TRANMERE ROVERS were politely dispatched from Stadium MK by a Dons side whose young manager, Karl Robinson, says he lives close enough to Les Parry to have followed the visitors’ team coach down to Buckinghamshire on Saturday.
The quality of the football the Dons played to secure the League One points was also familiar to Merseysiders of a certain persuasion. The influence of Robinson’s time spent as a coach at the Liverpool Academy was stamped all over the home side’s passing game, performed at times to beguiling effect.
Rovers were outmanoeuvred for much of the game but there was no shame in losing to a side as quietly impressive as MK Dons looked here.
Most visitors – nine out of 12 this season – leave empty-handed, giving the stadium announcer plenty of opportunities to play the Queen song Another One Bites The Dust at the final whistle.
The Dons’ football matches the level of investment at the Football League’s first franchise club.
The purpose-built stadium is considered swish enough to host international games while the budget for players makes Tranmere’s outlay look like small change.
If Rovers’ 4-2 victory over the same opponents at Prenton Park in October provided the highlight of their campaign so far, the return served to remind us that spending power is the greatest influence on the fortunes of clubs at League One level.
The home team moved into the play-off zone with this success and the evidence suggests they have much to offer the Championship, which could be their destination if they can address a dodgy away record.
Tranmere, missing experienced defenders Ian Goodison and Marlon Broomes because of injuries, held them without too much discomfort for just over half-an-hour.
But once the Dons raised the tempo and established dominance in the midfield area, Rovers were hard-pressed to hold them.
They survived a couple of narrow escapes before the interval, then a goal scored 14 seconds after the restart changed the complexion of the game.
Tranmere’s hope of frustrating the Dons and relying on counter-attacks using the pace of Dale Jennings and Lateef Elford-Alliyu was gone.
Not that the front men saw much of the ball until the later stages, because the home side established dominance in the midfield.
The biggest plus for manager Les Parry was the performance of Mark McChrystal.
The Irish centre-back, making his first start in a Rovers shirt following a move from Derry City, made the adjustment to League One football look seamless. The 26-year-old was strong and read some dangerous situations shrewdly, making timely tackles and interceptions.
Parry chose to make a change in attack by leaving out leading scorer Ian Thomas-Moore and playing Jennings, the scourge of the Dons when the teams met three months ago, in a role just behind target man Showunmi.
It was 34 minutes before Tranmere encountered any kind of alarm in their penalty area.
Then, as if someone had thrown a switch to kick the Dons into gear, the pressure built quickly.
The dangerous Lewis Guy, taking a reverse pass from Luke Chadwick, squeezed a shot past goalkeeper Tony Warner and the far post. Two minutes later McChrystal got back to make a last-ditch goal-line clearance after Daniel Powell galloped clear of the defenders and wide of Warner.
Full-back Aaron Cresswell took his turn to knock the ball off the line from Powell’s rising shot a minute before the break.
The half-time interval failed to draw any of the Dons’ sting. Straight from the restart, powerful centre-forward Jabo Ibehre bundled Ash Taylor out of possession on the left, cut inside and then laid a perfect pass to the edge of the box from where Powell fired home crisp shot through a crowded penalty area.
Tranmere’s response was a couple of efforts from the left-sided combination of Zoumana Bakayogo and Cresswell, both set up by Jennings, neither of which seriously troubled keeper David Martin.
The game was put beyond Rovers’ reach by a second goal on 70 minutes.
Ibehre provided the leg work as well as the finish, once again getting the better of Taylor to turn the young centre-back on a run from the left that made an angle for a low shot into the far corner.
Parry introduced substitutes Ian Thomas-Moore, Adam McGurk and Ryan Fraughan during the final 20 minutes and Tranmere found a spark or two going forward, but not enough to threaten a comeback.