Report: Rochdale 2-3 Dons
Goals from Samir Carruthers and Dean Bowditch gave the men from MK1 a 2-0 lead at half-time, but the hosts responded through Peter Vincenti.
Substitute Daniel Powell restored the two-goal advantage with a fine solo goal and, despite a late goal from Ian Henderson, Karl Robinson’s men held on for a vital victory and keep them just one point behind Preston North End.
Dons initially made two changes for the clash at Spotland with Carl Baker and Dean Bowditch replacing Rob Hall and Lewis Baker, who was then recalled into the starting XI following an injury to Darren Potter in the warm-up.
The men from MK1 started strongly and a teasing cross from Samir Carruthers only just evaded Bowditch at the back post in the opening minutes.
Dele Alli almost gave the Dons the lead in stunning circumstances shortly afterwards, pouncing on a loose ball, driving forward and unleashing a powerful drive which came off the inside of the post.
Scott Tanser curled an effort high over David Martin’s bar at the other end before Carl Baker was stopped at the very last after a superb run which saw him beat three Rochdale defenders.
The Dons’ pressure told in the 16th minute when brilliant closing down from Bowditch helped set up Carruthers, who drove into the box and finished with aplomb into the bottom left-hand bottom from 15 yards. 0-1
Callum Camps was presented with a golden opportunity to draw the hosts level on 25 minutes but he somehow put his effort wide when well placed following a clever Michael Rose cut-back.
The hosts were made to pay just four minutes later when, in an almost carbon copy of the opener but with the roles reversed, Carruthers picked the pocket of Thomas Kennedy and fed Bowditch, who placed a fine shot into the bottom right-hand corner. 0-2
Rochdale responded with a good spell of pressure but the Dons’ defence were standing firm, and then Alli forced a smart save from Jamie Jones after getting in down the left.
The Dons had reasonably strong penalty appeals waved away in the last real action of first half when a fiercely-struck shot from Will Grigg seemingly struck the hands of Oliver Lancashire.
With a two-goal cushion, the Dons looked to keep Rochdale at bay which they did convincingly while also trying to extend their advantage.
On-loan Chelsea star Lewis Baker curled a 20-yard free-kick just over the top shortly after the hour mark.
After being found brilliantly by Alli, Carruthers brought the best out of Jones from 15 yards as the Dons looked to open up a three-goal lead.
Instead, Rochdale pulled one back on 66 minutes when Peter Vincenti guided the ball home at the back post from Ian Henderson’s pinpoint cross. 1-2
Carruthers crashed a long-range effort wide of the target before, at the other end, Kyle McFadzean and Antony Kay showed heroics to deny the hosts on two occasions.
They proved even more critical on 76 minutes as substitute Daniel Powell latched on to Alli’s brilliant back-heel, outmuscled Rhys Bennett and finished under Jones. 1-3
Rochdale reduced the arrears once again on 86 minutes, Henderson receiving a pass inside the box and coolly slotting past Martin from close range. 2-3
Carl Baker forced a smart save from Jones with 88 minutes on the clock prior to Martin making a comfortable stop to deny Andrew Cannon.
Martin made a world-class save to effectively win the match for the Dons with two minutes of injury-time on the clock, expertly tipping Henderson’s deflected cross away from danger.
To the final day.
MK Dons: Martin; Spence, Kay, McFadzean, Lewington (c); L Baker, Alli; C Baker, Carruthers (Hall 72), Bowditch (Powell 72); Grigg.
Unused subs: Burns, Hodson, Hitchcock, Cole.
Bookings: Spence, Alli, Grigg.
Goals: Carruthers (16), Bowditch (29), Powell (76).
Attendance: 3, 501.