This was the seventh and most revealing victory of a winning streak which has transformed Sheffield United’s season.
The visitors survived the loss of two key players and the tactical overhaul which followed to secure their first ever triumph at stadium:mk and take another huge step towards the 50-point mark manager Nigel Clough believes will guarantee League One survival.
Stefan Scougall’s first-half goal, his second following a January move from Scottish Championship club Livingston, ensured United will enter tomorrow’s match against sixth-placed Peterborough in their best run of form since December 2011.
As Neill Collins explained afterwards, hard work and indefatigable spirit had been the driving forces behind his colleagues’ latest success.
“There were a lot of unsung heroes, if you like, out there,” Collins, the United centre-half, said. “Lads who won’t get the limelight but who gave so much out there and helped us to get the result.
“That’s what makes it so pleasing. When you are Sheffield United, you should be used to winning matches. That’s the expectation and what this club is all about.
“But you won’t do that unless the attitude is right and, I’ve got to say, it’s been totally spot on of late. We’re all in this together and hopefully that is starting to show out there on the pitch.
“When this club has done well in the past, when it’s challenged for promotion and honours, all of that has been built on application and a desire to give absolutely nothing away. Nothing. And you’re starting to see that mind-set coming back again, which is good.
“The challenge for us now, as far as we’re all concerned, is to make sure that continues - build on it and keep moving on.”
The facts and figures behind Saturday’s performance will make particularly pleasant reading for a team which, just a fortnight ago, had been warned by Clough that its bid to avoid relegation could “go right down to the wire”.
Despite seeing injury rob them of John Brayford and Jamie Murphy before the break - both must now be doubts for this weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final against Charlton Athletic - United’s rearguard, which was also missing influential centre-half Harry Maguire, has now not been breached in nearly seven-and-a-half hours of competitive action.
A fifth consecutive league clean sheet, achieved against opponents who began the afternoon ranked the division’s third best team against clubs in the top half of the table, provided further evidence that United, having endured a wretched start to the campaign, have now discovered the right formula.
“We play some good stuff,” Collins said. “But there’s also the nasty streak, if you want to call it that, out there at the moment which every team that achieves anything needs.
“Basically, it just boils down to the fact that we don’t want to give anything away. It’s a desire to make
sure that whatever anyone gets against us they are going to have to work for. There aren’t going to be any gifts whatsoever.”
“The goal Stefan scored was excellent,” Collins continued. “He took it really well and showed the qualities that he’s got and why the club brought him here.
“But, underneath all of that, you’ve got someone like the captain (Michael Doyle) doing all the dirty work in midfield, making sure nobody else can get a foothold in there and allowing lads like Stefan and Conor (Coady) to play. There’s a really good balance out there at the moment. And everybody is contributing. There isn’t one lad, no matter what their involvement, who isn’t helping out or trying to give something to the rest of the team.”
Karl Robinson, the MK Dons manager, accused his players of “failing to give enough” as they slipped to their fifth home defeat of the season. The same charge could not be levelled at United who went about their business with purpose and conviction.
Robinson, despite his disappointment here, has constructed a squad capable of producing exhilarating football.
But, on this occasion, they appeared bereft of ideas as United’s worth ethic disrupted Dons’ rhythm before limiting them to speculative attempts from long range until the introduction of Sammi Odelusi, on loan from Bolton Wanderers, finally provided a cutting edge. The 20-year-old winger prodded over the crossbar during the closing stages before directing a late header straight at Mark Howard.
“We’ve told the lads in the dressing room that nobody else in the country is doing what they are doing at this stage,” Clough said.
“Nobody else, in whatever division, is showing the same level of consistency at a time when that is so difficult to achieve because people are fighting for promotion or against relegation.
“But we have to keep that going. There can be no let-up. We want it to carry on for as long as possible.
“We all saw the sheer amount of effort they put in out there. And that’s why they are going well at the moment.
“It’s down to hard work and desire. Pure and simple.”
“That’s what you’ve got to put in if you want to achieve something,” Clough added. “And that’s why we are so pleased with the lads at the moment because they are showing that hunger and desire to give everything they’ve got.”
United, with Matt Hill impressing alongside Collins after being asked to deputise for Maguire, squeezed the life out of Dons before delivering what proved to be the decisive blow midway through the opening period.
Moments after missing a gilt-edged opportunity after meeting Ryan Flynn’s cross, Scougall redeemed himself by caressing the ball beyond David Martin following Conor Coady’s perfectly-judged pass.
Jordan Spence hacked Jose Baxter’s shot off the line as United threatened to extend their advantage before Ben Davies, who had earlier flung himself bravely in front of an Odelusi effort, saw a free-kick deflected just wide after being tripped by former United loanee Ryan Hall.
Dons, who have now failed to score in three of their last four outings at home, tried to force the issue during the closing stages but United, who remain 12th in the table but are now level on points with 11th-placed Bradford City, kept them at arms length.
“Right the way through, everybody chipped in,” Collins said. “You’ve got Matty (Hill) coming in and showing what he’s capable of. Then there’s young Terry (Kennedy) who steps off the bench at a vital moment in the match and does ever so well. Shows why he’s got the confidence of the people around him.
“That suggests there’s good depth and underlines what we’re saying about this being all about the group - not individuals but the team as a whole.”
Hero: Stefan Scougall impressed in attack and scored. But this win was built on a solid defensive display with Neill Collins and Matt Hill, deputising for the injured Harry Maguire, both impressing.