Lee Barnard's controversial penalty deep into stoppage time inflicted MK Dons' first ever defeat at the hands of Southend United on Friday night.
Cambridgeshire referee Darren Deadman left Dons manager Paul Ince fuming when he harshly judged Mathias Doumbe to have fouled Jean-Francois Christophe in the area, four minutes after the end of regulation time. It was a highly-contentious ending to an even contest in Essex, but ultimately saw the Dons slip to back-to-back defeats for only the second time in nearly two years following last Saturday's reverse at Charlton.
It was a night that had started so well for Ince's men, who took the lead just before the quarter-hour through Sam Baldock's neat finish. But they were pegged back 10 minutes later when Johnny Herd's free-kick was turned into his own net by the retreating Aaron Wilbraham. And a nip-and-tuck encounter looked set to be heading for a draw until the award of Southend's late penalty, which allowed Barnard to bag three points with his 14th goal of the season.
After six games without a win against the Dons, it was ironic that the Shrimpers' first would come on the sixth anniversary of Tilson taking over at Roots Hall. Spoilt for choice in attacking departments following the return of Jermaine Easter and Stephen Gleeson from international call-ups, Ince's intentions for the game were clear from his team selection. The industry of Luke Howell in midfield, the pace and hard work of Baldock in attack and the blend of ambition and responsibility possessed by the fit-again Martin Devaney on the right suggested Ince expected a battle.
Gleeson and Easter were left on the bench. They were certainly dealt an early scare when Francis Laurent played a delightful one-two with Barnard down the right on four minutes, charging to the byline and pulling back dangerously. Alan McCormack looked certain to score, only for the retreating Devaney to deny him with a perfectly-timed tackle and Franck Moussa's follow-up was brilliant tipped round the post by Willy Gueret.
But with Devaney, Baldock and Luke Chadwick combining well and using Aaron Wilbraham as a focal point for attacks, the Dons always looked likely to cause a problem. And when Chadwick drove inside off his left flank at the heart of the Shrimpers defence, panic pulled the home side horribly out of shape. It left Baldock free to Chadwick's left and once the ball had been slipped his way there was little doubt about the outcome.
A game that had rarely looked bad tempered then began a crazy spell which saw seven players cautioned before half-time when Howell was shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Christophe. Chadwick, Christophe himself, Barnard, Anthony Grant, Baldock and Adam Barrett would incredibly follow him into it before the break. Having conceded twice from set pieces at Charlton, it was a dead-ball situation that again proved the Dons' undoing on 24 minutes. Johnny Herd drifted a ball into the Dons box from the right and, with Christophe's jump leaving him unsighted, Wilbraham could do little about the ball skewing off his head and into the far corner.
Frustrated at the loss of their lead, the Dons responded positively with Jason Puncheon forcing a good save from Mildenhall and Baldock heading just wide after a cross from the tireless Devaney. It was Doumbe though that came closest to regaining the lead - the Frenchman meeting Puncheon's 33rd-minute corner with an excellent diving header that was hooked off the line by Franck Moussa. Aaron Wilbraham leads the line for the Dons. &nbsp; Alan McCormack arrowed a shot just past the post for Southend, but it was the visitors doing most of the attacking - a pattern that continued immediately after the break.
Chadwick spun cleverly into some room down the left on 49 minutes and set up Wilbraham for a shot Mildenhall got everything behind, and the Southend stopper was equally alive to a Chadwick effort from 20 yards four minutes later. Having showed little sign of adding to his 13-goal tally up that point, Barnard started to show signs of life around the hour-mark - flagged offside before he could round Gueret on 63 minutes and seeing a shot from a Herd corner hooked away by Dean Lewington shortly after.
But the Dons were back on the front foot on 80 minutes as Puncheon exchanged passes brilliantly with Chadwick on the edge of the box and squeezed in a shot from a tight angle that Mildenhall saved smartly with his feet.
Darren Powell and Wilbraham both failed to find the net with relatively free headers in the closing minutes before the late controversy - controversy to follow the two crucial penalty decisions Ince felt didn't go their way at Charlton last Saturday. They say things even themselves out over the course of the season. Ince's men are probably due one.
Southend United (4-4-2): Mildenhall; Grant, Francis, Barrett (c), Herd; Laurent, Christophe, McCormack, Moussa; Freedman (Scannell 65).
Subs not used: Walker, O'Keefe, Asante, Bentley.
Goals: Christophe 24 Booked: Christophe, Grant, Barnard, Barrett. MK Dons (4-4-2): Gueret; Doumbe, Darren Powell, McCracken, Lewington (c); Devaney, Howell (Carrington 77), Puncheon, Chadwick (Johnson 82); Wilbraham, Baldock (Easter 73).
Subs not used: Gleeson, Ibehre, Leven, Swailes.
Goals: Baldock 14
Booked: McCracken, Howell, Chadwick, Baldock, Puncheon.
Attendance: 6,957 (289 away)
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire)