Championship opposition last Saturday, Dons wasted no time in opening the scoring against Shrewsbury - less than four minutes in fact. Dele Alli took a chance to race into the box, and Stephen Gleeson picked him out with a delightful chip into the danger zone. With keeper Chris Weale closing the angle, Alli nodded over him into the back of the net.
The lead lasted barely three minutes though as they were caught out on the counter by Shrewsbury. Sidney Schmeltz, who signed on loan from Oldham in the week, collected the loose ball from a Dons corner, and spotting Aaron Wildig’s run in behind the defence, picked him out. Racing clear and with Ryan Woods up in support, Wildig drew out David Martin before sliding in his team-mate for a simple tap in at the far post.
After the bore-draw at Greenhaus Meadow on the opening day of the season, both sides looked far more lively in the opening 15 minutes at stadium:mk. Dons played a higher line and had far more territory than the visitors, but it was Shrewsbury who had the better chances to take the lead, with Tom Eaves denied by the offside flag, and by Martin reaching out to Schmeltz’s cross as the big striker ghosted in at the far post.
Chris Long’s touches were somewhat limited in the opening 20 minutes, but the striker looked lively and keen to get involved. Aside from a pot-shot blocked at close range by Dave Winfield, there wasn’t much for him to work with until he was gifted the simplest of finishes for his first professional strike.
George Baldock’s cross from the right found fellow full-back Dean Lewington on the penalty spot, who had bombed forward. His powerful header was expertly kept out by Weale’s big right hand, but it fell kindly for Long who just needed to poke it goalwards to put Dons back in front after 20 minutes.
From there, Dons looked to assert their dominance and piled pressure forwards. Ben Reeves, who has scored five in his last seven outings, twice had decent attempts blocked as he hovered dangerously between the Shrewsbury midfield and defence.
Referee Michael Bull made some intriguing decisions as the half wore on, making for a very stop-start affair, stunting Dons’ push for a third. Reeves again came close in stoppage time, allowing the ball to drift across his body before unleashing a powerful left-footed drive, forcing Weale into a full-stretch save.
Dons continued to look the more dangerous in the second half, though they were met with a Shrewsbury side now intent on finding an equaliser, rather than content to sit back. Schmeltz headed an early chance just over the top for the visitors, but while they saw more of the ball, their presence in the final third was fleeting.
The trio of Alli, Reeves and Baldock were almost having a game on their own, playing a game of keep-ball on the right flank, building frustration amongst the Shrewsbury back line.
Weale was under pressure for a lot of the second period, but was almost caught out by Antony Kay’s header from 15 yards, spotting it late and getting a last ditch glove to it to keep it out.
On the hour mark, Karl Robinson withdrew Alli from the fray replacing him with Daniel Powell to operate from the left flank. And he almost made an immediate impact with a worming run what was cut short as his shot was blocked in the box.
But the biggest cheer of the game was yet to come as Dean Bowditch finally made his return to first team action with 21 minutes to go, replacing Carruthers, having spend the whole season out with a knee injury.
And he marked his return with a spectacular strike to remind stadium:mk what they’ve been missing. Cutting inside onto his right foot, Bowditch bent the ball past Weale’s despairing dive to lift the Cowshed another notch in volume, doubling Dons’ lead with 15 minutes to go.
He could have had another too when he twisted and turned his way into a shooting position, but for a last ditch block from Tamika Mkandawire.
It was to be a nervous finale though as Shrewsbury snatched one back with five minutes remaining. Capitalising on some over-confident midfield play, Joe Jacobson found himself on the edge of the box, and with just Kay to beat, he turned the defender one way and then the next, finding a small opening and rolling the ball into the corner of the net to reduce the arrears to just one.
There were some nervy moments in the final five minutes as a result of Jacobson’s strike, most notably a double save from Martin on the ground after a foul against him wasn’t given.
But Dons held on for their first win of 2014, and one that sees them move within four points of the play-off spots.
Referee: Michael Bull
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Baldock, Williams, Kay, Gleeson, Potter, Alli (Powell 61), Reeves, Carruthers (Bowditch, 69), Long (McLeod 81)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Chadwick, Smith, Galloway
Shrewsbury: Weale, Jacobson, Winfield, McAllister, Taylor, Wildig (Hall 45), Mkanawire, Goldson (Bradshaw 90), Woods, Eaves, Schmeltz
Subs not used: Anyon, McQuade, MArsden, Parry, Smith
Booked: Taylor, Alli, Gleeson