Louise Naylor grabbed a rare goal to ensure MK Dons Ladies beat second-placed Leyton Orient on Sunday.
The vice-captain put the Dons ahead on the stroke of half-time, and her team battled successfully to hold on to their lead.
They had originally gone ahead through Charley Clarke in the 26th minute, who scored with a bullet header.
Leyton Orient equalised with five minutes left of the first-half after a Dons error gifted them an opportunity, however, Naylor’s goal that followed was enough for James Honeyman’s side to earn all three points in what was a physical game.
The Dons started the game on the front foot, with several chances from distance being created.
Leyton Orient then pushed forward to force Sophie Shults into making a few saves in order to keep the scores level.
However, it wasn’t long before Charly Wright whipped in a corner for Clarke to powerfully head home. 1-0.
The game continued to be a battle between the two sides, with several fouls awarded. The Dons were then pegged back with five minutes of the first-half left, as Leyton Orient pounced on a chance to score. 1-1.
Naylor ensured the Dons weren’t behind for long as the Dons once again scored from a corner. The vice-captain had made a run towards the front post, which allowed her to fire the ball home, and restore the Dons’ lead just before the referee blew whistle. 2-1.
After the two teams emerged for the second-half, Leyton Orient attempted to press the Dons even more than before, as they searched for a goal to get back on level terms.
Laura Mills then skillfully beat Orient’s offside trap before curling an effort just wide of the right post. Dawn Mallett followed up Mills’ effort by striking the ball on the volley from the edge of the box, but she was unable to get her effort below the crossbar.
After nearly going two goals behind, Orient charged the Dons’ goal and were only denied a clear-cut chance due to Sasha Newsome’s last-ditch defending.
Kerry Newman then replaced Wright and nearly made an instant impact, as she forced the goalkeeper to make a save after firing from inside the box. Newman followed her first effort up quickly, having a shot from distance, which went close.
Fortunately, a third Dons’ goal wasn’t needed despite their efforts, as the referee signaled for full time.
The victory still leaves the Dons in third but they are now just a point behind Orient with two games in hand.
After the victory, James Honeyman had nothing but praise for the Dons’ opponents but was clearly chuffed that his side managed to grind out a victory.
“I’m absolutely buzzing [with the win],” he said. “They’re a really good side but we were fantastic – bar a five minute spell when they scored and got on top of us, we’ve dominated the game.”
The game proved to be a very physical encounter that saw a lot of fouls committed and Honeyman believes that favoured his team.
“I think that kind of played into our hands a little bit – we’re up for the war,” admitted Honeyman.
“We have the ability to play the pretty football but also the ability to take the game to the trenches and dig in.”
The Dons are back in league action next Sunday as they travel to face Actonians at Berkeley Fields.
Starting XI: Shults, Newsome, Doyle, Holland, Naylor, Hazard, McDonnell (Loftus 53), Clarke, Mallett, Mills (Boote 83), Wright (Newman 78).
Goals: Clarke (26), Naylor (45)