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Match Report


Posted Sat 07 Aug 10 at 19:19 PM


Karl Robinson's reign as MK Dons manager got off to a winning start as goals from Sam Baldock and Danny Woodards secured an opening day ;victory at Walsall.

Striker Baldock gave the visitors a deserved lead with a clever finish just before half-time, only for Manny Smith's towering header to draw the Saddlers level three minutes after the break. But Robinson's side responded strongly to re-take the initiative - Woodards heading his first ;professional goal from an Angelo Balanta corner just before the hour-mark.

It was a performance of real promise from Robinson's side in front of a 700-strong travelling support and one that gave the Dons only their second opening day victory in seven attempts. It was a stat the Dons looked determined to improve as they came out at a pace Walsall found difficult to deal with.

Boosted by the return of Sean O'Hanlon to the heart of the defence and conducted by the experience of Dietmar Hamann in midfield, they neatly working their way around static red shirts with remarkable ease in the opening exchanges. Baldock headed the first chance wide on the run from Dean Lewington's left-wing cross before the Dons skipper saw his own effort go amiss - a 20-yard free-kick dropping just over the bar.

Stephen Gleeson and Luke Chadwick combined well before setting up the lively Jermaine Easter to lift just over from the edge of the box on 12 minutes and it looked a matter of time before the visitors made a breakthrough. But Walsall quickly shored-up, pressing the Dons in the right areas, turning their defence around with balls into the corners and slowly bringing the pace of the game to a level they were comfortable with.

It was a policy that kept chances at a premium, but the Dons continued to look the more likely - Mark Carrington's deflected shot on his 50th league appearance almost giving Easter a sniff of goal. Dietmar Hamann was an assured presence in midfield.   And just moments after Richard Taundry had curled a free-kick fractionally over at the other end, Dons hit the front on 42 minutes. Easter laid the groundwork by holding off the impressive Oliver Lancashire to feed a reverse ball into the box, teasing Brain out of his goal only for Chadwick to nip round him.

The angle was impossible, but Baldock was waiting for the cutback from the right and impishly flicked past the defender on the line with his right heel. It was a lead the Dons fully merited at the break, but one that lasted barely three minutes of the second period as Smith climbed majestically at the far post to power home Julian Gray's left-wing corner.

The response from Robinson's men was a swift one as they went through the gears and forced Walsall back into rearguard action. Angelo Balanta was within inches with curling home a spectacular debut goal after tearing Aaron Lescott apart down the left.

Then, having been chopped down by Lancashire on the edge of the box, the powerful Easter smashed a free-kick into the wall and Hamann's follow-up deflected wide. No matter though, as Balanta swung the right-wing delivery low to the edge of the six-yard box and Woodards stooped to his knees to direct a bullet header into the bottom corner on 59 minutes.

MK continued to look the more assured in possession, working neat triangles around a rusty-looking Saddlers midfield, but without creating the openings that had previously been forthcoming. Walsall predictably started to force them back, seizing on the Dons' natural instinct to defend the lead and starting to have some joy.

 Steve Jones flashed a volley just wide after a sleepy Dons defence had allowed a short corner down the left and Carrington was forced to clear Darren Byfield's dangerous cut-back after Martin had been drawn out of his goal. But the work rate of Robinson's men meant gaps to exploit quickly shrunk, leaving Walsall fans frustrated at their side's inability to find an avenue to attack.

A huge result for Robinson on his first matchday in the job, with a mouth-watering clash with Southampton following Tuesday's Carling Cup visit of Dagenham on the horizon.

Walsall (4-4-2): Brain; Lescott, Lancashire (McDonald 90), Smith, McGivern; Jones, Richards, Taundry, Gray; Nicholls, Byfield (c).
Subs not used: Bevan, Marshall, Westlake, Grigg, Paterson, Geddes.
MK Dons (4-4-2): Martin; Gleeson, Woodards, O'Hanlon, Lewington; Chadwick (Guy 83), Hamann (Howell 83), Carrington, Balanta; Easter (Ibehre 89), Baldock.
Subs not used: Searle, Pelé, Chicksen, Powell.
Attendance: 4,034 (698 away)
Referee: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire)

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