Chuks Aneke’s 50th career goal - and a third-straight league clean sheet - earned MK Dons a third consecutive Sky Bet League Two success, as they beat Cambridge United 1-0 at The Abbey Stadium.
Aneke, making his 150th career start, put the Dons ahead with a cool finish past David Forde after latching onto Ryan Watson’s long ball forward.
Paul Tisdale’s men were put under pressure by the U’s in the second half but courtesy of excellent defending, they were able to ride the game out to climb back to fourth in the Sky Bet League Two table.
Boss Tisdale reverted back to the starting XI which beat Cheltenham Town last weekend at Stadium MK. He was also able to recall Kieran Agard and Lawson D’Ath to the matchday squad with the duo back available following their respective injuries.
The Dons put the ball into the U’s penalty area inside the opening 20 seconds but Rhys Healey wasn’t able to connect with Baily Cargill’s long pass forward.
Healey was, though, able to pounce on Cargill's next long ball two minutes later and he forced David Forde into a strong save with a fierce left-footed volley. Healey reclaimed possession and tried to set up Aneke with a headed pass but the U’s goalkeeper was able to gather.
Cambridge threatened for the first time in the fifth minute when Jevani Brown latched onto a through pass. He tried to cut the ball back for a teammate but could only find Dean Lewington, who was able to clear.
Soon after, Liam O’Neil grazed the crossbar with a left-footed drive from a tight angle before the U’s forced more pressure from a corner in the 10th minute - the Dons, though, were able to deal with the attack courtesy of a number of brave blocks.
MK Dons then manufactured an impressive move down the right, as Joe Walsh set George Williams free with an inch-perfect through ball. Williams then delivered a cross but Healey was just beaten to it at the near post. From the resulting corner, Jordan Moore-Taylor headed over.
A minute later, Dean Lewington teed up Alex Gilbey who sent a low right-footed shot wide of goal. A quick breakaway then provided Healey with a sniff at a chance inside the area but he was denied by an excellent slide tackling from George Taft.
Tisdale’s men kept the foot on the gas and on the quarter-hour mark, Aneke headed wide from a Lewington cross. They then earned a corner in the 20th minute from which Forde gathered an attempt from Moore-Taylor.
The U’s responded through Azeez, who dragged a left-footed effort well wide of Nicholls’ goal, but it was MK Dons who took the lead on the half-hour mark.
Watson did well inside his own half to gather a loose ball and clear up field to Aneke, who moments before had been booked by referee Dean Whitestone and was drawing the ire of the home supporters. The striker shrugged off Brad Halliday’s challenge before moving into the area and calmly finishing past Forde into the bottom right corner. 0-1.
Azeez had a fantastic opportunity to level things up for the hosts three minutes after the re-start but, from five-yards out, the Cambridge striker headed over. MK Dons then went close to extending their lead but Forde made a good diving save to keep out Gilbey’s curling shot.
With three minutes to go in the half, MK Dons put together a neat attacking move which saw them play out from their own penalty area right to the edge of the Cambridge box where Watson sent a ferocious right-footed drive wide.
U’s midfielder O’Neill then volleyed over in the first-half stoppage time before Healey saw a late shot blocked. The score, though, remained in the Dons’ favour at the break.
Cambridge went about changing that early in the second half following a cross in from David Amoo. MK Dons dealt with the initial ball well but their clearance fell to the feet of Gary Deegan, whose effort just went over the crossbar.
The Dons then went close to doubling their advantage from a Watson corner but Moore-Taylor wasn’t able to connect with a loose ball and trouble Forde.
Blocks from Williams and Walsh prevented the U’s testing Nicholls in the 50th minute. The former was involved at the other end shortly after, drilling wide from 20-yards out after cutting in from the right-hand side.
In the 57th minute, Cambridge thought they had drawn level but Houghton was somehow able to lift over his own goal from under the crossbar, to prevent George Maris from tapping in an equaliser.
The U’s continued their barrage of goal but Lewington threw himself in the way of an Amoo shot and then Nicholls palmed an attempt from Halliday around the post. Louis John later fired over while Javani Brown also dragged a left-footed shot wide.
Healey had an opportunity to add a crucial second goal on 65 minutes but, after latching onto Aneke’s through pass, he was denied by Forde.
U’s then went straight back on the attack but Moore-Taylor’s block prevented O’Neil’s header from troubling Nicholls. Walsh did the same a minute later to keep Azeez’s effort from finding the target.
The pressure from the hosts continued and Maris sent an attempt just wide in the 68th minute. At the other end, on a rare attack from the Dons, Aneke saw a header claimed by Forde.
Tisdale made his first substitution in the 70th minute, introducing Callum Brittain in place of Gilbey. Not long after the change, his side had a decent penalty appeal waved away despite Healey appearing to be fouled in the area while trying to create a shooting opportunity from an Aneke cross.
The Dons' number 10 then went close to connecting with a cross delivered in by Brittain but the pair weren't able to connect.
Tisdale's men continued to put their bodies in front of crosses and shots from their hosts as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Ex-Cambridge United forward Robbie Simpson was brought on to help with that as he replaced Aneke on 84 minutes.
With five minutes to play, Amoo fired inches wide with a right-footed drive. The hosts continued to force the Dons back in the closing stages and Nicholls was called into action in the third minute of stoppage time to deal with a deflected O'Neill effort.
The Dons' defence dealt with the resulting corner and shortly afterwards were able to celebrate victory.
Starting XI: Nicholls; Walsh, Moore-Taylor, Cargill; Brittain, Houghton, Gilbey (Brittain 70), Lewington (c); Watson (D’Ath 90); Aneke (Simpson 84), Healey.
Unused subs: Moore, Hancox, Thomas-Asante, Agard.
Goal: Aneke (29)
Referee: D Whitestone
Attendance: 5,106 (951 away)