Two former England internationals were the key to MK Dons’ undoing at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday as Middlesbrough beat them 2-0.
Stewart Downing and David Nugent netted second half goals to consign Dons to their second consecutive Championship defeat.
While it took Boro until the 70th minute to open the scoring though, Dons looked distinctly short going forward once again, though substitute Simon Church was desperately unlucky not to open the scoring with his first touch, seeing his lob come back off the post.
Dons travelled to the Riverside Stadium without six first teamers through injury - most notably, Darren Potter and Ben Reeves. It meant a reshuffle of the pack for boss Karl Robinson, which saw Josh Murphy and Daniel Powell were drafted into the starting 11. Sam Gallagher kept his place up front.
The home started at a quick tempo, and instantly settled into their stride, pegging Dons back. The wide Riverside pitch helped stretch the game to bring in Adam Reach and Stewart Downing on the flanks.
And it was the latter who helped set up the former for the first chance of the game, though David Martin did well to keep out his 12th minute strike. He was at full stretch two minutes later too, easily keeping out Grant Leadbitter’s long range effort.
Dons didn’t look out of place though, stroking it around nicely in midfield, albeit rushed by the Boro central partnership of Leadbitter and former Dons loanee Adam Clayton. But they were restricted to hitting Middlesbrough on the counter as they dug in and controlled the tempo.
Going forward though, Dons looked toothless. Despite Dean Bowditch attempts to get in and amongst the Boro defence, there was little for him to work with. Gallagher barely touched the ball, while Josh Murphy and Daniel Powell contributed next to nothing in the attacking third.
Martin was comfortably the busier of the two stoppers in first half, and was needed to keep out two more Leadbitter efforts in the opening half hour. But without a really clear-cut chance, it was a fairly calm ride into the break.
Dons inability to raise the heart-rates of the Boro defence lasted just 10 minutes into the second period, with Gallagher withdrawn and replaced by Simon Church.
And his impact was almost immediate as he raced in behind and lifted the ball brilliantly over Dimi Konstantopoulos. But such is his luck of late, it came back off the inside of the post and was hoisted away.
Against Birmingham, Robinson criticised his side for not wanting to pull the trigger, so his blood must have been boiling when, after a great move with Jordan Spence, Diego Poyet opted a lavish pass wide rather than taking on Konstantopoulos.
And they were made to pay immediately, as Stewart Downing gambled and fired Boro ahead with 20 minutes remaining. Picking the ball up just inside the penalty area and totally unmarked, he neatly clipped the ball into the far corner of the net to give the home side the lead.
The goal certainly seemed to lift Dons, aided by the introduction of Carl Baker. But Antony Kay was just inches away from Rob Hall’s corner as Konstantopoulos came flapping with 10 minutes to go. It would be curtains within seconds though as McFadzean gave the ball away to David Nugent just outside the box, and the former England international made no mistakes in sending Martin the wrong way to double the lead, and wrapping up all three points.
There were half chances towards the end for Dons, with Baker and Hall both forcing saves from Konstantopoulos, but the result was never in doubt as the home side saw the game out in consummate fashion.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Attendance: 21,448 (363)
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Kalas, Ayala, Gibson (Amorebieta 49), Friend, Leadbitter, Clayton, Reach (Stuani 61), Downing, Fabbrini (Forshaw 83), Nugent
Subs not used: Mejias, Kike, Stephens, Nsue
MK Dons: Martin; Spence, McFadzean, Kay, Lewington (c); Poyet, Carruthers (Hall 79); Murphy, Bowditch, Powell (Baker 71); Gallagher (Church 55)
Subs not used: Burns, Hodson, Upson, Aguza
Booked: Clayton, Carruthers, Baker