A late free kick from Jake Forster-Caskey proved to be enough as Derby County fell to a 1-0 defeat to a stubborn MK Dons.
The England Under 21 midfielder curled in his set piece from the edge of the area to put the icing on the cake of what can be in many ways described as a perfect away showing by the Dons on their first ever visit to the iPro Stadium.
Karl Robinson’s side, manfully, dealt with everything that was thrown their way over the course of the 90 minutes as the Rams’ winless run in the league was stretched to eight games.
Under a new era, as Darren Wassall took his place in the dugout for the first time as Head Coach, the early stages of the contest offered very little when it came to clear chances.
MK Dons clearly were in town to stifle and frustrate Wassall’s side, who lined up in a new-look 4-4-2 formation, forcing the Rams to bide their time on a bitterly cold afternoon in Derbyshire.
Craig Bryson cleared David Martin’s crossbar with a deep free kick, whilst Rob Hall went closer as he repeated the trick at the other end, which a clearly worried Scott Carson was relieved to see drop wide of his far post.
The contest, though, lacked spark. Robinson’s MK Dons are a side renowned for their fluid and aesthetically-pleasing style of play, but were prone to a lapse in concentration in defence. This MK Dons side, however, looked a far more competent, well-drilled and stubborn outfit from the front man Nicky Maynard to Martin in goal.
That came with a cost as they sacrificed throwing bodies forward to trouble the backline, as they opted to stay in shape, let Derby boss the possession and with it, create openings.
Derby’s best passage of play shortly after the half hour mark saw them craft their first clear opening. A delightful exchange of headers down the left saw the ball played into the feet of Tom Ince and then Cyrus Christie out on the right. With time, the full back delivered an inch-perfect cross into the box that was missed by Ince and then volleyed over by Bradley Johnson.
Minutes later, with Derby well on the front foot, Jason Shackell had his head in his hands after glancing Jeff Hendrick’s precise free kick wide, but after a quieter spell, Derby finished the half strong.
Hendrick saw a firm drive beaten away by Martin, whilst his namesake Chris saw a half volley on the half turn well saved by the Dons ‘keeper.
Returning for the second half, Wassall’s men picked up where they left off as Johnson headed Marcus Olsson’s deep cross into the side netting and Martin scuffed an ambitious volley into the awaiting arms of the MK Dons goalkeeper.
Playing with more tempo, the Rams pushed their visitors further back towards their own goal but time and again, they were left thwarted in their attempts to break the deadlock by Robinson’s well organised side.
Aside from Ince firing well wide after cutting inside from the right, MK Dons, marshalled by the impressive Dean Lewington, dealt with everything that was thrown in their direction.
As the contest entered the final 15 minutes, Jacob Butterfield, the substitute, lashed an effort from range wide, but with 10 minutes remaining the hosts fought to survive a goalmouth scramble as the Dons began to impose themselves more in the final third.
And with eight minutes remaining, Robinson’s men struck. After winning a free kick right on the edge of the box, Forster-Caskey stood and bent a left footed strike towards goal that Carson could palm into the back of his net.
It left Wassall’s side very little time to respond as they huffed and puffed in a desperate search for a late equaliser, but MK Dons did what they had from the first minute to the last to see the game out comfortably.
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Olsson; Ince, Bryson (Butterfield, 56), Hendrick (Weimann, 78), Johnson; Martin, Russell (Bent, 67)
Substitutes not used: Grant, Buxton, Blackman, Warnock
MK Dons: Martin, Baldock, McFadzean, Walsh, Lewington; Potter, Forster-Caskey, Hall, Carruthers (Bowditch, 76); Murphy, Maynard (Revell, 59)
Substitutes not used: Spence, Emmanuel-Thomas, Powell, Cropper, Williams
Attendance: 30,075Tweets by @ dcfcofficial