Two second-half goals from Middlesbrough separated a tight encounter at the Riverside Stadium.
Karl Robinson’s men more than competed and hit the post through Simon Church, but former England duo Stewart Downing and David Nugent struck, both in the final 20 minutes, to seal the points for the hosts.
Josh Murphy and Daniel Powell replaced the injured Darren Potter and Rob Hall for the clash on Teesside. Cody Cropper, Joe Walsh, Mark Randall, Ben Reeves, Dale Jennings were also out. The Dons settled quickly, competing with a very strong Boro side and looking dangerous when they got into their opponents’ half – Dean Bowditch in particular catching the eye. At the other end, David Martin was alert to smother at the feet of Nugent after the striker made strides into the box. The hosts began to see more of the ball as the clock ticked past 10 minutes but the men from MK1 were holding form, limiting the former Premier League side to possession and not chances. Their first shot on target came on 15 minutes, Martin expertly pushing away Adam Reach’s rocket from just inside the Dons’ area after Downing had got away down the right. Less than 60 seconds later, Robinson’s men forced Dimi Konstantopoulos into his first save of the afternoon when Sam Gallagher directed a header goalwards from a Bowditch corner. It was a chance a minute as Martin then got down well to his right, dealing comfortably with Leadbitter’s rasping long-range effort. The opportunities slowed but the intensity and tempo didn’t as the game went past the midway point of the first half. It wasn’t until the half-hour mark that another effort came about, Leadbitter driving a shot goalwards but Martin once again more than up to the task. The Dons countered and a quick attack brought about a chance for Samir Carruthers, who shot straight down the throat of Konstantopoulous from 20 yards. That proved to be the last real action of a first half which saw the Dons defend strongly whilst trying to cause problems for the hosts on the break. Robinson’s men started the second period the more superior of the two sides, enjoying the better of the possession and territorial advantage – Gallagher and Murphy showing good signs. Boro came back into the game as the game approached the hour mark, but it was the Dons who went almighty close to breaking the deadlock but, after a fine work from the impressive Jordan Spence, substitute Church hit the post with a delicate chipped effort. At the other end, referee Simpson awarded the hosts an in-direct free-kick for an alleged back-pass – nothing came of it as Leadbitter shot straight into the wall. Daniel Ayala headed over the recycled ball. That sparked a mini spell of pressure for Boro, who had a chance from a corner on 67 minutes but substitute Cristhian Stuani fired wide after Downing’s set-piece had fallen to him 15 yards out. Some neat interchange between Diego Poyet and Carruthers presented the latter with space on the edge of the box although his pass was cut out. A moment of magic from Downing broke the deadlock on 70 minutes, the former England man running at the Dons defence and curling a magnificent effort into the far corner. Downing then tested Martin from distance while, at the other end, a burst from substitute Carl Baker set-up Murphy, who won a corner after seeing his 25-yard shot deflect behind. The superb Antony Kay arrived from the resulting set-piece but he couldn’t get enough on it at the back post. It went from almost 1-1 to 2-0 on 81 minutes as Nugent latched on to a loose ball, raced through and coolly slotted the ball past Martin from 15 yards. The Dons didn’t give up and Baker forced Konstantopoulos into a save from a 20-yard drive but their efforts were not to be rewarded. Starting XI: Martin; Spence, Kay, McFadzean, Lewington (c); Carruthers (Hall 79), Poyet; Murphy, Bowditch, Powell (Baker 71); Gallagher (Church 56). Unused subs: Burns, Hodson, Upson, Aguza. Bookings: Carruthers, Baker. Attendance: 21, 448 (363 Dons fans). Referee: Jeremy Simpson