MK Dons kicked off the New Year in style, beating Bristol Rovers 3-0 at Stadium MK to move out of the bottom three in Sky Bet League One.
Rhys Healey opened the scoring in the first half with his third goal in as many games – a cool finish after an excellent turn inside the box.
Russell Martin’s men lead was doubled on the hour courtesy of a terrific solo strike from Sam Nombe before substitute Kieran Agard putting the finishing touches to a fantastic afternoon’s work late on.
The win lifts MK Dons above Tranmere Rovers and out of the relegation places in Sky Bet League One for the first time since November.
Boss Martin made one change to the side which beat Portsmouth 3-1 at Stadium MK, with Nombe replacing Joe Mason in attack – the first time Nombe and Healey had started together since they both found the net in the 2-1 win over AFC Wimbledon back in September.
The two almost combined for the opening goal in the fourth minute but Healey’s low ball across the six-yard area was just in front of the sliding Nombe. Healey looked for his strike partner again just three minutes later but this time his cross was deflected behind Nombe.
Bristol Rovers were forced into an early change between the sticks due to an injury to Anssi Jaakkola. He was replaced by Jordi van Stappershoef, who soon watched his opposite number produced a superb save – Lee Nicholls getting a foot to Luke Leahy’s goal-bound effort, after he had been picked out by Jonson Clarke-Harris.
The former MK Dons loanee then went close with a diving header, but wasn’t able to connect with the ball sent in from the left. That didn’t deter Martin’s men, who went straight back on the offensive and with their next shot, they broke the deadlock.
A neat passing move down the left led to Kasumu picking out Healey inside the area. With his back to goal, the striker produced a superb turn to get away from two Rovers defenders, before cooly slotting home his third goal in as many games to open the scoring. 1-0.
Kasumu tried to go from provider to goalscorer with the Dons’ next chance but saw his long-range effort fly off target from 25 yards out. At the other end, Nichols flashed over against his namesake, as the visitors went in search of an equaliser.
Midway through the first half, Gilbey had a go from distance and wasn’t too far away with his low, right-footed effort which skidded just past the post. He produced a save out of van Stappershoef moments later with a decent tight-angled effort.
Kasumu threatened again on 33 minutes with an ambitious looping ball which almost caught out van Stappershoef – the effort, however, landed on the roof of the net, much to the relief of the Rovers stopper.
The visitors offered a reminder of their threat with eight minutes to play in the half, as Alex Rodman forced a save out of Nicholls with a header from a Liam Sercombe free-kick. The Dons countered with Gilbey, who had a curling shot deflected wide of the right upright.
Rovers went close again moments later after Nichols won possession deep in the MK Dons half. The striker crossed for Clarke-Harris but he couldn’t direct his header on target.
The Dons should have had a second goal a minute later but, following some excellent play by Nombe down the right, both Gilbey and Healey saw efforts blocked by defenders on their way through to goal.
Despite deserving to, Martin’s men weren’t able to add to their advantage in the first half. They almost did early in the second but Gilbey’s rasper from range was kept out by van Stappershoef.
The Dons had Williams to thank for denying Sercombe at the other end of the pitch – the defender, celebrating his 150th appearance for the Club, bravely getting in the way of the fierce strike. That block proved all the more crucial on the hour, as MK Dons were able to double their lead through Nombe.
The striker did it all himself, deflecting a cross-field pass from Rodman and then chasing down the loose ball. Nombe took a touch into the area and while his first effort was saved by van Stappershoef, he showed great determination and awareness to latch onto the rebound and tap home his fifth goal of the campaign. 2-0.
Martin went to the bench for the first time after goal, replacing McGrandles with Ben Reeves in midfield. He almost had an immediate impact with a free-kick that van Stappershoef had to fingertip over the crossbar at his far post.
On 67 minutes, Sercombe fired over for Bristol Rovers after being left unmarked on the edge of the area. Moments later, the Dons went agonisingly close to a third as Kasumu had a shot blocked on the line, after some terrific play by Healey down the left.
Mason entered the contest with 18 minutes to play, in place of the hard-working Gilbey. The Dons’ final change of the afternoon soon followed – Agard on for Healey in attack.
Rovers turned up the pressure as the game moved into his closing stages and Lewington was forced to head clear from under his own crossbar with Nicholls producing a save from a later corner. Any nerves, though, soon vanished as MK Dons made the game safe with six minutes to play.
Collecting the ball from Williams deep inside his own half, Houghton spotted the run of Agard and picked out him out with a terrific forward pass. The MK Dons number 14 brought the ball under control before poking past the on-rushing Rovers goalkeeper to make it 3-0.
That was game, set and match for Martin & Co, who began the New Year in style.
MK Dons: Nicholls, Williams, Lewington (c), Walsh, Gilbey (Mason 73), Healey (Agard 78), McGrandles (Reeves 63), Mason, Houghton, Brittain, Kasumu
Subs: Moore, Poole, Cargill, Boateng
Goals: Healey (16), Nombe (60), Agard (84)
Bristol Rovers: Jaakkola (van Stappershoef 11), Ogogo (Hargreaves 46), Craig (c), Upson, Sercombe, Clarke-Harris, Nichols, Leahy, Kilgour, Menayese (Bennett 78), Rodman
Subs: Kelly, Russe, Tomlinson, Adeboyejo
Referee: S Purkiss
Attendance: 8,236 (1,308 away)