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It's back on. Ali's the man as Dons survive late scare

Stephen Gleeson in action

By Oli
April 13 2009

Dons saw through a tense final 15 minutes to claim three points against Bristol Rovers and keep the pressure on 2nd place Peterborough United. Ali Gerba had bagged the opener and then set up Luke Chadwick to double the Dons' lead, before a late Steve Elliott header made it a nervy finish. Dons manager Roberto Di Matteo named an unchanged team, sticking with the eleven that had beaten Southend United 2-0 the previous Friday.

Rovers boss Paul Trollope was keen to utilise his side's strengths and so went with a 4-4-2 formation, with dangermen Rickie Lambert and Jo Kuffour leading the line. But their gameplan was largely the same as those ultra-defensive 4-5-1 sides that visit stadium:mk, with Lambert and Kuffour dropping to double up on the Dons' central midfielders, Luke Howell and Stephen Gleeson, and forcing the back four into long balls aimed at Gerba.

Howell and Gleeson dropped deeper as a result but in a turgid start to the game a couple of probing balls from the central midfield pair, all too long for their targets, were about the limit of the Dons' attacks. Kuffour was looking lively for Rovers but Miguel Llera, as he did all afternoon, dealt with his pace superbly and Sean O'Hanlon had 25-goal man Lambert in his back pocket.

Dons first really opened up the Rovers defence when Luke Chadwick worked the ball to Gerba, but the big man's flick into the penalty area was too long.

A couple of corners produced chances for both sides around the 20 minute mark. Rovers first worked one to the penalty spot where Lambert was waiting but his effort was deflected wide for another corner. That one was cleared and the Dons broke upfield to earn one of their own, which Wright swung in; O'Hanlon knocked it on and Llera flicked towards goal but Jeff Hughes managed to make the block and clear.

Efforts from Jason Puncheon and Lambert at either end were off target before the Dons broke the deadlock out of nothing just before the half hour mark. Gerba probably recognised the chances weren't going to be flowing for him in a tight game and so worked to create his own, hustling Byron Anthony out of possession in a suicidal position on the corner of the Rovers box, before taking one touch and rifling home. If Dons have been missing a clinical finisher when things are scrappy at home since Izale McLeod left, they've found one.

Gerba nearly doubled the lead soon after, a nice one-two with Puncheon seeing him find enough space to drive across the penalty area. He was tripped by a Rovers defender and could have earned the penalty but stayed on his feet and, off balance, pulled his shot across goal. Howell raided in to try to convert but saw it just evade him.

Rovers were sending a few more players forward and the dazzlingly skilful Puncheon was finding more space as a result, but the scores stayed level as the teams went in at the break.

Dons started the second half very brightly and nearly doubled their lead on 49 minutes. Gerba again came out of a challenge with Anthony better off, battling to force the ball past the defender, before teeing up Puncheon who toe-punted narrowly wide on his weaker right foot. Gleeson might have been better placed to let it fall onto his right just behind Puncheon.

It didn't matter two minutes later though as Gerba was again the provider of a good chance, and this time it was taken. Howell did superbly on the Dons right, racing in to dispossess Joe Jacobson before pinging a ball at Gerba on the edge of the box. The Canadian did superbly to bring it down before turning and prodding in between two defenders to find Chadwick, who slid in to divert the ball past Steve Phillips in the Rovers goal.

Dons were finding space on the break, with Gerba in particular breaking onto the through balls now streaming through. After one raid had broken down they tried again with Gleeson finding the striker on the halfway line. He took a touch before fizzing a superb ball across field into the path of Puncheon; the forward held off Jacobson but saw his shot tipped away from the near post for a corner.

Howell was a breath of fresh air all afternoon and summed up his game when again he broke to that right hand side and launched into a crunching, but perfectly fair, sliding tackle on Jacobson, before smartly backheeling to Wright whose cross was cut out. Quick, incinsive, all-action play from the midfielder who earned the man of the match award and looks like playing a big part in Dons' promotion hopes.

The frustration of the Rovers supporters, whose side really hadn't been in the game for the most part, boiled over on 64 minutes when Kuffour was unpopularly brought off for Daryl Duffy. Craig Disley replaced Aaron Lescott and shortly before Dons had introduced Jude Stirling for Chadwick.

As the game wore on however you could quite clearly sense that the Dons were falling asleep, and while he'd obviously got his gameplan right for the first hour, some of Di Matteo's substitutions and tactical changes were baffling to say the least. Tore Andre Flo and Alan Navarro were brought on for Puncheon and Gerba and the Dons' attacking threat totally vanished, with Flo, through no real fault of his own, flicking balls on to nobody and Rovers coming back with wave after wave of attack. Navarro joined the midfield to shore things up but it wasn't an area the Dons were struggling to control prior to his introduction.

Duffy and Disley both had efforts go wide before Rovers grabbed a goal back. A corner won on the Dons left was whipped in by Stuart Campbell, with giant centre-back Steve Elliott rising highest and heading home.

It was panic stations and Lambert went close with a menacing low effort from distance. A couple more dangerous balls went into the box and Llera was very lucky to get away with what appeared to be a handball in the Dons area on 93 minutes.

But the Dons held out and picked up another huge three points as the chase for promotion continues. Peterborough's loss to Millwall tonight means that MK are just four points behind Posh with a game in hand (at the 2nd placed side's biggest rivals, Northampton Town) - four wins out of four for the Dons will mean that Peterborough will need to drop points in just one of their remaining three games to let the Dons into second place. It is well and truly back on.

Dons: Gueret 6; Regan 6, O'Hanlon 8, Llera 8, Lewington 7; Wright 5, Gleeson 6, Howell 8, Chadwick 8 (Stirling 61, 7); Gerba 8 (Flo 77), Puncheon 8 (Navarro 77).

Unused subs: Abbey, Johnson.

Booked: Regan, Navarro, Gueret.

Goals: Gerba 29, Chadwick 51.

Bristol Rovers: Phillips; Lescott (Disley 63), Elliott, Anthony, Jacobson; Pipe, Campbell, Lines, Hughes; Kuffour (Duffy 64), Lambert.

Unused subs: St Louis-Hamilton, Hinton, Reece.

Booked: Anthony, Campbell.

Goals: Elliott 84.

Attendance: 10,251.

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It's back on. Ali's the man as Dons survive late scare
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13/04/2009 23:51
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