MK Dons secured back-to-back league wins for the first time since October with a workmanlike performance against Tranmere at stadiummk.
Jason Puncheon's emphatic early finish, after excellent work from debutant Andros Townsend, proved decisive as Paul Ince's men went within goal difference of a place in the League 1 play-off places. If ever a game failed to catch fire after such a sparkling start - Puncheon's goal coming bang on six minutes - this was it.
But after their exploits against both Hartlepool and Southampton in the last seven days, even Paul Ince, the harshest of critics, could offer a nod of approval after the game. Albeit a satisfactory one rather than one of delight. Against a side struggling near the foot of the table, this was never likely to be the most open of encounters. Ince's decision to include Townsend from the start indicated the need for pace and creativity and the youngster didn't disappoint.
From the first moment the on-loan Spurs teenager touched the ball, the Dons fans were swooning - in raptures at the pace with which he carried the ball, fearless in his quest to embarrass defenders. So when the 18-year-old carved through Shaleum Logan and Paul McLaren on the left flank to set up the opening goal just six minutes in, the Cowshed must have been expecting a field day. It was the game's outstanding moment - Logan and McLaren left standing as Townsend burst between them, before cutting back the most inviting of drilled crosses.
Pinged back at shin-height, it was a gift for any player with the technique to finish it and Puncheon, with the deft touch of Roger Federer proportions, sweetly swept it home on the half-volley. It should have punctured Tranmere, a side with only six goals away from home all season, but the Dons, passing with comfort but without urgency, failed to secure the initiative.
Townsend fired just past the post after exchanging passes with Jermaine Easter in the 24th minute, but the visitors, who had consolidated admirably, went close with a long-range John Welsh effort. Mathias Doumbe, singled out by Ince along with Townsend for his first half application, might have done better with a free header from a Puncheon corner shortly afterwards.
But Tranmere responded with a bolt from the blue from full-back Zoumana Bakayogo, whose well-struck volley from 25 yards nearly caught 'keeper Willy Gueret off guard. Urgency injected from their manager at the break, the Dons came out of the interval quickly and might have doubled their advantage had it not been for Rovers 'keeper Luke Daniels.
Twice the on-loan West Brom stopper denied them from set-pieces - first when Wilbraham stabbed Puncheon's corner goalwards and again when David McCracken got on the end of a Townsend delivery. Doumbe was grateful to the recovering Gleeson when the Frenchman's one mistake in the match almost let Terry Gornell in. But, on the whole, Doumbe, alongside the outstanding McCracken, was dominant against Tranmere's three-man attack.
Townsend went close to a debut goal with 15 minutes to go when he curled onto the roof of the net after good work from substitute Jude Stirling, on to replace the injured Danny Woodards in the first half. And though Tranmere sub Chris Shuker forced Gueret into a regulation save in the final 10 minutes, the home side never looked likely to relinquish their grasp on the points.
A game that had some niggle after Tranmere's Craig Curran escaped with a first half lunge on Peter Leven, threatened to turn nasty on occasion towards the end as both Wilbraham and Gleeson felt the force of Ian Goodison challenges. But it probably won't be the last time the Dons have to battle it out this season.
MK Dons (4-4-2): Gueret; Woodards (Stirling 40), Doumbe, McCracken, Lewington (c); Puncheon (Chadwick 83), Gleeson, Leven, Townsend; Easter (Baldock 59), Wilbraham.
Subs not used: Carrington, Gobern, Darren Powell, Randall.
Goals: Puncheon 6
Tranmere Rovers (4-3-3): Daniels; Logan, Taylor, Goodison, Bakayogo; Edds (Shuker 61), McLaren, Welsh; Curran, Gornell, Thomas-Moore (c).
Subs not used: Cresswell, Broomes, Mahon, Collister, McCready, Barnett. Booked: Logan, Goodison, Welsh
Attendance: 9,438 (349 away)
Referee: Mark Hayward (Yorkshire)