MK Dons extended their winning run to four games on Boxing Day, with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Crawley Town at Checkatrade.com Stadium.
Stephen Gleeson put the Dons ahead inside of 22 minutes with his second long-range effort in as many games before Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford cooly slotted home his 16th goal of the season to make sure of the three points.
Karl Robinson named an unchanged starting XI for the third game in a row for the trip to West Sussex, opting to keep defender Antony Kay on the bench once again despite the 30-year-old’s return to action following hip surgery.
With Kay on the bench, it allowed loanee Jordan Spence another chance to impress alongside Shaun Williams in the centre of the defence; a pairing which have kept three clean sheets in their last three games.
However, their impressive shutout almost came to an end inside the opening three minutes when Gary Alexander pounced on a mistake from right-back Lee Hodson. Alexander, who has 158 career League goals to his name, took a touch before dragging a right-footed shot wide.
Alexander then went close again on 8 minutes after Spence failed to deal with a deep cross from Nicky Adams but the experienced forward’s header was well saved by David Martin from close-range.
Despite the efforts from the Crawley Town Groundstaff to ensure the pitch was playable given the recent spell of bad weather, the bobbly pitch did cause both sets of players problems early-on; especially the Dons who found it difficult to get into full flow in the first ten minutes.
But Robinson’s side eventually grew into the contest and on 22 minutes they took the lead courtesy of another superb long-range effort from the revitalised Gleeson.
The Irishman, who netted his first goal of the season in last weekend’s 3-0 win over Port Vale, fired home his second as many games with another fine right-footed strike which bounced over a diving Paul Jones before nestling in the bottom corner.
Bamford, who was involved in winning the corner which led to Gleeson’s opening goal, almost made it two-nil soon after with another shot from distance after a neat one-two with the lively Dale Jennings.
Crawley then responded with a decent spell of possession and pressure; Joe Walsh going closest with a glancing header from Billy Clarke’s cross.
Moments before that, though, the Dons had a chance to add a second through Bamford, with the loanee’s fierce whistling narrowly past the left-hand upright.
Reeves also curled a shot wide for the men from MK1 at the end of the first half while Sergio Torres failed to get his ambitious volley on target after he’d broken through the Dons backline on the stroke of the whistle.
Just like in the first half, both teams took a while to adapt to the heavy and cut-up pitch before Crawley had the first chance of the second period through Alexander on 50 minutes. The forward did well to latch onto a low cross from Mat Sadler but when the moment came he failed to divert his shot on target from no more than five-yards out.
Loanee Samir Carruthers then test Jones with a fizzing effort at the near post for the Dons, who were forced to replace defender Shaun Williams through injury, before Crawley again threatened with a cross from the left.
But, just as the game appeared to be swinging in favour of the home side, the Dons grabbed a crucial second goal and it was no surprise to see Bamford the man wheeling away in celebration.
Bamford, who had been limited to half-chances from distance in the first half, did well to meet an exquisite through-ball from Jennings before cooly slotting past Jones with his right-footed and netting his 16th goal of the season.
The Chelsea loanee’s goal provided the Dons with an important cushion but any belief from the visitors that the game was won was soon threatened when Torres crashed a 20-yard shot against the bar.
Robinson's side, though, had a glorious opportunity to seal the win by netting a third with 25 minutes left to play but Bamford failed to repeat the strike which beat Jones moments earlier, instead, the 20-year-old's shot was comfortably saved.
George Baldock was then brought on to replace Jennings on the right-hand side and he was to thank for keeping the scoreline at 2-0 on 74 minutes. Joe Walsh had climbed well to meet a cross from Clarke but fortunately for the Dons, Baldock was in the right place at the right time to jump and clear off the line.
Crawley's best chance, though, fell to Proctor in the 80th minute, after the substitute had pounced on a slip from Kay to race clean through on goal. Despite being urged to shoot by the home supporters, Proctor appeared to be waiting for Martin to commit to a side but the Dons 'keeper stood up well before saving the striker's low effort.
The Red Devils, to their credit, refused to give up on the game but their slim hopes of taking anything away with them were dealt a huge blow when Clarke was shown a straight red card by referee Seb Stockbridge following a dangerous challenge on Hodson.
With the man advantage the Dons were able to comfortably see out the victory - their fourth in a row without conceding a goal - and stay within seven points of the play-off places with a game in hand heading into their final game of 2013 against Brentford this Sunday.
Crawley Town: P Jones, Hurst, Sadler, Connolly, Walsh, M Jones, Bulman (Torres 40), Drury, Adams (Proctor 14), Clarke, Alexander.
Subs: Maddison (GK), Essam, Sinclair, Smith, Malins.
Sent off: Clarke 85
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Hodson, Spence, Williams (Kay 55), Lewington (c); Potter, Gleeson; Carruthers, Reeves, Jennings (Baldock 67); Bamford (Smith 90).
Subs: McLoughlin (GK), Flanagan, Galloway, Banton.
Goals: Gleeson 22, Bamford 59
Booked: Lewington, Kay, Gleeson
Attendance: 3,249 (265 away)