REPORT: Walsall 1-4 MK Dons: Top half finish secured in style
MK Dons secured a top half finish with a dominant 4-1 win away at Walsall on the final day of the season.
With the winner set to take 12th place in League 1, Robbie Muirhead and Ben Reeves put Dons in control in the first half with spectacular efforts, before Ben Tilney's second half strike deflected off Stuart O'Keefe to make sure of the result. Erhun Oztumer scored a consolation with five minutes to go, but Harvey Barnes ended his loan spell in style, scoring Dons' fourth within a minute to end the second in style.
After picking up his 15th booking of the season against Sheffield United, Joe Walsh missed the final game of the season through suspension. It meant Dean Lewington, whose future at the club remains unclear, was shifted into the centre of the defence and Ben Tilney covered at left back. The only other change to the side which lost 3-0 to the League 1 champions last weekend saw Ben Reeves replace Kieran Agard.
Though Dons started without their top goal-scorer this season, Robbie Muirhead proved Agard wasn't the only one with an eye for goal as he blasted Dons into an early lead. Winning the ball in the centre circle, Harvey Barnes swept a brilliant ball in behind the Walsall defence for the Scot to chase, and after a good touch to get it out from under him, Muirhead left Craig MacGillivray with chance as he rifled Dons into an 11th minute lead.
He could have doubled it five minutes later when, after running nearly 30 yards with it down the right, cutting inside onto his left foot to get a shot off. This time though, the Walsall keeper was a match for it at the second attempt.
Muirhead's pace was proving something of a thorn in the side for the home side as he looked to pull Kory Roberts across the line, causing the defender no end of grief in the opening half an hour. Walsall meanwhile were quick to get forwards, but were victims of their own making at times, taking too long to get shots away, inviting the Dons defence back before frittering away their chances.
The only decent effort they had was a Roberts header which Lee Nicholls' routinely tipped over the top.
With his future also unclear, Ben Reeves was potentially playing his final game in an MK Dons shirt, and if it was to be his curtain call, he did it in style with Dons' second after 32 minutes. Cutting in from the right, Reeves reached the corner of the box before spearing the ball past MacGillivray into the far corner, doubling the advantage.
With a place in the top half at stake, boos rang around the Banks's Stadium as Dons nearly made it 3-0 not long afterwards, with Ed Upson twice given too much time to shoot but both times seeing his efforts skip just wide of the post.
The second half was a different story though. With the result looking pretty much assured, neither side looked especially energetic nor sprightly as the curtain prepared to fall on the season.
There was still time for Dons to make sure of their top half finish though as Tilney's goal-bound shot struck Stuart O'Keefe on the way through, wrong-footing MacGillivray and bouncing in at the far post.
Walsall gave the home fans something to cheer with five minutes to go when Erhun Oztumer, the only man who ever looked likely to cause any trouble, fired past Nicholls to reduce the deficit.
But it would only be a fleeting celebration as almost immediately, Barnes restored the three-goal advantage, dancing through the Saddlers' defence, twice looking as though he lost it, before another deflected effort beat MacGillivray.
Referee: Mark Brown
Walsall: MacGillivray, Edwards, O'Connor, McCarthy, Dobson, Chambers, Oztumer, Roberts (Morris 46), O'Connell, Markris, Candlin (Cuvelier 46)
Subs not used: Ganley, Kinsella, Bakayoko, Sangha, Kouhyar
MK Dons: Nicholls, Baldock, Williams, Lewington, Tilney, O'Keefe, Potter (Rasulo 75), Upson, Barnes, Reeves (Brittain 75), Muirhead (Agard 81)
Subs not used: Martin, Downing, Thomas-Asante, Logan