Notts County left stadiummk empty handed despite a second half fightback. Callum McGregor’s 76th minute strike had given the Magpies’ fans hope after going in at the break two goals down, but a late strike from Patrick Bamford secured a 3-1 victory for the unbeaten Milton Keynes Dons.
Luke Chadwick opened the scoring for MK Dons within five minutes of kick-off – a goal that the Magpies’ defence will consider largely preventable. Shaun Williams made it 2-0 eight minutes before half time with a spectacular free-kick.
McGregor’s low brilliant low finish pulled a goal back for Notts and substitute Yoann Arquin came close to a stoppage time equaliser. But, Bamford made County pay for the missed chance to lift the Dons into the Play-Off places and leave the Magpies rooted to the bottom of the table.
Striker Marcus Haber was drafted straight into the starting 11 following his loan switch from Stevenage in midweek. He lined up at the spearhead of the County attack, supported by Danny Haynes, who had returned from a hamstring injury to take up an attacking role on the right.
Birthday boy Alan Sheehan, another player who had been sidelined with a hamstring issue, was also named in the starting 11 for the first time since the 1-1 draw with Walsall. Manny Smith joined him in defence to partner skipper Dean Leacock at centre-back – a move that allowed Gary Liddle to push into midfield.
MK Dons headed into the game unbeaten in the league and they got off to an excellent start, when Patrick Bamford capitalised on a stray headed backpass that drew Bartosz Bialkowski wide of his goal. From the byline, the former Nottingham Forest hitman cut the ball into the path of Chadwick, whose tidy finish evaded the retreating away defenders to find the net.
On 14, Notts almost made it 1-1, after great work in the left channel, which saw McGregor provide an inviting delivery into the box. Haber connected with a forceful header towards the top-left corner and it took home goalkeeper David Martin two attempts to keep the ball from crossing the line.
At the other end, Bamford was involved again to provide an arrowed centre towards Stephen Gleeson, whose downward header was kept out by the foot of the post. As the Dons maintained the pressure, tricky wideman Samir Carruthers cut inside from the left flank to curl narrowly wide of the far upright.
Bamford should have doubled the hosts’ lead in the 26th minute, after a misplaced pass out of defence. The danger-man was played into space, free of the Notts’ rearguard, only Bartosz Bialkowski came to the rescue with a fine block.
The Magpies had a strong penalty call waved away by the referee, Scott Mathieson. David Bell’s cross from the left looked to find Haber but the striker appeared to be tripped by Williams, preventing him from attacking the ball.
Moments later, it was Williams that made it 2-0 to the Dons, directly from a free-kick on the corner of the box. The defender beat the wall with a pacy, left-footed strike that swerved out of Bialkowski’s reach, into the top-right corner.
The home fans were nearly treated to a third ahead of the interval, as Carruthers, again, roamed inside from the left to fire inches over. Then, as a result of a short corner routine, Danny Green aimed a well-hit shot inside the near post but was denied a certain goal by Dumbuya’s outstretched boot.
Notts started the second half brightly and threatened within a minute of the restart. Strong hold-up play by Haber saw him chest the ball in the direction of Haynes, whose powerful half volley crashed into the advertising boards.
The Dons remained dangerous and Chadwick maneuvered into space inside the area to provide a low finish that was hacked off the line by Sheehan. Stephen Gleeson’s unexpected chipped pass then gave Bamford another opportunity to score but his header was directed into the arms of Bialkowski.
For County, Bell was played into space by Sheehan to deliver a back-searching post cross onto the head of Haber. The Canadian international rose well but his effort failed to trouble Martin.
First team manager Chris Kiwomya made a double change in the 59th minute in an attempt to get his side back into the game. Haynes and Bell made way for top-scorer Arquin and debutant Aston Villa loanee Jack Grealish.
On 69, great strength in attack by Bamford allowed him to bustle his way into the area. Although unbalanced, the striker managed place across goal but Bialkowski gained a fingertip touch to divert the ball wide.
Another change saw Boucaud, who had netted for Trinidad & Tobago in midweek, replace Joss Labadie but it was McGregor that got the Magpies back into the match. Sheehan’s incisive pass tore apart the home backline and McGregor made no mistake in firing into the bottom-right corner.
The deficit was almost restored immediately, when Carruthers met Bamford’s low centre from the right. The winger’s mis-hit shot looped towards the top corner but Bialkowski leapt acrobatically across goal to palm behind at full stretch.
As Notts pushed bodies forward, the Dons should have killed the game off in the 86th minute when substitute Izale McLeod raced clear. With teammates to his left, the striker arguably should have passed but opted to go alone and curled past the right-hand upright.
The former Barnet man had another one-on-one chance less than a minute later. But, on this occasion, Bialkowski denied him with a superb spreading save.
In the dying stages, Bamford drifted into the area at pace and attempted to get past Bialkowski with quick feet, only to carry the ball out of play. Williams then tried his luck with another free-kick but, on this occasion, he found the roof of the net.
In added time, Arquin had a golden opportunity to level from a McGregor cross. However, his downward header bounced harmlessly wide.
Instead, MK Dons put the game to bed with a late goal. Bialkowski had initially kept out McLeod with an brave block at the frontman’s feet but Bamford pounced on the rebound to make it 3-1 – the final score.