MK Dons maintained their impressive home form and climbed within touching distance of League 1's automatic promotion spots with a 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers.
A solid, patient performance was rewarded late-on when Peter Leven broke the deadlock with a 71st-minute penalty, awarded after Mathias Doumbe had been shoved the box. And Jason Puncheon wrapped up the points with a crashing late finish that sent Paul Ince's side third and level on points with second-placed Charlton.
Not even a Chris Lines consolation - bundled home from a Rovers corner deep into stoppage time - could take the positive feeling out of another Dons victory, their seventh in their last nine at stadiummk. And while Ince's team have still yet to hit top form, that can only be an encouraging sign for the former England captain as he prepares his improving team for the back straight of the campaign. Another big boost for Ince's squad came in the shape of fit-again Danny Swailes, who made his first league appearance in 14 months at the heart of the defence, and showed signs of rediscovering his best form.
Starting alongside David McCracken, himself suffering from flu, Swailes would have been pleased at the sight of just one Rovers' forward - Jo Kuffour - in the starting eleven as the visitors looked to shore up after four straight defeats. But despite a bright Dons start, it was Rovers that went closest in the first half - defender Steve Elliott bouncing a looping header against the crossbar from a Stuart Campbell corner on 19 minutes. Having clearly set out with a game-plan to frustrate, Rovers were ironically enjoying the better of the chances - disturbing Dons attacks at source and capitalising when they were able to get numbers forward.
Andy Williams saw a poked shot saved by Dons 'keeper Willy Gueret and Aaron Wilbraham had to block well from Kuffour during an even first period. Martin Devaney impressed on his Dons debut. &nbsp; But the Dons showed signs of stirring when Wilbraham controlled Jermaine Easter's cross on 34 minutes, only for Byron Anthony to force him wide of goal.
Doumbe was within a hair's breadth of getting on the end of a Puncheon free-kick shortly afterwards, but the home side were again forced into some defending before the break. First McCracken dived heroically to block a clear sight of goal for Williams on 40 minutes and then 'keeper Willy Gueret smothered smartly at the feet of Kuffour after the Ghanaian had controlled Campbell's free-kick.
Though the Dons continued to attack with purpose, Rovers' threat remained after the break and following a smart save from Gueret to deny Williams, the visitors hit the woodwork again. Former Dons winger Mark Wright created some space down the left and delivered a fine ball into the box, but Kuffour's sweetly-guided header smacked the bar with Gueret stranded. With Ince now prowling the technical area for the first time in three games following a touchline ban, the Dons upped the ante and started to seize control.
McCracken's diagonal ball forward was won well by Wilbraham on the hour, and when Easter got between Elliott and advancing 'keeper Mikkel Andersen, his toe poke bounced just wide. It was Easter's final act as he was replaced by Sam Baldock shortly afterwards, and the young substitute went close straight away when he volleyed over from a Martin Devaney cross - the Barnsley winger making his debut after joining on loan this week.
And it was a Devaney corner that led to the game's turning point - Doumbe looking certain to head his delivery goalwards until Elliott nudged him in the back. Referee Danny McDermid had no hesitation and Leven, whose penalty record with the Dons is impressive, produced an emphatic finish.
It seemed the goal that would cut the Dons loose as Puncheon's exchange with Wilbraham saw him bring an unconvincing save from Andersen and Leven rifled just wide from another Puncheon cutback with eight minutes to go. And when the roles were reversed in the final minute - Leven cutting back expertly for Puncheon from the right - the on-loan Plymouth man produced the most emphatic of right-foot finishes, as he drove brilliantly into the top corner from 20 yards.
With the points safe and minds possibly wandering a touch, substitute Lines bundled home a corner at the death to give Rovers some late hope. But a fifth consecutive defeat could not be avoided by Paul Trollope's West Country side, while the Dons strengthened their place among League 1's frontrunners.
MK Dons (4-4-2): Gueret; Doumbe, McCracken, Swailes, Lewington (c); Devaney (Doran 90+1), Gleeson (Howell 90+1), Leven, Puncheon; Easter (Baldock 66), Wilbraham.
Subs not used: Carrington, Gobern, Searle, Davis.
Goals: Leven (pen) 71, Puncheon 90.
Bristol Rovers (4-5-1): Andersen; Regan, Anthony, Elliott, Lescott; Williams (Dickson 73), Blizzard (Lines 73), Campbell (c), Hughes (Hughes 79), Wright; Kuffour.
Subs not used: Evans, Reece, Swallow, Clough. Goals: Lines 90+3 Booked: Elliott
Attendance: 9,711 (734 away)
Referee: Danny McDermid (Hampshire)