MK Dons breathed new life into their promotion ambitions as they moved to within four points of the League 1 play-offs with a 2-0 win over Swindon Town.
Defender Mathias Kouo-Doumbe put the Dons in the driving seat in the 58th minute and the game was wrapped up in the late stages when substitute Ryan Lowe bagged his 11th goal of the season to seal a vital three points for the Dons, which saw them make the play-offs a realistic possibility with four games remaining.
The Dons were challenged by boss Karl Robinson to claim victory to keep their play-off dreams alive and, backed by a vocal support, they stepped up to the plate to climb up to ninth place and set up a nervy end to campaign.
Ahead of kick-off the Dons were given a boost by the return of skipper Dean Lewington who had been out with knee ligament damage for three weeks and for the first time in a significant time Karl Robinson was also able to name a full bench.
There were two changes to the side which were held to a stalemate by Crawley Town on Saturday with Daniel Powell and Ryan Lowe making way for Lewington and Luke Chadwick respectively.
The opening phases at stadiummk were lively with Chadwick finding a route through to goal only to get the ball stuck under his feet, while at the opposite end Massimo Luongo had a shot blocked by Shaun Williams before turning a tame effort into the arms of Ian McLoughlin.
The Dons looked hungry and up for the fight as Dean Bowditch picked up a cross from Adam Chicksen
, playing in the attacking role on the left of midfield, but the wide man turned his volley a yard wide.
The big talking point came in the ninth minute when Wes Foderingham raced out of the area and was left to backtrack as Bamford raced onto a through ball. The Swindon keeper was flagged by the linesman for handling the ball outside the area, but it was referee Mark Haywood’s decision to caution Foderingham that infuriated the Dons.
Robinson and the Dons’ bench remonstrated as the Robins’ ‘keeper had not only handled out the area but also appeared to deny Bamford a clear goal scoring opportunity by doing so.
As the hosts were left bemused, the visitors almost took advantage as Dean Parrett fizzed a shot at McLoughin, which the Irishman had to smother at the second time of asking.
The football was breathless and end-to-end with the battle between Stephen Gleeson and Luongo proving particularly feisty in the heart of midfield. Just as the Robins started to stamp their authority on the match and put together a dominant spell, the Dons showed their danger at the opposite end as Bamford fired a shot just inches over the bar.
Shortly after the half-hour mark Swindon were on the end of a controversial moment when Andy Williams’ goal was cancelled out by Mr Haywood after the referee consulted his linesman Daniel Leach.
The Robins thought they had taken the lead when McLoughlin failed to collect a cross and Andy Williams turned the ball home at the near-post, however, the assistant spotted a foul on the Dons goal and the opener was quickly taken away from the Wiltshire side.
With the score line still goalless, McLoughlin sent a thumping long ball into the path of Bamford at the opposite end of the pitch. It looked as though the young Chelsea striker was set to break the deadlock, but Alan Navarro arrived on time to block the shot as Bamford pulled the trigger.
After the half-time interval the Dons were dealt a huge blow when Gleeson hobbled off the pitch to be replaced by Chris Lines only two minutes into the re-start. The midfielder had struggled through the latter stages of the first half, but appeared to be in too much trouble to continue.
The open nature of the game didn’t disappear as both sides desperately searched to establish a foothold on the game. And for all the attractive, passing football the Dons play it was a scrappy build up of play which allowed them to find the first goal of the game.
When a free-kick was played into the box and Bamford saw his shot well-blocked it seemed as though the opportunity had gone. However, Jon Otsemobor kept the ball alive as he flicked the ball back in and Kouo-Doumbe was at the near post to head over Foderingham and sent the Cowshed into overdrive.
Swindon found it difficult to handle Bamford as the young forward caused chaos in the Robins backline on a number of occasions as they looked to extend their lead knowing that a single-goal cushion was a fragile advantage to carry.
Kevin MacDonald saw the need for change so introduced fresh legs in Adam Rooney and James Collins in the hope of adding new impetuous to his side’s attack. Collins had an excellent chance to level the score for the visitors but appeared to lose focus at the vital moment as he turned a wayward shot well off-target.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Dons though, they had their backs against wall as the Robins tried to find a comeback and goal hero Kouo-Doumbe was left to thank when his superb block prevented a finely-struck low shot from Luongo which could have spelled trouble for the Dons.
Alan Smith was brought on in the closing stages to help the Dons consolidate their lead, instead the forward was caught in a tussle with Alan McCormack in the penalty area. Smith felt he should have had a penalty, but as the ball popped loose the cross was played by Otsemobor to the left of the box which Lowe, after taking it on his chest, fired into the bottom corner.
The celebrations were emphatic at stadiummk as the Dons players, staff and fans all sensed the possibility of a late charge to the top six.
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): McLoughlin; Otsemobor, Kouo-Doumbe, S Williams, Lewington (c); Potter, Gleeson (Line 48); Bowditch, Chadwick (Lowe 63), Chicksen; Bamford (Smith 79).
Subs not used: McLeod, Powell, Baldock, Lines, Kay.
Goals: Kouo-Doumbe 58, Lowe 89
Swindon Town: Foderingham, McCormack (c), Ward, Flint, Byrne, Luongo, Parrett (A Rooney 69), Roberts (Collins 63), A Williams, Ferry, Navarro (De Vita 63).
Subs not used: Bedwell (GK), Devera, L Rooney, Ferguson.
Booked: Fodderingham, Flint, Ward, Collins
Referee: Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire)
Goal-Don Goal Times: 1st goal – 56.56; 2nd goal – 88.36