MK Dons got off to life in League 2 in winning fashion after beating Oldham Athletic 2-1 in a fiery encounter at Boundary Park on Saturday.
Kieran Agard and Ryan Harley struck in the first half for Paul Tisdale's side before Dan Gardner's goal five minutes before the break put Oldham back into the game and put them in the ascendancy for the second period.
It was an attritional battle for the visitors though, with Peter Pawlett, Robbie Simpson, Jordan Houghton and Callum Brittain all picking up injuries, while Dons finished the game with 10 men when Conor McGrandles was stretchered from the field with a nasty head injury.
Certainly not the most complete performance from an MK Dons side, but three vital points at the full time whistle.
Having originally been pencilled in for a return in December, Alex Gilbey made his eagerly anticipated return to first team action for Paul Tisdale's first league game in charge, four months ahead of schedule. Of Tisdale's ten summer signings, three made the starting line-up in Jordan Moore-Taylor, Jordan Houghton and Ryan Harley, while three more were on the bench. Also on the bench was Chuks Aneke, with speculation surrounding his future continuing to swirl as transfer deadline day edges closer.
It was a bitter-sweet opening 15 minutes for Dons. They were by far the better side on the field, and took the lead courtesy of Kieran Agard's ninth minute penalty when George Williams was hauled to the ground.
But Peter Pawlett's afternoon was over before it really began, suffering a challenge inside the opening 60 seconds and hobbling off after 15 minutes, replaced by Robbie Simpson.
It didn't seem to alter Dons' approach though as they doubled their lead on 21 minutes when Gilbey and Agard combined to pick out Ryan Harley at the far post to make it 2-0. Simpson could have wrapped it up three minutes later, though he was perhaps more frustrated than anyone to see his free header sail powerfully wide.
While the home side struggled to make much impact going forwards, limited to attempts from range, they did pull one back five minutes before the break when Dan Gardner lashed home from the edge of the box after some unsure defending between Jordan Moore-Taylor and George Williams.
For all their good work in the first half, it was a much more subdued start to the second period for Dons as the home side carried their ascendency into the second period. Gilbey's impressive first game back ended on 66 minutes as he was taken off as a precaution, replaced with his treatment room counterpart Joe Walsh, who was immediately booked for bringing down Sam Surridge before sparking Dons' best attack of the half when he countered with Agard.
Dons' defensive frailities were edging into their game in the first half, and they were still there in the second too, with Moore-Taylor and Williams both guilty of ball-watching as Oldham won plenty of corners during the game, though Lee Nicholls looked very assured as he came out to battle for balls in the air.
The remainder of the game was shaky one for the visitors as Oldham threw everything they had forwards to seek out an equaliser. Dons had to play out stoppage time though with just 10 men after Conor McGrandles was stretchered from the field after a nasty head injury. But Dons held on as they played nearly 10 minutes of stoppage time by the end of the game, putting the first points on the board.
Referee: Neil Hair
Oldham Athletic: Iverson, Edmundson, Gardner, Coke (Nepomuceno 46), Surridge, Miller (O'Grady 58), Missilou (Maouche 81), Graham, Branger-Engone, Hunt, Hamer
Subs not used: De la Paz, Benteke, Stott, Sheridan
MK Dons: Nicholls, Lewington, Moore-Taylor, Williams, Brittain, Houghton, Gilbey (Walsh 66), McGrandles, Harley, Pawlett (Simpson 15 (Cisse 86)), Agard
Subs not used: Watson, Aneke, Hancox, Siestma, Simpson