MK Dons 2 Walsall 4
MK Dons’ woes against Walsall continued at stadiummk on Boxing Day as the Saddlers rode their way to a 4-2 victory.
The Dons saw a one-goal lead disappear as they suffered their third successive defeat at the hands of the Saddlers in a disappointing afternoon at MK1.
Ryan Lowe gave the Dons a dream start with a glancing header in the sixth minute but Walsall’s fightback was quick and costly for the home side.
Febian Brandy made the most of poor defending before Will Grigg fired the Saddlers ahead in the 25th minute. When Dean Bowditch regained level terms on the half-hour mark the Dons must have believed they were on the up, but Grigg bagged a third for the visitors just before the break.
The Dons hit the post twice in the second half through Patrick Bamford and Antony Kay, but Jamie Patterson’s 90th minute cracker ensured it was Walsall who left MK1 with the gift of three points.
On a day when all those around them picked up points, the Dons fell to sixth place in the League 1 table.
News came earlier in the week that the Dons would be without Luke Chadwick and Stephen Gleeson due to long-term injuries, which forced Karl Robinson to field a new-look Dons side.
Adam Chicksen took up the right-back position, leaving Mathias Kouo-Doumbe to shuffle into the centre of defence and Shaun Williams to move alongside Darren Potter in midfield.
The attacking four had Ryan Lowe leading the line up front with Angelo Balanta in the hole with support either side from Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell.
In the two previous meetings with the Saddlers the Dons have been on the wrong end of the result. The opening moments at stadiummk indicated the hosts were keen not to suffer another surprise defeat to the West Midlands side.
Lowe was through on goal when a heavy touch allowed the ball to escape from him within 30 seconds of the whistle and Dean Lewington watched an unmarked header fall wide from an early corner.
However, it took just six minutes for the Dons to break the deadlock when Chicksen pushed forward from defence to the right of the Saddlers’ box, it was from there that the young full-back whipped in a delightful cross, with speed and accuracy in its favour, and Lowe picked out the back of the net with a glancing header to fire the Dons into the lead.
Walsall found their equaliser though within 10 minutes when Craig Westcarr fed the ball to Febian Brandy on the edge of the Dons box and the former Manchester United man made his way through Dean Lewington and Kouo-Doumbe in a space that should never have opened up to fire a fine shot past David Martin.
Since restoring a level score line, the Saddlers pressed the Dons and piled on the pressure with the left-side for the hosts in particular suffering. The Dons called all their players back to defend as Walsall lined up but both Adam Chambers and Westcarr had shots blocked by Antony Kay.
Just as the Dons had lost the shackles and broken away from defending in their half they were dealt a sucker-punch. Balanta lost the ball all to easily which presented the Saddlers with the chance to break, Grigg picked up a long ball to send him en route to goal.
Grigg manoeuvred his position to get the better of Kouo-Doumbe, the only Dons defender in the box, and as he cut inside he drilled into the bottom corner.
The Dons looked like a shadow of the team they can be when at their fluent best and Kay tried to stir his side into action with a long-range shot which was excellently palmed away by Aaron McCarey.
Just six minutes after falling behind the Dons clawed themselves back to level terms as Lowe was found by Balanta in the box and the striker duly cut back for Bowditch. There was a line of bodies in front of Bowditch, but somehow the forward somehow managed to squeeze his shot through the defenders and McCarey.
It had not been a thriller; yet four goals had been shared within half an hour. As half-time approached, the Saddlers looked the more likely to add to their tally when the lively Chambers burst down the right to see his firecracker of a shot diverted wide by a plucky deflection.
The Dons’ back four were out of sorts and Walsall were making the most of the fragile performance as Brandy pounced on Lewington’s loose defensive header to find Grigg. The striker once more got the better of Kouo-Doumbe as he spun on a sixpence to tuck home.
There was more energy from the Dons at the restart, with a few home truths no doubt expressed in the half-time team talk, which brought more positive play. The Dons came within inches of netting an early equaliser only for Lewington to see his second header of the game flash wide.
Robinson had hauled off Balanta at the interval to replace him with Patrick Bamford, who has not appeared since his debut against Colchester due to injury and decided to make his second change by introducing Zeli Ismail for Powell with the hope of his side getting a grip on proceedings.
Substitute Bamford had a golden opportunity to pull the scores level in the 62nd minute when Lowe, who excellently controlled a Williams cross, squared the ball to him by the Chelsea loanee miss-timed his run and arrived just before the ball.
Moments later the young striker clipped the upright before it was cleared by the Saddlers and to add to the frustrations Kay’s header from the resulting corner rattled the left post.
With less than 20 minutes remaining Robinson threw caution to the wind as Kouo-Doumbe made way for Alan Smith as the Dons went to three at the back and the emphasis on attacking was further highlighted.
The day went from bad to worse for the Dons as an injury to Bamford five minutes from time further depleted their threadbare squad and forced them to finish the game with 10 men, virtually ending their hopes of a late point.
But the final nail in the coffin came in the form of a swerving 90th minute strike from Patterson, which had Martin rooted to the spot and with it the Dons were left to lick their wounds.
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Chicksen, Kouo-Doumbe (Smith 73), Kay, Lewington (c); Potter, Williams; Powell (Ismail 59), Balanta (Bamford 46), Bowditch; Lowe.
Subs: McLoughlin, MacDonald, Smith, Alli, Sekajja.
Booked: Potter, Smith, Ismail
Goals: Lowe 6, Bowditch 31
Walsall (4-4-1-1): McCarey; Purkiss, Downing, Butler, Taylor; Westcarr (Cuvelier 71), Mantom, Chambers, Paterson; Brandy; Grigg.
Subs: Grof (GK) Holden, Hemmings, Bowerman, Benning, Baxendale.
Booked: Brandy, Butler
Goals: Brandy 15, Grigg 25, 43
Referee: Stuart Atwell (Warwickshire)
Attendance: 8,700 (354 away)
Goal-Don Goal times: 1st goal – 5.11;2nd goal – 14.10; 3rd goal – 24.47; 4th goal – 30.17; 5th goal – 42.43; 6th goal - 90.00