MK Dons will be glad to see the back of Southampton this season after the Rickie Lambert-inspired Saints secured a fourth win over Paul Ince's side this term.
Hotshot Lambert took his goal-tally for the season to 30 with a second-half hat-trick at stadiummk, including a 40-yard contender for goal of the season. His treble was the difference between two sides whose familiarity produced an intriguing contest, and snuffed out a spirited Dons performance which deserved more than the scoreline afforded them.
Annoyingly for Dons boss Ince, whose side looked to have learned their lessons from previous meetings, the two goals that caused them most damage should have been avoided. Lambert's first - a brave header as Dons 'keeper Willy Gueret attempted to punch a high ball to safety - and his second from the penalty spot after Mathias Doumbe had tripped Jose Fonte in the box, were both disappointing from a Dons perspective.
But the Merseysider's third - a stunning piece of vision and technique that drew applause from all four corners of stadiummk - simply served to highlight a major difference between Southampton and the majority of their League 1 rivals. The core of the Saints' side - from Lambert up front, to the outstanding Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield and back to the brutally consistent Jose Fonte in defence - has been assembled at a mighty cost, upwards of £3million.
Add to that the costly six-figure acquisitions of Dan Seaborne, Lee Barnard and former Dons winger Jason Puncheon and you begin to wonder just what Southampton could have done had they not started the season with a 10-point deduction for entering administration what seems like light-years ago. Though Lambert's brilliance eventually forced it into the role of subplot, Puncheon's first return to stadiummk since calling a premature end to his loan in January in order to join the Saints from Plymouth, was a major pre-match talking point. His reception was a warm one and it seemed to buoy him in the early exchanges.
Robbing Luke Chadwick down the right flank, the maverick wide-man's cross presented Adam Lallana with a first-minute sight of goal - Chadwick getting back to head off the line and atone for his error. But the Dons' purpose was intent in the first period, playing the game in Southampton faces and aiming to win the battle before they could express their quality. Aaron Wilbraham headed straight at Kelvin Davis from a Peter Leven free-kick and Mark Randall stretched the Saints 'keeper further with a shot on 24.
Then skipper Dean Lewington, stretching to reach a flick-on by James Tunnicliffe, got far too much on his volley with the goal six yards from his boot. A Puncheon shot in anger aside, Southampton were frustrated in the opening period, physically matched by a Dons side refusing to be bullied. Lambert was being starved of service, though one 35-yard free-kick did fizz just past Gueret's upright. Aaron Wilbraham battles with Jose Fonte.
The £1 million-man had barely had a sniff, but when Davis' long ball upfield was headed vertically by David McCracken inside his own box three minutes after the interval, Lambert sensed his chance. Gueret opted to challenge him for it, knowing his goal would be exposed if he was unsuccessful, and Lambert punished him with a brave header that bounced painfully into the net. In an all-too-familiar position against an equally-familiar opponent, the Dons responded positively and put the Saints on the ropes for what looked a vital spell.
Randall blazed a half-volley just over and Jermaine Easter brought another good save out of Davis with an acrobatic volley from 12 yards. But the Saints relieved the pressure on 68 minutes when Fonte, still forward from a Puncheon corner, went to ground under the challenge of Doumbe.
Lambert picked the ball up and the result was never in doubt. Jermaine Easter looks on as Joseph Mills sees off the danger. &nbsp; Wilbraham was left furious a few minutes later when the stray elbow of Fonte left the Dons striker's head streaming with blood. And as he received treatment on the sidelines, Wilbraham must have thought he was seeing stars when Lambert took aim after pulling down a long kick from Davis.
He's not hitting it from there. Surely. One of the cleanest strikes you're ever likely to see and one fit to secure the matchball on its own. Colchester's defeat at Walsall means the result hasn't had an overriding impact on the Dons' play-off hopes. But if they do make it into the top six in the next nine games, they might not be too disappointed if their bogey team don't join them.
MK Dons (4-3-3): Gueret; Doumbe, Tunnicliffe, McCracken, Lewington (c); Randall, Leven, Carrington (Gleeson 54); Easter (Gobern 64), Wilbraham, Chadwick.
Subs not used: Woodards, Davis, Howell, Powell, Morgan. Booked: Lewington, McCracken, Leven, Wilbraham.
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Harding, Fonte, Seaborne, Mills; Puncheon, Hammond, Schneiderlin (Wotton 90), Lallana; Lambert (Papa Waigo 78), Barnard (Connolly 81).
Sub not used: Bialkowski, Perry, James, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Goals: Lambert 48, 69 (pen), 76.
Booked: Schneiderlin, Fonte, Barnard.
Attendance: 10,570 (1,584 away)
Referee: Colin Webster (Tyne and Wear)