Sam Baldock made a welcome return from injury to inspire MK Dons to a first win in seven games against Dagenham & Redbridge at stadiummk.
The Dons leading scorer, out for three weeks with ankle trouble, breached a stubborn Daggers defence with his fifth goal of the season just five minutes after his introduction early in the second half. And defender Mathias Kouo-Doumbé made the points safe just after the hour-mark when he headed home from an Angelo Balanta corner.
The sense of relief was impossible to ignore around MK1, particular after Jermaine Easter missed a first-half penalty, but this was an impressive Dons performance at the end of a remarkably-demanding run of games. Despite not winning for six games since their 2-0 triumph over Southampton, the Dons are now just two points off the second automatic promotion spot and level with fourth-placed Bournemouth, who they visit next Saturday.
And further encouragement must surely be found in the upturn in form of Easter who, despite passing up the chance to end his goal-drought from the spot, produced his best display in some time following Baldock's introduction.
With Sean O'Hanlon returning from the starting eleven and Baldock and Gary MacKenzie returning to the bench there was a spring in the step of a Dons side searching for their second win over the Daggers this season. As has become their custom, they dominated possession from a very early stage, with Dietmar Hamann and Peter Leven orchestrating from the heart of midfield.
Hamann's pedigree was on show very quickly - the German majestically picking out the fractionally offside Danny Woodards on 10 minutes for what would have been a clear sight of goal. His next contribution, a raking ball out to the left flank, allowed Dean Lewington to whip in a cross that the airborne Easter was an eyebrow away from converting.
Easter tries to block a Scott Doe clearance. &nbsp; Dagenham's threat was limited to say the least, though they were nearly handed the initiative on 18 minutes when Danny Green's harmless long throw was missed by both Kouo-Doumbé and goalkeeper David Martin before Woodards hooked to safety.
It was from another Green throw 10 minutes later that the visitors again looked to forage - leading scorer Romain Vincelot miscuing from a tight angle after Bas Savage had headed down in the box. But the Dons continued to look by far the more menacing and, after Luke Chadwick had forced a decent save from Tony Roberts from 18 yards, Easter was presented with a golden chance to find his first league goal of the campaign.
The Dons hadn't been awarded a spot-kick this season prior to today and referee James Linnington is a notoriously infrequent awarder, so when Roberts sent Lewis Guy tumbling to earth as he tried to make the most of a deflected Easter shot, there was a brief conversation as to who would take on the responsibility. Easter won the battle of wills with Leven, but saw his side-footed effort hit the outside of the post instead of the back of the net.
The Welshman looked to the heavens, wondering when his drought would finally end, but Baldock's introduction at the break immediately lifted him. Buoyed by the arrival of a partner to work with, Easter started to look like the man who performed so impressively in the campaign's early games, and combined brilliantly with his strike partner before firing over seven minutes after the restart. But it was Baldock who had the Daggers running scared, petrifying Scott Doe and Mark Arber with his pace in behind and rushing Damien McCrory and Phil Ifil with his work rate out wide.
So, having replaced the injured Leven five minutes into the second half, it was hardly surprising that the returning hitman would break the deadlock just five minutes later. Hanging on the shoulder of Doe with menacing intent, Baldock's pace looked to have left him short on support as he raced onto Angelo Balanta's through-pass.
He may even have kidded Roberts into expecting a cross as he pulled up in the inside left channel, before brilliantly clipping the ball over the committed 'keeper and just inside the far post. A wonderfully-accomplished finish from the 21-year-old striker to take his tally to five for the season, and one that lifted a weight off his team's shoulders. Green's deflected shot on 60 minutes briefly threatened to wrong-foot Martin at the other end, but the Dons were set on ending the game as a contest and did just that shortly afterwards.
Balanta's deep corner from the left was headed back into the danger zone by the head of Hamann and Kouo-Doumbé came powering through to head home via the back of a Dagenham defender. It gave the Dons the two-goal cushion they have enjoyed only once this season, in their last win against the Saints, but it could have comfortably been more.
Though Easter's search for a league goal would go on, his exchanges with Baldock were excellent at times. Having seen the England Under-20 international chip his excellent pass over Roberts and just past the post on 67 minutes, Easter cracked a half-volley of his own just over 10 minutes from time.
And though forced wide by a heavy touch a couple of minutes later, the Welshman still managed to pick out a rampant Baldock in the centre - Roberts coming to Dagenham's rescue with an excellent save from close-range. Easter was replaced by Jabo Ibehre a couple of minutes from the end, his time to come on another day. Because this was another for the irresistible Baldock, whose return from injury could not have come too soon.
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Woodards, O'Hanlon, Kouo-Doumbé, Lewington (c); Hamann, Leven (Baldock 50); Guy, Chadwick, Balanta; Easter (Ibehre 89).
Subs not used: MacKenzie, Wilbraham, Carrington, Searle, Chicksen.
Goals: Baldock 55, Kouo-Doumbé 62
Dagenham & Redbridge (4-4-1-1): Roberts; Ifil, Doe, Arber (c), McCrory; Green, Vincelot, Gain, Scannell; Tomlin (Lewis 48); Savage (Nurse 73).
Subs not used: Scott, Currie, Bingham, Gwillim, Lewington.
Attendance: 7,083 (299 away)
Referee: James Linnington (Isle of Wight)