Saturday, February 20th, 2016
Bristol City maintained their unbeaten history against MK Dons as a Jonathan Kodjia brace fired Lee Johnson’s men eight points clear of the Sky Bet Championship drop zone.
It was the 11th meeting between the clubs in the 12th season of the Dons’ existence, and a happy journey home for more than 2,000 travelling fans as City won at Stadium:MK for the first time.
Kodjia broke the deadlock from close range right at the end of a tense first half and added his second on the hour with an excellent finish, as a makeshift City back four finished the game with a third clean sheet in their last four games.
Johnson handed a debut to 18-year-old defender Zak Vyner at right-back, with Mark Little sidelined by a groin injury and Luke Ayling still missing with a knee problem.
It was the only change to Johnson’s first team selection as City boss following the 2-1 victory over Ipswich Town at Ashton Gate last time out.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s close friend and former City team-mate Nicky Maynard was leading the line for the hosts supported by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
It was a game with a number of interesting subplots, not least the appearance of Vyner, who made a tidy start with some assured early touches and a couple of successful tackles.
The battle between Kodjia and Kyle McFadzean was another, as the Frenchman was yellow carded for leaving a foot in on the defender before he was pulled back by the same man only for McFadzean to escape a caution of his own.
Joe Bryan and Lee Tomlin were both teetering on the edge of joining Kodjia in the referee’s notebook in a contest starved of goalmouth action in the opening exchanges.
But Bryan was soon putting his talents to good use when he picked up possession just inside the Dons half, carried the ball towards the edge of the box and let fly with a left-footed shot that had goalkeeper David Martin scampering across his goal and relieved to see the chance sail fractionally wide.
Luke Freeman enjoyed a similar sight of goal but was not quite as close, before feeding the ball in from the right for Kodjia to send a glancing header beyond the far post.
The home team have always prided themselves on their ability to keep the ball and dictate possession, but were having trouble finding any sort of rhythm.
McFadzean was still irritating Kodjia and avoiding punishment – this time blocking him off, as the former Crawley Town player continued to delve into his box of lower league tricks in what could diplomatically be described as “an education” for the City striker, with no shortage of cuts and bruises to show for it.
Freeman squandered a rare opportunity for either side to worry the other as half-time came into view, capitalising on a mix-up down by the corner flag only to go for goal from a tricky angle and clear the crossbar with Kodjia and Bryan in support.
With one minute of added time signalled, a goalless scoreline at the break seemed inevitable before Tomlin’s composure created the opener totally out of the blue.
Under no pressure, Martin scuffed a routine clearance straight to the Bournemouth loanee, who neglected the invitation to shoot early or run straight for goal.
Instead he took his time when others may have panicked. With Dons defenders retreating, Tomlin waited for Kodjia to check back into an onside position before delivering a peach of a cross for his strike partner to convert from six yards.
It was goal number 11 of the season for City’s leading marksman, and his first in the league for more than two months.
Perfect timing for Johnson, only for the head coach to be dealt a blow in having to withdraw Nathan Baker at the interval, meaning a second City appearance for loan signing Alex Pearce – both as a half-time substitute.
The Dons started the second period with a greater spring in their step. Emmanuel-Thomas pulled back that familiar hammer of a left foot, prompting a few fluttering hearts in the away end, but skied his 30-yarder by some distance.
Vyner had looked at home for the most part but was about to have his young feathers ruffled by pacey left-winger Josh Murphy.
Twice he ran beyond the full-back, initially wasting his final ball before being tugged back cynically by Vyner, who had the first yellow card of his senior career.
But the hosts’ best spell of the game was about to be cut short by City’s second, with Bryan at the heart of it.
The Bristolian had only just drifted in from the left touchline and sent a curling right-footed effort inches over, and was full of confidence when he intercepted the ball deep inside his own half.
Carrying the ball towards the halfway line with purpose, Bryan spotted the run of Kodjia and threaded a brilliantly weighted pass in behind the defence for the Frenchman to run on to.
Suddenly with his mojo back, Kodjia looked a 20-goal striker as he caught up with the rolling ball and did not break stride in slotting home a well-placed finish just inside the far upright for a classy second.
Johnson repeated his newfound trait of switching both forwards soon after, as Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard offered a rest to the productive starting pair of Tomlin and Kodjia.
City looked home and dry at this point against the division’s lowest scorers, and were more concerned with finding a third goal to wrap up the points when Bryan’s free kick got the slightest touch against the post from Aden Flint, only for the big defender to be flagged offside.
But the hard work was already done as City secured a third straight victory to strengthen their position in the Championship survival hunt at the expense of a struggling rival.