Crewe: Nicky Hunt is ruled out of the contest having picked up a knee problem against Newport last weekend.
Michael Raynes has left to join Hartlepool United, so youngster Luke Offord could be next in line if Eddie Nolan (calf) isn't fit to return.
Paul Green too is rated 50/50 after missing the Newport game with numbers in the squad looking thin with six players departing the squad so far in January & none yet to come in.
MK Dons: George Williams continues to be assessed after he limped out of the defeat at Bury last weekend, but Jordan Moore-Taylor & Joe Walsh have now fully returned to action.
The Dons have been formidable at home this season, winning nine of their 13 games at stadium:mk including demolishing Cambridge United 6-0 last time out. They've lost just once on home turf in the league this season, & that came in December with a 1-0 reverse against Colchester United.
Having said that, the Dons have been stuttering lately, that success over Cambridge was their only victory in their last five league games.
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Crewe Alexandra recorded only their second away win of the season and what a place to do it! The Railwaymen executed David Artell’s game plan to the letter to win 1-0 thanks to Charlie Kirk’s superbly taken finish just after the half an hour mark. Kirk finished off a fine team move to score his sixth goal of the season and his first on the road.
It was no more than Crewe deserved as well after controlling much of the first half and always looking a threat in attack. Ryan Wintle had a late second goal chalked off for a foul and Perry Ng went close to scoring the goal of the season after a mazy run from deep.
The Crewe back line had to show some resilience at the back as well with Ray and the fit-again Nolan excellent in marshalling Chuks Aneke and Kieran Agard. Aneke did have the MK Dons best chance of the game at 0-0 but he uncharacteristically for him shot tamely at Ben Garratt after he had gone through on goal.
Defender Eddie Nolan returned from injury to start at Stadium MK. The former Republic of Ireland International missed the club’s last three fixtures but returned to partner George Ray in the centre of the defence. It was timely to say the least after Nicky Hunt suffered a knee injury in last weekend’s 3-2 over Newport County and Michael Raynes was permitted to join Hartlepool United on loan until the end of the season.
Paul Green wasn’t fit enough to return so last weekend’s match winner, Callum Ainley understandably retained his place. Young defender Luke Offord was also in the matchday squad.
MK Dons named our former loanee forward, Chuks Aneke, in their starting line-up. The club’s veteran defender Dean Lewington made his 600th league appearance and we congratulate him on reaching such a milestone as a one-club man.
After a positive start from the Railwaymen, full-back Perry Ng had an early sight at the MK Dons goal but he drilled his shot from 20 yards a yard wide of Lee Nicholls’ post.
The home side tried to get on the front foot early on and after Alex Gilbey had intercepted possession in central midfield his instant through ball nearly found the pace of Kieran Agard but through a combination of Harry Pickering and the rushing Ben Garratt, any potential danger was averted.
From a long-throw, Aneke headed just wide of Garratt’s right hand post but the Crewe Alexandra goalkeeper had it covered.
Crewe settled down and confidently retained possession with Kirk firing a deflected shot through to Nicholls. Good work from Ainley then found Bowery in some space on the right hand but his low delivery into a crowded box was cut out by Jordan Moore-Taylor. James Jones’ shot from the resultant corner was blocked and Aneke was penalised for a clumsy foul on Ng in the centre circle.
On 17 minutes, a swift break from the home side saw Lewington involved and after Aneke cleverly produced an instant cross from the right hand a much-needed touch from Pickering took it away from Agard at the far post. Pickering managed to guide it behind for a corner and if he hadn’t, the former Everton youngster would have had a tap-in.
At the other end, Crewe always looked a threat though and Kirk drew another save from Nicholls with a low drive that the MK Dons stopper did well to hold with Porter prowling for a mistake and then Jones shot wide of the mark as the Railwaymen again pushed forward.
After a superb run, Ng did muster a low shot on target that Nicholls did well to get down to and push behind for a corner. Jones did likewise from just over 20 yards out with Nicholls again called into action.
