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Dons back on track after comfortable win

Jason Puncheon (right)

By Oli
April 4 2009

Dons cruised past strugglers Brighton & Hove Albion with a 2-0 victory courtesy of first-half goals from Ali Gerba and Jason Puncheon. Lloyd Owusu missed a couple of glaring opportunities for the Seagulls but the result never looked in real doubt. Manager Roberto Di Matteo made three changes to the side that was beaten 0-2 by Leeds United at Elland Road, the most surprising of which was the reintroduction of winger Mark Wright, who made his first appearance since January. Shaun Cummings dropped out of the squad and Carl Regan moved to right-back.

In central midfield Wolves loanee Stephen Gleeson was immediately thrusted into the starting eleven, replacing Alan Navarro, while Aaron Wilbraham sat out through injury and so Ali Gerba partnered Sam Baldock in attack.

Nearly 16,000 fans packed into stadium:mk on a beautiful sunny day, and hopefully some will come back after witnessing an entertaining game. Wright made a good start to the match, raiding down the right and crossing to the near post where he found Baldock, but the striker couldn't find the space for a shot.

Dons were playing the better football but not creating that many chances, with Baldock breaking into the box a couple more times but not finding an angle for a shot, and Wright meeting Jason Puncheon's cross from the left but seeing his effort blocked.

On 22 minutes it was Brighton who had a golden chance to take the lead. Craig Davies attacked down the Brighton left wing, crossing for Lloyd Owusu who turned it goalwards from point blank range but saw Willy Gueret get down superbly to keep it out. The Frenchman could only block it back into the path of Owusu but somehow got his body in the way again, with Owusu literally two or three yards from the goal line.

The Dons upped the tempo a little in response to that and got the breakthrough on the half hour mark. Gerba held the ball up well before finding Puncheon on the right. The winger played it inside to Baldock who knocked it into the box and back to Gerba, the Canadian bending a ball over Michel Kuipers and into the far corner. Seven goals in seven home starts for the big man; he has his critics but usually guarantees goals.

Gerba was looking a much improved player, and clearly benefited from starting the match as he became more and more involved. Looking a lot quicker and holding up the ball more effectively, he slipped Baldock through on 36 minutes but the pass was marginally late and the flag went up for offside.

Again Owusu spurned a wonderful chance for Brighton on 40 minutes. A long ball upfield evaded Sean O'Hanlon and Miguel Llera miscued his backpass, putting Owusu clean through on goal, and he promptly passed it (I think it was meant to be a shot) straight to Gueret.

And seconds later the Dons made him pay. With the ball moved into the Brighton half Wright, who had switched to the left wing, cut inside on Andrew Whing and curled a superb cross to the far post, Puncheon doing the rest with a simple header past Kuipers.

So far, so good, with the Dons looking comfortable despite Owusu's howlers, and value for their two goal lead. Llera's dodgy backpass aside the defence had looked largely untroubled and Gleeson's performance was reminiscent of another Irishman signed from Wolves; although he had clearly been asked to tidy up in front of the back four rather than bomb forward, he was totally orchestrating the Dons attack, switching the ball and finding space superbly.

Dons started the second half brightly, with the only real culmination of some good play early on being Dean Lewington's curling right foot shot from the edge of the box, which was too high. Leven slipped a good ball through to Baldock but Kuipers did extremely well to get out and smother.

Tempers boiled over a little on the hour mark as Baldock appeared to be put into a headlock by Whing, the youngster reacting by pushing the defender back. Handbags and a bit of a pile-up of players followed but the referee, who generally had a good game, handled it well with yellow cards for both Baldock and Whing.

With the game petering out a little both sides made changes, with Jason Jarrett and Sebastien Carole coming on for Brighton and the Dons switching to a 4-5-1 formation, with Baldock moving to the wing and initially Puncheon operating just off Gerba. The Plymouth loanee was substituted with 20 minutes to go for Luke Howell, who sat just in front of the back four, giving more license for the excellent Gleeson to break forward.

Brighton needed a goal to have any chance of getting back into the game and began to create scraps, with Whing's cross taking a few deflections before falling to Dean Cox, who volleyed over.

Baldock was causing Brighton problems on the counter-attack, running on to an endless supply of balls through the Seagulls' defence but finding Kuipers in top form. There was nothing the goalkeeper could have done about Gerba's effort a few minutes later though, as the Canadian was cruelly denied a sublime goal by the crossbar.

Wright found some space on the left before crossing into the Canadian, who in a flash turned and rose, rocketing an incredible scissor kick against the crossbar. It really did rattle the goal and would have been by some distance the best goal I've seen in our two seasons at stadium:mk. His performance and work rate, and the sheer brilliance of that effort, deserved a goal.

Howell was cleaning up nicely with some crunching tackles in midfield, and Navarro will really need to knuckle down to win his place back after today's performance from Gleeson and Howell's very effective cameo.

Leven, who was looking a lot fresher, nearly put the game to bed on 82 minutes with an audacious chip from the edge of the box that very nearly beat Kuipers. Dons might have had a corner but Brighton counter-attacked up the other end and Davies, who along with Owusu was having a fairly miserable day, wasted a good chance in the box after good play from Cox.

Baldock had time for one more raid in behind the Brighton defence, racing on to Gueret's long kick before turning back inside Whing and forcing another good save off of Kuipers.

While the Dons cannot say they are right back on form just yet - although the result always looked comfortable, the visitors did spurn some good chances - this performance was a very encouraging one; the Dons looked a revitalised, fresh side, and the clean sheet will have been a big bonus. Di Matteo has also been handed some interesting selection problems with the excellent performances of Gerba and Gleeson, and you would hope that at this stage of the season he will pick his team on merit. Those two, amongst others, earned a place in Friday's team today.

Dons: Gueret 8; Regan 7, O'Hanlon 7, Llera 6, Lewington 7; Wright 7 (Stirling 81), Leven 7, Gleeson 8, Puncheon 8 (Howell 71, 7); Baldock 8, Gerba 9.

Unused subs: Abbey, Flo, Johnson.

Booked: Regan, Baldock, Gleeson.

Goals: Gerba 30, Puncheon 40.

Brighton: Kuipers; Whing, Heath (Cook 83), Virgo, El-Abd; Loft (Carole 61), Fraser (Jarrett 61), Dicker, Cox; Davies, Owusu.

Unused subs: Birchall, McLeod.

Booked: Loft, Whing.

Attendance: 15,842.

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Dons back on track after comfortable win
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04/04/2009 21:29
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