MK Dons got back on track in Sky Bet League Two courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Oldham Athletic at Stadium MK.
Chuks Aneke opened the scoring with a 14th-minute penalty before Kieran Agard doubled the advantage with a spot-kick of his own in the second half.
Oldham responded almost immediately with a stunning strike from Tom Hamer but Paul Tisdale’s men saw out the remainder of the contest to record their first win in four matches and move back to within three points of the automatic promotion places.
Boss Tisdale made four changes to his starting XI while also handing a first home start to defender Russell Martin. Joe Walsh, Conor McGrandles, Ryan Harley and Aneke were the players brought in to the side, after starting last Saturday’s game on the bench.
MK Dons forced the game’s first corner five minutes in, following a move which started with some good work from Ryan Watson in the centre of the park. Walsh met the delivery from Dean Lewington but sent his header wide.
Watson was involved in the Dons’ next foray forward which led to another corner on the far side. The number 7 took the set piece and found the head of Walsh once more, but the defender couldn’t direct his effort on target.
Another attack down the right saw Alex Gilbey play a ball through to Watson, whose low cross into the mix was turned behind by a sliding Oldham defender. The corner led to an opportunity for Harley, whose curling right-footed effort flew just over the crossbar.
MK Dons continued to put the pressure on their visitors and they were handed a great chance to open the scoring in the 13th minute when Lewington, following some link-up play with Baily Cargill, was tripped inside the penalty area by Christopher Missilou.
Aneke stepped up to take the spot kick and he cooly converted from 12-yards to give the Dons an early lead and move on to 50 career league goals. 1-0.
Tisdale’s men were in again two minutes later with Watson getting to the byline. He, however, couldn’t connect with a teammate.
Oldham then forced their first meaningful attack with Callum Lang getting in down the right. He was denied by Baily Cargill. The Latics kept the chance alive and Missilou fired in a left-footed shot which Nicholls kept out.
Lang threatened once more on 20 minutes but saw his low drive denied by the feet of Lewington. MK Dons countered and Harley saw an effort of his own blocked on its way to goal.
The Latics continued to create openings and Urko Vera had an acrobatic effort fall just wide of Nicholls’ right upright midway through the first half. At the other end shortly afterwards, Cargill produced a diving save out of Daniel Iversen with a skidding left-footed effort.
The end-to-end nature of the contest meant it was Oldham who were due to have the next effort on goal and that’s what happened - Lang dragged a shot an inch or two wide of the post when well-placed from Vera’s cutback.
Oldham then forced a corner on 33 minutes from which Vera had an effort blocked by a crowd of Dons shirts at the far post. Aneke then cleared the danger with an excellent driving run over the half-way line.
A Lewington cross with 10 minutes left to play in the half led to a corner which MK Dons weren’t able to take advantage of. Oldham broke forward and Vera sent a dipping volley over Nicholls’ crossbar from inside the area.
Nicholls was called into action moments later, though, as the lively Missilou fired in a low drive which the MK Dons goalkeeper needed to go down and collect. He then watched on as his opposite number was forced into a save to keep out Watson’s placed effort from the edge of the D.
Watson then turned provider, with a deep cross which was headed away just in front of a lurking Agard.
That was the final chance of a positive first-half from Tisdale’s boys, who started the second period well with Gilbey forcing Iversen into a stop inside the opening 90 seconds.
Oldham, though, should have drawn level on 49 minutes when Vera received a pass on the edge of the six-yard box. He struck first time but Nicholls was there, in the way, to deny him an equaliser.
Some solid defending from Walsh and Martin then prevented the visitors having another attempt on goal moments later.
Nicholls was at it again in the 53rd minute to keep out a strike from Johan Branger-Engone. Tisdale decided it was a good time to change things up and replaced Harley with David Wheeler, who came on for his first Stadium MK appearance.
The winger was involved early and his run down the right, and subsequent play from Martin, led to a free-kick from which Walsh had a header saved by Iversen.
Another attack down the right almost led to a chance for Agard to double the lead but Aneke’s low cross was intercepted on its way through to his strike partner.
The Latics were then beginning to grow into the contest but Dons were handed a glorious opportunity to double their advantage on 65 minutes when Gilbey was brought down in the area following a driving run down the left. Agard took the penalty this time and, just like Aneke, made no mistake with his effort. 2-0.
Their two-goal advangtage, however, lasted just a minute as Tom Hamer reduced the deficit with a stunning effort from the edge of the area which left Nicholls with no chance. Nicholls had earlier kept out an effort with a great save. 2-1.
MK Dons, who brought on Houghton before the re-start, almost restored their two-goal cushion straight from kick-off but Aneke was denied a header at goal from Wheeler’s cross by some brilliant defending at the back stick.
Lewington then delivered a teasing free-kick which Iversen gathered without a touch from anyone inside the crowded penalty area.
Tisdale made his third and final change of the evening on 73 minutes, with Sow replacing Aneke up top. The Swede was involved as MK Dons broke forward in search of a third - Gilbey had the eventual effort but couldn’t beat Iversen.
Gilbey found himself in again on 79 minutes but, following a great run into the area, he couldn’t generate the power to trouble the Oldham goalkeeper with his shot.
Wheeler then went close with a header which struck the crossbar before Sow fizzed an effort goalwards which Iversen gathered.
MK Dons could have added a third from another excellent Lewington delivery but they weren't able to find the required touch to turn it home.
The officials awarded four minutes of additional time for the Dons to see out but in truth, they never really looked like surrendering their lead.
Sow even went close to adding to their lead with a stoppage-time effort which was saved. The whistle soon blew after the chance and the Dons were left to celebrate a confidence-boosting triumph.
Starting XI: Nicholls; Martin, Walsh, Cargill; Watson, McGrandles, Gilbey, Lewington (c); Harley (Wheeler 54); Agard (Houghton 67), Aneke (Sow 73).
Unused subs: Moore, Baudry, Brittain, D’Ath.
Goal: Aneke (pen 14), Agard (pen 65)
Referee: A Coggins
Attendance: 5,950 (165 away)