Luke Howell's maiden career goal sent MK Dons to a 14th away win of the season ahead of their play-off semi-final showdown with Scunthorpe.
Howell capped another impressive performance by crashing home a volley five minutes from time as Roberto Di Matteo's men secured third place in League 1 against already-relegated Hereford on the final day. And they now turn their attention to a first-leg clash at Glanford Park on Friday, after Scunthorpe pulled off a remarkable escape against play-off rivals Tranmere.
Though Di Matteo's side needed a point to be sure of third spot ahead of the game, fourth-placed Millwall's collapse at Carlisle meant they were effectively assured of top seeding five minutes into the second half. But winning being the habit that it is, Howell's late strike and a sixth victory in seven was a welcome bonus ahead of a competition where form is traditionally king.
With top scorer Aaron Wilbraham on the bench and the magical Jason Puncheon left out altogether, Di Matteo's team selection seemed to suggest he already had the play-offs in mind. It later became apparent that both were suffering from knocks, but Howell's inclusion along with Luke Chadwick and Shaun Cummings suggested the Dons would have enough to see off the rock bottom Bulls. John Trewick's side actually started quite brightly, adjusting quicker to a firm surface and engineering the game's first opening when Jennison Myrie-Williams fired Marc Pugh's cross straight at Dons 'keeper Willy Gueret.
Cummings showed great technique to flick up a Mark Wright pass and volley just past the post on 15 minutes and when a Wright cross caused panic six minutes later both Peter Leven and Tore Andre Flo had shots blocked in front of goal. Leven pulled a long-range effort wide towards the end of a quiet half, but the action was going on elsewhere.
Needing a win to climb above their opponents into the final play-off position and book a date with the Dons themselves, Tranmere had taken the lead at Scunthorpe courtesy of a Craig Curran goal. Sam Baldock applies the pressure to Josh Gowling. &nbsp; Both sides upped the tempo after the break and Bulls 'keeper Peter Gulacsi had to be quick off his line to prevent Leven latching on to Dean Lewington's slide-rule pass.
But having previously had little change out of the excellent Miguel Llera and the uncompromising Jude Stirling, Hereford would enjoy their best spell shortly afterwards and squandered two wonderful chances to take the lead. Myrie-Williams had the first, rounding a rapidly-advancing Gueret down the right flank but finding Cummings too well placed on the line from a tight angle. But it was Guinan who will truly have been kicking himself, after he side-footed Pugh's left wing cross over the bar from 12 yards.
Stirred into life somewhat, the Dons started to turn the screw and substitute Jemal Johnson worked Gulacsi with two firm strikes in as many minutes after entering the fray. Making his first appearance since the defeat at Leeds last month, Johnson was out to impress and followed that up with a devilish delivery from a free-kick that Llera was within inches of forcing home before Gulasci scrambled round the post. But the intent was clearly there from the visitors and they duly made the breakthrough five minutes from the end as Flo flicked on a ball downfield.
Howell's driving late run through the heart of Hereford was fairly typical of the energetic young midfielder, but the aplomb with which he lashed the bouncing ball past Gulacsi defied his usual shyness in front of goal. It seemed mere confirmation of a semi-final against the still-leading Tranmere at the time, until Cliff Byrne's 88th-minute equaliser snatched sixth spot from the Merseysiders in the most dramatic of finishes. Dons will hope Scunthorpe used all their luck up this afternoon.
Hereford United (4-4-2): Gulacsi; Gwynne, Gowling, Rose, Taylor; Myrie-Williams, Smith (Jones 87), Diagouraga, Done (Brandy 82); Pugh, Guinan (c).
Subs not used: Macleod, Veiga, Beckwith. Booked: Gowling. MK Dons (4-4-2): Gueret; Cummings, Stirling, Llera, Lewington (c); Wright (Johnson 52), Howell, Leven (Navarro 70), Chadwick (Regan 77); Flo, Baldock.
Subs not used: Abbey, Wilbraham. Goals: Howell 85.
Attendance: 3,224 (1,078 away)
Referee: Tony Bates (Staffordshire)