A game against Oldham Athletic couldn’t have come at a better time for MK Dons as their promotion hunt took a much needed breath of air on Tuesday night.
Dons, having not won in four, were looking for a way back to winning ways, and they don’t come much simpler than the 3-1 cruise at Boundary Park.
The Latics, riddled with injuries, crippled with a lack of confidence and desperately seeking stability following Lee Johnson’s departure at the helm, showed few signs of life against a Dons side whose confidence is beginning to ebb back.
Few were expecting a repeat of the 7-0 demolition Dons handed out at stadium:mk earlier this season, though it could quite easily have finished that way, had Will Grigg tied his shooting boots that little bit tighter.
Barely two minutes after the opening whistle, Grigg had rattled the frame of the goal as keeper Jake Kean fumbled Dean Bowditch’s low effort into the path of the striker, though off-balance, struck the base of the post with the rebound.
The fast-flowing midfield passing play Dons have become synonymous for in recent years was beginning to show signs of reappearing, led by the ever improving Samir Carruthers at the heart of it all.
Stepping up to fill in for, and ultimately replace, Dele Alli has been no mean feat, but Carruthers put in back-to-back displays of the highest order as Dons began to regain their edge.
And his pass released Bowditch in behind the Oldham defence after 25 minutes to neatly roll Dons into the lead.
Jonathan Forte then had two good chances for the home side to pull level, but a brilliant tackle from Kyle McFadzean and a brave bit of goalkeeping from David Martin made the chances, in hindsight, mere bumps in the road.
There was an element of luck involved in Dons’ second eight minutes before the break, but only in the way a ball across the face of goal bounced conveniently off Daniel Powell and into the unguarded net, rather than being delicately placed.
The build-up play, instigated by Grigg, who had forced Kean into a sensational save in the meantime, and cleverly played in by Carruthers was far more reminiscent of the Dons side which dismantled Crewe at the end of January to take over at the top of League 1, as opposed to the one which capitulated so spectacularly against Preston less than two weeks ago.
The two goal cushion was nearly halved a matter of seconds after the restart when Conor Wilkinson hit the post from a pot-shot just inside the box as Oldham started the second half brightly.
The home side were dealt a blow when keeper Kean was forced off through injury, adding to the ever-growing list of sidelined talent available to temporary boss Dean Holden.
But few keepers in League 1 would have been able to stop Ben Reeves’ spectacular curler from the edge of the penalty area on 65 minutes as Dons flexed their muscles to make it 3-0.
There was still time for Grigg to miss two more relatively straight forward chances though such was Dons’ position in the game that it mattered relatively little on the grand scheme of things.
Rhys Turner’s excellent solo effort with 10 minutes to go did little to lift the home fans, even if it was only the second Latics goal at Boundary Park since February 10.
While the top three also picked up victories on the night, Dons stay very much in the promotion hunt. And with nine games to go, returning to winning ways couldn’t have come at a better time.