Ryan Lowe’s third goal in as many League games saw MK Dons beat relegation-threatened Hartlepool United 1-0 at stadiummk and move to within two points of top spot.
The Dons were all over their visitors in the first half and had a fine strike from Lowe to show for their efforts as they carried a slender lead into the half-time interval. The second half, however, proved more of a battle for the hosts as the struggling Pools showed more fight as the scoreline looked to be a potentially vulnerable one at times.
In the end the victory proved harder work than many may have anticipated but with a tough Christmas period around the corner it was an important three points as the Dons bounced back from their defeat a week earlier.
The Dons made two changes to the side which lost to Brentford with Mathias Kouo-Doumbe taking up the right-back position in the place of the injured Jon Otesemobor while Dean Bowditch returned from injury as Zeli Ismail dropped to the bench.
Struggling Hartlepool made the trip with only one win to their name, which came at Victoria Park, and there was a sense within the early phases that it was only a matter of time until the Dons made a dent in their fragile confidence.
The Pools were dealt a blow within the fifth minute when left-back Evan Horwood limped off and John Hughes was forced to make his first substitute of the game.
It was one-way traffic as the Dons saw a host of chances, with Luke Chadwick looping a header over and Bowditch watched a shot blocked and another fall wide, inside the opening 10 minutes. It was a matter of holding strong for the visitors as they dealt with wave after wave of wave of attacks from the Dons.
However, in the 15th minute Pools failed to clear Bowditch’s free-kick which allowed Darren Potter a second bite at the cherry. The midfielder delivered a fine cross for Lowe, who had beaten the offside trap, to curl into the bottom corner.
Having conceded one, there was a real danger for Hartlepool as the Dons appeared to have the bit between their teeth and were keen to put the Pool to the sword. Angelo Balanata turned an effort goal bound, which was falling just wide as Lowe arrived with the hope of bundling the ball home but the loose ball popped up to Bowditch whose shot was turned away for a corner.
Dean Lewington, who has a habit of scoring against Hartlepool, fancied his chances from distance as he took control of a free-kick from 25-yards out and the Cowshed thought he had produce a second goal for the Dons, in fact his shot had nestled into the side netting.
It was a quiet game for David Martin at the other end of the pitch as Hartlepool rarely found their way into the Dons’ half, but when Jonathan Franks forced a shot the goalkeeper was comfortable with the save.
The hosts thought they had doubled their lead when Bowditch’s corner from the left found Shaun Williams in the box and the defender powered his header beyond the reach of Flinders. However, assistant referee Dave Bushell spotted a foul in the build up and referee Roger East duly ruled out the effort.
The Dons’ dominance was for all to see and while Hartlepool had offered little up front there was clearly eagerness to extend the lead as Chadwick embarked on a darting run to collect a through-ball into the box only for Flinders to produce a superb left-hand save.
On the stroke of half-time Hartlepool had the opportunity to test the Dons when Jordan Richards whipped in a corner, but it summed up the first half for John Hughes’ side as Dons mopped up to take the lead into the break.
At the re-start Hartlepool showed signs of a team who had received a stern team talk as Franks offered more threat through the middle and the likes of Antony Kay and Kouo-Doumbe were kept on their toes.
The Dons, however, continued to show the threat they offered as Bowditch burst down the right to whip a cross along the goalmouth, which Lowe missed by inches, and Gleeson stung the palms of Flinders with another attempt from outside the area.
Hartlepool were looking to take advantage of any complacency creeping into the Dons as Charlie Wyke outmuscled Williams to break into the area and fire a shot which was well-blocked from Martin, who had been kept out of the action for the majority of the game.
It was perhaps the wake up Robinson’s men needed, but they still could not find the second goal needed as Balanta somehow failed to finish Bowditch’s cross on the goal line while Potter’s fierce drill fell inches wide.
The introduction of Zeli Ismail on the hour-mark was one of which produced a positive impact for the Dons as the lively Wolves loanee frightened the Pools defence and allowed another avenue to attack.
As the rain poured down at stadiummk there was a nervous energy in the air with the single-goal lead still looking a little on the fragile side.
A smart one-two between Gleeson and Ismail set up the latter who raced onto the ball as Flinders went low to collect, a collision between the two then resulted in a brief lull in the match. It also offered a chance for Robinson to fire a warning to his troops to extend their lead or risk handing points to their visitors.
Had Antony Sweeney found the connection he wanted in the 79th minute Martin might have been picking the ball out of the next, instead the Pools midfielder mis-kicked on the edge of the area and was forced to then recover and try another attempt from a tight angle, where Martin was able to save at the near post.
In the 88th minute it appeared as though the Dons had sewn the game up when Ismail’s trickery caught Pool in a spin and the teenager was able to cut the ball back from the byline for an unmarked Potter. The Liverpudlian put his laces through the ball but his powerful shot came back off the underside of the bar, much to the dismay for the Dons.
The solitary goal proved enough in the end as the Dons boosted their points tally.
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Kouo-Doumbe, Kay, Williams, Lewington (c); Gleeson, Potter; Bowditch, Chadwick, Balanta (Ismail 61); Lowe (MacDonald 83).
Subs not used: McLoughlin (GK), Smith, Chicksen, Powell, Sekajja.
Goal: Lowe 15
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): Flinders; Richards, Collins, Baldwin, Horwood (Holden 5); Franks (Poole 71), Sweeney, Humphreys, Monkhouse; Wyke (Rutherford 81), Howard.
Subs not used: McHugh (GK), Murray, Johnson, Boagey.
Booked: Sweeney, Baldwin, Rutherford
Referee: R East (Wiltshire)
Attendance: 7,164 (111 away)
Goal-Don Goal time: 1st goal – 14.56