MK Dons started 2013 with a 2-1 victory at Notts County as the side put back-to-back defeats behind them to climb back into the play-off places.
Darren Potter headed his third goal of the season in the sixth minute to give the Dons the dream start at Meadow Lane and Daniel Powell’s solo effort shortly after had the visitors two to the good inside the opening quarter of an hour.
An out-of-sorts County side looked at risk of losing a heavy score line as they struggled against Karl Robinson’s side, however, a much-improved second half performance threw the cat amongst the pigeons when Jamal Campbell-Ryce pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 56th minute.
On their way to the result the Dons showed precision in their passes, flair in their play and a battling determination too. It was the perfect response to a disappointing Christmas for the Dons.
Karl Robinson made two changes to the side which lost to Coventry last weekend with Ryan Harley making his debut after completing a loan move from Brighton and Hove Albion while Angelo Balanta also returned to the starting line-up to replace Alan Smith, who dropped to the bench.
Neither side entered the game in good form, but both knew a result on the turn of the year would be an important boost to their promotion hopes.
Country produced the first shot of the game just two minutes in when a Shaun Williams header was picked up by Alan Judge and the midfielder fired a volley high and wide. The early pressure came from the hosts, but it was the men from MK1 who took the lead after just six minutes.
Harley showed why the Dons, who are without Stephen Gleeson for three months due to a broken foot, were keen to acquire his services in the newly-opened January window as he played a perfect free-kick into the unmarked Potter whose glancing header nestled into the back of the net.
The Magpies tried to respond as Jamal Campbell-Ryce showed his trickery down the flank yet the cross was cleared before Judge could get on the end of it.
There were hints of energy and threat from the hosts as they showed a willingness to press the Dons, although the offside flag denied Lee Hughes the chance to test David Martin from close-range.
With 13 minutes on the clock the Dons doubled their advantage when Powell was played through to goal and skipped past two County defenders with some neat foot work before turning a low well-struck effort into the bottom corner of Bartosz Bialkowski’s net.
Falling two goals down at home clearly hit a nerve for the County team as followed up Powell’s strike with a sustained period of pressure which saw a penalty shoot when Hughes tumbled under the pressure of Adam Chicksen
Hughes was a thorn in the Dons’ side, just as he has been in the past, as he was released once more past Martin but a heavy touch saw his chance disappear into a goal-kick.
The Dons should have extended their lead to three goals when a strong shot from Ryan Lowe was palmed away by Biakowski, only for Potter to inexplicably poke the ball wide from three-yards out.
The Meadow Lane crowd were quick to voice their disappointment at County’s performance while the Dons appeared to thrive on the confidence they had gained in the first half, which was made clear when Potter unleashed a cracking curving strike from 30-yards fell just over the bar.
The latter stages of the first-half were move evenly met although Gary Liddle forced a save from Martin and Bishop flicked a header over from Campbell-Ryce’s cross.
Just as the day appeared to be going too well for the Dons though, an injury to Bowditch forced Robinson into his first sub before the break with Alan Smith on as a replacement. Another injury added to the growing list at stadiummk.
Keith Curle opted for a tactical change bringing on Yoann Arquin for Chris Iwelumo and immediately started causing problems for Dean Lewington and Co at the back.
Fellow defender Williams though decided to grab the game by the scruff of the net as he broke through the County team, riding a number of challenges in the process, before playing a one-two with Powell and drilling inches wide from the edge of the box.
As the Dons were looking to extend their lead though they were caught cold as the movement of Judge caused problems for the defence and Williams was penalised for a trip on Judge.
Referee Graham Salisbury pointed to the spot and with bags of confidence Campbell-Ryce sent Martin the wrong way to pull County back within sight of their visitors.
The Dons were caught napping again when Arquin burst down the right flank to fire a low shot which was well-stopped by Martin.
It was the hosts who were on the ascendancy as the pinned the Dons back and pumped the ball up to Hughes and Arquin.
At one end though, the Dons could have added to their lead as Harley weaved his way down the right to find Powell but the wide man fizzed a tame shot straight into Bialkowski. County then went on the attack with a long-ball to Hughes who was caught flat-footed as Martin went to close him down and as the County striker fell to the floor a clear attempt to scoop the ball into the net with his hand earned him a place in the referee’s book.
Dons were riding their luck when Liddle went over on the edge of the box under a challenge from Lewington and Hughes caused a scare when he rattled close-range effort against the corner of the crossbar.
It was clear the Dons needed a two-goal cushion to ease the pressure in the final stages and they almost had it when Smith held the ball up for Lowe but the former passed the ball into the arms of the County ‘keeper.
The closing stages provided end-to-end entertainment although Dons fans’ hearts were in their mouths when a moment of magic from Judge looked a potential equaliser, but the ball lifted a matter of inches over the bar.
With their backs against the wall Dons added strength in defence as Gary MacKenzie made his first appearance in three months following hip surgery.
County made it difficult for the Dons, but Robinson side will have been delighted to pick up three points.
Notts County: Bialkowski, Kelly (Showunmi 90), Bishop (c), M Smith, Liddle, Judge, Hughes, Campbell-Ryce (Zoko 79, Boucaud, Stewart, Iwelumo (Arquin 46).
Subs: Spiess, Mahon, Labadie, Bencherif.
Goal: Campbell-Ryce (pen) 56
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Chicksen, Kay, Williams, Lewington (c); Potter, Harley; Powell, Bowditch (A Smith 45), Balanta (Kouo-Doumbe 65); Lowe (MacKenzie 90).
Subs: McLoughlin, MacDonald, Alli, Ismail.
Goals: Potter 6, Powell 13
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire)