DONS saw in the New Year with a much-needed win over Notts County on Tuesday, taking it 2-1 at Meadow Lane.
The visitors found themselves, surprisingly, 2-0 to the good after just 13 minutes with some sharp-shooting from the off. Ryan Harley made an immediate impact as his sixth minute free-kick was headed in by Darren Potter, before Daniel Powell doubled the lead when he prodded home from the edge of the box 11 minutes later. It could have been 3-0 but Potter missed a sitter from six yards. Shortly after the break, Jamal Campbell-Ryce got County back in it from the penalty spot when Antony Kay fouled Alan Judge, and that signalled a late siege from the home side as they fought to get back in it, but to no avail as Dons held on.
New boy Harley was thrown straight in at the deep end having officially signed on the dotted line for Dons on New Year’s Day, playing in the centre of the park alongside Darren Potter, while Angelo Balanta regained his starting role after missing out against Coventry on Saturday. Dele Alli and Alan Smith both dropped to the bench.
And Harley’s influence was felt almost immediately. After riding out County’s early spell of pressure, Dean Bowditch was fouled 40 yards out. Harley, known to be a deft touch at set pieces, neatly clipped a ball into the box for Darren Potter to head in the opener after just six minutes.
It could have been 2-0 five minutes later too, when neat inter-play between Bowditch and Balanta gave the Colombian space in the area to get an effort away, but Bartosz Bialkowski got down low to parry it. Daniel Powell had a chance to punt home the follow-up but his shot was blocked.
He didn’t need another invitation a minute later though when the ball broke loose in midfield and he took on Manny Smith, skipping past the defender and prodding into the bottom corner – Dons two to the good after just 13 minutes.
The efficiency in front of goal had the home side shell-shocked. After a promising start on the front foot, County were being blown out of the water by Dons quick midfield, and they could have been even further ahead had Balanta connected with Lewington’s cool chip into the box as he broke the offside trap.
The threat of going three behind without having done anything wrong seemed to kick County, and in particular the fans, into another gear as they went in search of a way back into the game. Lee Hughes looked dangerous as ever as twice he peeled off the shoulder to get in behind – one caught offside and once let down by his first touch. He also had a penalty appeal turned away as he clashed with Kay in the box.
Potter should have wrapped things up though with just 25 minutes on the clock. Lowe got on the end of Powell’s low cross from the right, forcing Bialkowski into a good stop, but the rebound fell to Potter on the corner of the six yard box. With the goal gaping, he somehow miscued his shot and sent it well wide of the mark.
Cpunty though continued to pump the box full of crosses, aiming for Iwelumo and Hughes in the centre. Alan Judge and Jamal Campbell-Ryce were enjoying a lot of time on the County left as Adam Chicksen struggled to keep tabs on the pair, but for all their crosses, the Dons defence stood firm. The closest County came was a header over from Neal Bishop in stoppage time.
It couldn’t all be plain sailing though. Dean Bowditch, who looked to be having a good time of things in the hole behind Lowe, limped off in injury time holding his groin. He was replaced by Alan Smith seconds before the half time whistle.
The next goal looked like being decisive in the outcome in the match. Dons, knowing a third would put the game to bed, came close to notching five minutes after the restart when Shaun Williams ventured forward only to shoot wide.
But it was County who netted next, courtesy of a Campbel-Ryce spot kick. As he barged his way towards goal, Judge went down under pressure from Antony Kay, with referee Graham Salisbury taking no time to award the penalty. Campbell-Ryce sent David Martin the wrong way to get the home crowd roaring again with 34 minutes still to go.
County continued to pile forward in search of an equaliser. Half time substitute Yoann Arquin forced a good low stop from Martin as he beat Kay for pace and cut inside but couldn’t beat the keeper.
Robinson was forced into another forced substitution when Balanta this time hobbled off and was replaced by Mathias Doumbe.
Despite the pressure, Dons put together their best move of the second half when the impressive Harley made Potter’s loose pass work to his advantage on the flank, and picked out Powell unmarked on the edge. But the winger was let down by his first touch, letting the defenders close down his shot when he eventually fired off.
Hughes continued to be a tough man for Dons to keep track of as he went one-on-one with Kay. Twisting and turning the defender, the goal opened up for him 10 yards out, but at the vital moment, the striker slipped and appeared to throw the all towards goal, picking up a booking for his sins. Five minutes later, he clattered against the bar from close range.
What threatened to be a nervy final 10 minutes didn’t really come to fruition, with Judge coming closest with a bending shot just over the top.
Gary MacKenzie was brought on late in the day to keep tabs on County’s stoppage time introduction Enoch Showunmi – a huge boost for Karl Robinson’s injury strewn squad to have him back.
The win sees Dons back into the play-offs, up to sixth.
Referee: Graham Salisbury
Notts County: Bialkowski, Kelly (Showunmi 90), Bishop, Smith, Liddle, Judge, Hughes, Campbell-Ryce (Zoko 77), Boucard, Stewart, Iwelumo (Arquin, 46)
Subs not used: Spiess, Mahon, Labadie, Bencherif
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Williams, Kay, Chicksen, Potter, Harley, Balanta (Doumbe 65), Bowditch (Smith 45), Powell, Lowe (MacKenzie, 90)
Subs not used: McLoughlin, MacDonald, Alli, Ismail