FORMER England internationals Stewart Downing and David Nugent were the difference as Middlesbrough beat MK Dons.
After a game Middlesbrough had largely dominated, Downing opened the scoring with a curling effort, before Nugent placed the ball home just over ten minutes later.
The Dons will reflect on what might have been after a largely competent defensive display was undone in the final 25 minutes. The away team did have the game’s best chance of its opening hour after Simon Church hit the post, but fall to back-to-back defeats for the first time since March.
The first game of the new month was the first of a tricky streak for Karl Robinson and his players. With the Dons’ month scheduled to take in three of the main favourites for promotion and a Leeds side who have started well, this series of games represented the regularly increased challenges from the teams the Dons faced in League One.
Nevertheless, the Dons arrived at their most northerly league opponents looking for a tonic after going into the international break with a home defeat by Birmingham City. With Bristol City having already won at the Riverside this season, all did not appear lost even in spite of Middlesbrough’s big money acquisitions.
The Dons’ tricky-looking mission would have to be done without the injured Darren Potter, who is out for at least a month, and it was a mission spent on the backfoot early on. However, the hosts were not getting much joy, with David Martin equal to the efforts when Boro managed to break through the backline.
The first strong chance did require Martin’s intervention, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper pulling off the stop to deny Adam Reach. The midfielder was on the end of Downing’s cross.
Having survived that, it was the Dons’ turn to create something. First, Dean Bowditch saw a strike deflected wide, and from the resulting corner, home keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos saved from Sam Gallagher.
Boro skipper Grant Leadbitter was next to try his luck, with a long-ranger tipped away by Martin. But despite enjoying a lot of possession and putting their guests on the back foot, Middlesbrough were struggling to break the Dons down.
Martin was still proving a barrier, with Leadbitter and his midfield partner Adam Clayton denied in quick succession.
At the other end, a rare forward foray then saw a chance emerge for Samir Carruthers, only for the former Villa man to fail to beat Konstantopoulos.
The tight nature of the game saw few chances being created either way, and this was a trend that continued in the second half’s early stages. But the Dons were beginning to get a whisper of forward momentum, with a few corners going their way.
The away side then had arguably the chance of the opening hour. Newly arrived substitute Simon Church received a pass infield from Jordan Spence and tried to chip the goalkeeper. The ball went above and beyond Boro’s 6’5″ goalkeeper, but clattered the post and bounced out.
That spurred Middlesbrough into action, but they weren’t making much headway, as evidenced when a Leadbitter strike hit the offside Nugent. Something more coherent then came when Christian Stuani was picked out by Downing, only for his stabbed shot to land in the stands.
But the hosts had most of the pressure during the game and it soon paid off. After a shot was deflected wide off Carruthers, a half-cleared corner landed for Downing, who curled a powerful effort into the goal to open the scoring. This was Downing’s first goal since rejoining Middlesbrough in the summer from West Ham, and demonstrated some of the qualities that saw him play for the England team and a number of Premier League sides.
Having got one, Downing then nearly got another, with Martin tipping his free-kick around the post. The Dons had the chance to level when a corner missed Konstantopoulos and found Antony Kay, but the centre-back couldn’t keep his attempt on target. That proved even more costly when another ex-England international got his first of the campaign.
This time, a burst forward saw the ball find its way up to Nugent, who found himself one-on-one with Martin. The summer signing from Leicester duly placed the ball into the goal to grab his first goal since his move north-east.
Things nearly got worse, only for Kyle McFadzean to block an effort, before Konstantopoulos proved a sturdy barrier when he denied substitutes Carl Baker and Rob Hall in the final stages.
In the end, that was it, and the Dons now have back-to-back defeats to their names. The team didn’t put in a terrible display, but were ultimately undone by Boro’s £9.5million ex-Premier League pair, and return from the North East empty-handed. The Dons will now seek to turn the tide as the games come thick and fast, with a trip to Burnley pencilled in for Tuesday.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos – Kalas, Ayala, Gibson (Amorebieta 49), Friend – Leadbitter, Clayton – Reach (Stuani 61), Downing. Fabbrini (Forshaw 83), Nugent
Subs not used: Mejias, Stephens, Nsue, Kike
Goalscorer: Downing (70), Nugent (81)
MK Dons: Martin – Spence, McFadzean, Kay, Lewington – Carruthers (Hall 79), Poyet – Murphy, Bowditch, Powell (Baker 72) – Gallagher (Church 55)
Subs not used: Burns, Upson, Hodson, Aguza
Booked: Carruthers, Baker
Referee: Jeremy Simpson