Goals from Daniel Powell and Patrick Bamford kept MK Dons’ faint npower League 1 play-off hopes alive as they recorded a 2-0 win at Colchester United.
The Dons moved into seventh place in the table but stayed within four points of sixth-placed Swindon Town, who beat Crewe to cement their play-off place, with two games remaining of the season.
The Dons took an early lead through a fine strike from Powell in the 11thminute but the visitors then rode their luck and had Ian McLoughlin to thank for keeping their lead in place with a string of saves in the first half.
Colchester dominated large phases of the game, yet their lack of bite in front of goal proved costly when Bamford doubled the hosts’ lead 12 minutes from time.
The Dons made three changes to the side which lost at Orient three days earlier with Stephen Gleeson, Luke Chadwick and Daniel Powell all starting in place of Chris Lines, Ryan Lowe and Adam Chicksen, who was out of action with an ankle injury.
Both the Dons and the U’s suffered defeat at the weekend so headed into the game knowing that a victory would help their causes at opposite ends of the table.
Young Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford was once again given the responsibility to start up front on his own and he made an early break through to sting the palms of Sam Walker in the opening five minutes, which worked as a warning sign to the U’s defence.
Likewise, the Dons were given a scare at the opposite end of pitch when a corner from the right was only half-cleared by Mathias Kouo-Doumbe and as a result Magnus Okuonghae had an opportunity at goal yet turned his close-range effort over the bar.
Moments later a foul by Shaun Williams on Freddie Sears, which earned the Irishman a booking, presented the hosts with a free-kick to loft into the area. John White was the man to rise highest in the box but once more the ball went over the bar.
It was a bright start from the hosts as they forced the Dons onto the back foot, but a magic spark from the Dons’ midfield turned the game in the visitors’ favour. Luke Chadwick cut the U’s defence open with a great through ball that opened up acres of space for Powell and the winger applied a cool finish to fire the Dons in front.
Powell could have had a second just a minute later when another wonderful strike seemed destined to nestle into the net but U’s goalie Walker pulled off an excellent one-handed stop to lift the ball over the bar.
Despite falling behind early in the game, the U’s kept their heads up with the aim of finding an equaliser. The pace and trickery of Gavin Massey was an asset to the hosts as he terrorised Jon Otsemobor before seeing a powerful low shot divert for a corner by Kouo-Doumbe.
Former Don Jabo Ibehre was a handful for his old team-mates as he dropped deep to help the link-up play and when his neat flick-on found Sears down the left the forward showed a clean pair of heels to Williams and Gleeson, only to turn a low shot into the grateful arms of Ian McLoughlin.
The U’s were not afraid to mix up their style of play as a long ball was pumped into the box and Williams nodded the ball back for McLoughlin, but the ball was looped high and left the Dons goalie clambering back to his goal-line to tip it over the bar.
From the resulting corner Sears fired from close-range at the near-post and had McLoughlin beaten only for the woodwork to deny him.
The Dons began to ride their luck and their one-goal cushion appeared a little fragile as Ibehre added his name to the list of chances for the U’s with a shot falling wide from inside the box.
As half-time approached Colchester went close once again when Sears couldn’t quite get on the end of Drey Wright’s cross and Andy Bond saw his follow-up saved by McLoughlin.
The half-time whistle would have been a welcome sound for the Dons as they turned their back on a half which they had been fortunate to carry a lead in. However, as the start of the second half the Dons were dealt a huge blow when skipper Lewington fell awkwardly and appeared to have injured the knee that had previously kept him out of action for three weeks.
Lewington was forced to hobble off leaving the Dons to reshuffle their pack with Williams moving to left-back and Antony Kay coming off the bench to partner Kouo-Doumbe in defence.
The U’s then had a five minute spell of pressure which saw their corner count rise significantly but with little threat to the scoreline. Having been under the cosh, a rare break for the Dons allowed Bamford to find some space in the U’s box yet his shot was straight at Walker.
The Dons struggled to get to the tempo to the level which so often helps them dictate the game and as a result their chances were at a premium. Gleeson was left with his head in his hands knowing he should have done better as he drilled a low shot into the arms of Walker.
Colchester enjoyed plenty of the ball but their lack of composure in the final third was proving to be a huge downfall for the home team as Billy Clifford summed up the side’s efforts of the evening when his trickery in midfield and fancy feet opened up a gapping space in the Dons’ defence yet his shot was wildly off-target.
The Dons, although below-par for most of the evening, still had quality in their side and it showed 12 minutes from time when an inch-perfect threaded ball from Chadwick created a route through to goal for Bamford. The youngster showed his class with his first touch before tucking the ball low into the net.
The U’s kept plugging away for a late reply, with Ibehre denied by a brave block from McLoughlin in the closing stages, but Colchester also head into the final two games of the season with their fate in their own hands.
Colchester United: Walker, Garmston, Okuonghae, Sears (M Smith 82), Bond (O'Toole 82), Ibehre, Wilson, Massey, White, Wright (Porter 75), Clifford.
Subs: Cousins (GK), Heath, Morrison, Bean.
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): McLoughlin; Otsemobor, Kouo-Doumbe, Williams, Lewington (c) (Kay 49); Potter, Gleeson; Powell (Lowe 74), Chadwick (Lines 80), Bowditch; Bamford.
Subs: A Smith, McLeod, Baldock.
Booked: Williams, Gleeson, Potter
Goals: Powell 11, Bamford
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire)
Attendance: 3,175 (211 away)