The conditions were like that of the highlands of Scotland but Russell Martin’s men were only as far as Spotland as they enjoyed seven minutes of heaven in the second half to secure a comprehensive win over Brian Barry-Murphy’s young side.
Although Will Grigg’s fateful return was the main Dons headline pregame, it was other January signings who made the first contribution. Ethan Laird picked the ball up just inside The Dale half and seemed to have overrun it but managed to squeeze in a low cross which found Cameron Jerome, who laid the ball off to Matt O’Riley just outside the penalty area. The midfielder curled a beautiful left-footed shot past Gavin Bazunu to score his second away goal in two outings.
Andrew Fisher was called into action, however, in the 18th minute after Matt Done delivered a teasing cross, with the Dons penalty area populated with men in blue and black. Done’s namesake: Lund, flung himself at the curling ball but Fisher was equal to it and smothered the rebound to thwart Alex Newby who was looking to feed on any scraps.
The warning signs had been there for the Dons and their hosts did not have to work hard for their equaliser. Dean Lewington, in trying to play out quickly with a free-kick, lost possession and the two strikers combined: Stephen Humphrhys crossed unselfishly for Lund to tap home his 12th of the season.
To be at least on terms was nothing more than Dale deserved and they could have completed the turnaround before the interval. Fisher lost possession but recovered to deny a golden chance for Newby. From the resultant corner, Gabriel Osho headed just wide.
Despite being second best towards the end of the half, the visitors should have gone back in with the lead. Zak Jules got on the end of a Laird cutback to slam home in first-half stoppage time but the assistant referee deemed that the ball had rebounded off Jerome and raised his flag. Even if it had, it is still questionable that the Dons top goalscorer was in an offside position.
Half-time: Rochdale 1-1 MK Dons
After Jerome’s presence denied Jules his first Dons goal at the end of the first half, the ex-Walsall man would not be deterred as he cleaned up after the veteran striker. O’Riley’s corner was headed onto the crossbar by the Dons’ number 35 and another January signing got his name on the scoresheet for just Milton Keynes’ second set-piece goal of the campaign.
Just as they did in their last trip out of Bletchley, the men in white added a second in short succession as an error in the Rochdale ranks allowed Scott Fraser possession. He still had plenty to do as he danced through the Dale defence and fired in from outside of the 18-yard box once again.
However, unlike in their victory at Plough Lane, the Dons added a third in the second half. Grigg, who had been quiet for the most part, had a brilliant double interchange with Fraser before squaring for Jerome to slide in for his 11th of the season.
Unfortunately, Grigg was unable to crown his return with a goal. He sprung the offside trap, rounded Bazunu, but was unable to hit the target before being subbed off for Charlie Brown. Cowshed goers will be hoping that his earlier assist will give him confidence ahead of the trip to Hull on Saturday.
In truth, the match faded away after Milton Keynes added their fourth, with Rochdale accepting defeat as they look ahead to facing another set of Dons at the weekend. Kwadwo Baah’s incredible run was the only highlight of Rochdale’s second half as Martin made wholesale changes to keep his side fresh for Saturday.
Full-time: Rochdale 1-4 MK Dons
Man of the match: Zak Jules