Walsall 0 MK Dons 3
Striker Izale McLeod played a part in all three of MK Dons' goals as they returned to winning ways with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Walsall.
McLeod, in his first start in just over two months, opened the scoring on Saturday afternoon with a delightful chip from close range before he won a penalty which was confidently put away by Ben Reeves. The 29-year-old then won the contest with a fierce strike after latching onto Dean Lewington's through-ball.
The result sees the Dons climb to ninth in Sky Bet League 1 and close the gap on the top-six to nine points. The Saddlers, who were reduced to ten men and had a penalty of their own saved by Martin slipped out of the playoffs.
Karl Robinson made one change to his side for the trip to the West Midlands with McLeod starting up-front for the first time since 23rd November in place of Daniel Powell who moved across to the left-hand side of the attacking trio in the absence of Dean Bowditch.
And the 29-year-old started brightly, having the opening chance of the match in the 3rd minute. After some good interplay between Stephen Gleeson and Ben Reeves, the latter played McLeod through but his fierce left-footed shot hit the side netting.
While McLeod’s first chance was created for him, his second opportunity was very much a result of his own good play. After controlling Gleeson’s high ball on his chest, the forward beat Paul Downing for pace and after fooling both he and Andy Butler with a cutback, McLeod’s shot was saved by the chest of Walsall ‘keeper Richard O’Donnell.
A lot had been made about the heavy rain in the build-up to this weekend’s fixtures but it was the wind that was causing the most problems early-on at Banks’s Stadium, however, it almost played into the Dons’ hands on 15 minutes when McLeod’s looping shot caused havoc for O’Donnell, only for the crossbar to come to his rescue.
McLeod then threatened for a fourth time after some excellent work from Carruthers on the right flank but his volley flew harmlessly over the bar.
The Dons were by the far the better side in the opening half an hour, preventing their opponents from having even a sniff on goal and they finally found the goal they deserved in the 29th minute courtesy of the cheekiest of goals from McLeod.
The forward, who had scored just one League goal for the side all season, showed great composure to first control a ball deep inside the Walsall box and then to lift a beautiful chip over O’Donnell and into the corner of the net.
Despite taking the lead, Robinson’s men refused to take their foot of the gas and Reeves had a chance to double the advantage from the edge of the area moments later but his right-footed shot was blocked by a brave Butler.
Then, with just two minutes remaining in the first half, the game took an even bigger swing in the Dons’ favour when referee James Linington awarded the them a penalty for a foul on McLeod and dismissed the culprit, Walsall skipper Butler, for his role in the incident.
With Shaun Williams no longer with the Football Club, the penalty-taking duties were passed onto Ben Reeves and he stepped up confidently to send O’Donnell the wrong way and double the Dons’ advantage with his ninth goal of the season.
Although holding a two-goal and man advantage, the Dons were reminded how quickly things can turnaround in football when Paul Downing climbed highest in the penalty area from Romaine Sawyers cross only for his header, fortunately, to fall into the arms of Martin on his line.
The Dons started the second half just as they ended it - lively and hungry for more goals - and Carruthers had the chance to add a third in the 50th minute but he dragged his right-footed shot wide of the post.
The Aston Villa loanee then went close again just a couple of minutes later, this time forcing a good save out of O'Donnell after cutting in from the right wing.
Walsall, though, eventually grew into the contest and they put the Dons under some heavy pressure as the game entered its final half an hour.
First, Westcarr blasted a shot over the bar from the corner of the box before Mantom curled a shot just wide of Martin's right-hand upright.
The Saddlers then introduced the giant Michael Ngoo midway through the second-half but it was the lone striker at the other end who was stealing all the headlines and in the 70th minute, he all-but sealed the contest.
Lewington played the ball through the Walsall defence and McLeod, much to the adulation of the 362 visiting supporters in the stand behind the goal, took a touch before firing past O'Donnell to give the Dons a comfortable three-goal lead.
You could sense the relief among the Dons players at the prospect of winning only their second game of 2014 and they continued to push for a fourth in attempt to make it a truly unforgettable afternoon.
Carruthers went close on two occasions with shots from the inside the penalty area while Reeves had a decent effort deflected behind for a corner.
Robinson then used the last five minutes to introduce George Baldock and his new signing Ryan Hall who, within moments of coming on, almost set up McLeod for his hat-trick goal.
It would have been the icing on the cake for the Dons, who enjoyed the perfect afternoon at Banks's Stadium - a notion which was proven in the final moments when Ngoo had a penalty saved by Martin following a foul by Antony Kay.
Walsall: O'Donnell, Purkiss, Butler (c), Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic, Westcarr (Ngoo 64), Downing, Benning, Sawyers (McQuilkin 81), Brandy (Featherstone 77).
Subs: Lewis (GK), Hemmings, Baxendale, Hewitt.
Sent off: Butler 43
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Hodson, Spence, Kay, Lewington (c); Potter, Gleeson; Carruthers, Reeves, Powell; McLeod.
Subs: McLoughlin (GK), Chadwick, Smith, Alli, Baldock, Galloway, Hall.
Goals: McLeod 29, 70; Reeves (pen) 44
Attendance: 4,136 (362 away)