The best chance of the opening half an hour, saw danger man Aneke too easily waltz through a couple of challenges to present himself with a one-on-one situation with Ben Garratt but the former Arsenal youngster tamely side footed it into the spread of Garratt. Knowing Aneke like we do, you would have backed him to have produced a better finish. Paul Tisdale’s side did have the ball in the net soon after but it was rightly ruled out for offside.
On 32 minutes, Crewe’s real threat in the final third finally paid off. A fantastic passing move from the Railwaymen saw us break from one end of the pitch to the other with real purpose. Wintle checked his pass to find winger Kirk and his clever toe-poke finish gave Nicholls little chance at his near post. It was Kirk’s sixth goal of the season, his first away from home, and Crewe quite deservedly had the lead in Milton Keynes.
MK Dons tried to respond quickly and Gilbey forced Garratt into a smart save down at his post and Nolan completed the clearance. The same player did so again after being played in by Agard. The Crewe stopper stood up well at his near post to narrow the angle.
On 41 minutes, a deft touch from Ainley saw him take it past Baily Cargill and the outstretched leg of the MK Dons defender took the youngster down right on the edge of the penalty area. It was a fraction outside if that. From the resultant free-kick, Pickering found Jones and his fierce drive was blocked and as it spun up field, Agard had a chance to enter the Crewe box but Ng did fantastically well to use his strength and move him away from goal. The home support appealed for a penalty but it never was. Jones was booked though for pulling someone back as the MK Dons’ broke at pace.
A frustrated Agard was booked for a late, lunging tackle on Ng as he set himself to clear up field. It was reckless and infuriated the Crewe players, who felt the forward may well have merited more than the yellow card he did receive from referee Andy Haines.
Trailing 1-0 at the break, MK Dons made a change with Ryan Harley replacing Peter Pawlett.
An early effort from Crewe saw Jones and Porter combine on the edge of the opposition penalty area to provide Bowery with a sight of the MK Dons goal, but his curling shot destined perhaps for the far corner took a deflection for a corner. Jones raced onto a fantastic long ball from Kirk but was denied by the rushing Nicholls. The MK Dons goalkeeper did well to leave his line and narrow the angle for the Crewe midfielder.
Tisdale’s side attempted to shift up a gear and the threatening Gilbey had another shot blocked by Nolan as Crewe continued to defend resolutely. So much so that Agard made way for the bigger Osman Sow on 65 minutes. The fresh substitute did well to race in behind early on but not one of his team-mates was prepared to gamble on his low cross across the six yard box.
The home side’s final change of the afternoon saw Lawson D’Ath replace Baily Cargill. More pressure from the promotion seeking Dons then saw Nolan, not for the first time, make a fantastic block to prevent Sow from getting a clean shot at goal and then his defensive partner, Ray, made a superb diving header to deny Aneke.
With 17 minutes left on the clock, Lowery replaced the hard working Ainley to literally improve our legs in the middle of the pitch. Lowery’s first contribution saw him link up with Bowery down the right and his half volleyed cross turned into a dangerous shot that Nicholls rather uncomfortably had to push over his own crossbar.
After James Jones was floored by a tackle, the Alex boss was booked for taking his protest too far. Garratt was also booked for either protesting at a potential dive inside his penalty area or time wasting. Either way, the Alex had to remain calm for the remaining ten minutes of play.
Perry Ng then went on a George Weah-like run from deep and if he had been able to keep his shot down, would have registered one of the goals of the season. The right-back drifted past opponents as if they were not there but he couldn’t direct his final effort on target! It would have been some goal.
Crewe did have the ball in the net on 85 minutes through a tidy finish from the impressive Wintle but Lowery was penalised for a foul on Lewington and the goal was instantly and quite rightly chalked off.
The Dons tried to make their extra height count in attack, but Ray again stood up well to deny Aneke a clean header at goal.
With the last few minutes ticking away, goal scorer Kirk made way for Nicholls.
In their desperation, MK Dons began to hit longer balls into box and Garratt did well to come and punch two late high balls as Aneke and Sow put him under pressure.