Jason Puncheon scored two sublime goals as MK Dons cruised to a Boxing Day win over crisis club Stockport at stadiummk.
Paul Ince's side climbed back into the League 1 play-off spots ahead of an important trip to Huddersfield on Monday with their biggest league win of the season and showed further signs of improvement at the season's halfway stage.
Wide-man Puncheon started and finished the rout, drilling a stunning 30-yard opener on 25 minutes and chipping a sublime fourth with seven minutes to go. But a booking picked up towards the end of the game means the on-loan Plymouth magician will miss Monday's game at the Galpharm Stadium through suspension. Leading scorer Jermaine Easter and the increasingly-impressive Nigel Quashie were also on the scoresheet - Easter's his15th of the season - before substitute Peter Thompson pulled a goal back for County.
But Gary Ablett's side couldn't avoid a 10th straight league defeat as their torrid season continued, with administration continuing to haunt the Edgeley Park club. Expected to win without breaking too much sweat, the pressure was on Ince's side to deliver on their first ever Boxing Day home game, particularly after last week's defeat to Brentford. And deliver they did, burying Stockport with minimal fuss and maximum professionalism, and Ince even able to withdraw some of his regular starters ahead of Monday's trip to West Yorkshire.
With Quashie and the returning Stephen Gleeson calling the tune centrally and Puncheon and Luke Chadwick providing the menace out wide, the Hatters just didn't have the quality to deal with a marauding Dons midfield. They were picking holes in the defence as they pleased in the first half. Puncheon and Quashie combined for the latter to float a clever short corner just past the far post and Quashie was again at his creative best when he drove a brilliant ball in from the left that Easter should have done better with. Adam Griffin mustered Stockport's best effort on the 20-minute mark with a stinging long-range drive Willy Gueret was forced to push over.
But it was merely delaying the inevitable as Puncheon opened the scoring in spectacular fashion. Taking a typically neat pass from the outstanding Gleeson in midfield, Puncheon set his sights from 30 yards before unleashing a swerving half-volley that flew over Fon Williams and into the top corner. It was a world-class finish in every sense and it shattered the confidence of an understandably fragile Stockport side.
Ablett's side still picking themselves up from that latest setback, Easter kicked them while they were down, but not without some help. Puncheon turned his tormenting attentions to right-back Johnny Mullins, exchanging passes with Lewington on the left before delivering a cross that look too deep to cause trouble.
Full-back Danny Woodards had other ideas, stretching brilliantly to hook it back into the six-yard box and the only challenge Easter came up against was that of strike-partner Aaron Wilbraham, who he just beat to the ball as he nodded home.Though their possession was almost constant as Stockport's five-man midfield chased white shirts aimlessly for long periods, the Dons' third didn't come until after half-time. And even then they were helped along the way. Woodards' angled ball into the box was aimed for Wilbraham, and when his knockdown was seized upon by Chadwick, Stockport defenders scrambled to prevent him going clear.
They only succeeded in presenting a chance to Quashie, who confidently bent his shot round Fon Williams from to put the result beyond any doubt. With the game won and Monday very much on his mind, Ince took the opportunity to withdraw stalwart defender David McCracken, goal threat Easter and the industrious Quashie before long - a move that disrupted the game's rhythm without giving Stockport much hope.
But Chadwick showed signs of bringing it back to life when he drove over from the edge of the box, after Gleeson had fizzed a pass into Wilbraham's feet. Stockport, whose previous attempts to take advantage of the lost momentum had failed miserably, did get a goal back on 77 minutes when Paul Turnball's pass somehow found a way through to Thompson and he shot low past an exposed Willy Gueret.
But when two Dons substitutes combined in the final few minutes, Puncheon gave the game a perfect climax. More good work from Gleeson created space for Sam Baldock down the right and when his low cross was met by Peter Leven, Matty McNeil's block took the ball into Puncheon's path.
The Cowshed cried "shoot", but Puncheon had other ideas as he waited for Fon Williams to set himself before lifting a gorgeous effort over the planted Hatters stopper and inside the far post. It was a glorious ending to an excellent performance, but possibly a bit of magic the Dons could have done with against Lee Clark's Terriers on Monday. If the Dons are to become the first visiting team to win there this season, they'll have to find their magic through someone else.
MK Dons (4-4-2): Gueret; Woodards, Doumbe, McCracken (Darren Powell 54), Lewington (c); Puncheon, Gleeson, Quashie (Leven 67), Chadwick; Easter (Baldock 56), Wilbraham.
Subs not used: Stirling, Gobern, Howell, Morgan.
Goals: Puncheon 25, 83, Easter 28, Quashie 48
Booked: Puncheon, Easter
Stockport County (4-4-2): Fon Williams; Mullins, Raynes (c), McNeil, Griffin; Ribeiro (Pilkington 63), Vincent (Poole 70), Turnbull, Tansey, Rose; Johnson (Thompson 55).
Subs not used: Gerrard, Halls, Rowe, Barnes.
Goals: Thompson 77 Booked: Mullins, Raynes, Griffin
Attendance: 9,661 (240 away)
Referee: Trevor Kettle (Rutlands)