An emotionally-charged Aaron Wilbraham scored the only goal of the game as MK Dons beat Exeter to draw level with the League 1 play-off contenders.
Playing just 24 hours after the death of his beloved grandmother, Margaret, the big Dons striker, captaining the side in Dean Lewington's absence, completed a fitting tribute when he dispatched Mark Carrington's pass eight minutes into the second half, lifting his side to seventh in the table.
It settled a tough examination at the hands of a talented Grecians side, who showed plenty of attacking intent and quality in possession. But despite a lacklustre first half display, the Dons will feel the chances they created after the break, most notably for Sam Baldock and substitute Jermaine Easter, more than justified harvesting the points. It's a result that leaves the Dons well-placed in a remarkably-tight League 1 table. Had they managed to hang on to their half-time lead at Bournemouth last week, Karl Robinson's men would incredibly be now sitting second.
Wins, or indeed defeats, are nothing to be getting carried away with at this juncture. And they can take another sizeable fillip&nbsp;from their ongoing success at stadiummk, the home they have for so long fought to make a fortress.
The Dons have now won five and drawn two of their seven home league encounters. They had to continue that unbeaten run without four notable absentees in skipper Dean Lewington, player-coach Dietmar Hamann and suspended duo Peter Leven and Angelo Balanta.
That meant returns to the starting eleven for Stephen Gleeson and Jemal Johnson, who only returned from a loan spell at Port Vale this week. Easter's search for form and Wilbraham's determination to play meant the big man got the nod to partner Baldock up front. But it was the visitors calling the early shots, outnumbering the hosts in the midfield area thanks to their 3-5-2 formation and dominating possession as the Dons battled for a foothold. Ryan Harley was a particular source of concern, buzzing between the midfield and the frontline with menacing intent, frustrating the home support but not bringing much work from Dons 'keeper David Martin.
Robinson spotted the imbalance hampering his team and switched to a five-man midfield while his side consolidated, but the flowing football stadiummk has become used to this season was missing. Exeter were providing most of it, the evasive Harley driving dangerously across the box on the half-hour and forcing a fine intervention from Mathias Kouo-Doumbé. And after another slick passing move from the Grecians a couple of minutes later, the highly-rated Harley warmed the palms of Martin with well-struck shot.
Wilbraham chested down for Luke Chadwick to drill wide as the Dons showed signs of improvement building up to the break. But they were nearly behind before heading down the tunnel - Exeter's John O'Flynn denied by a frighteningly-late flag after impressively dispatching Steve Tully's diagonal ball across Martin.
That said, the Dons were beginning to hold their own and Robinson was confident enough to switch back to a 4-4-2, removing Lewis Guy and introducing the muscular Mark Carrington to the middle of the park. Carrington's range of passing was on show straight after the break as he picked out Baldock down the right. The young striker outfoxed Scott Golbourne to feed Wilbraham in the area, but Exeter defenders crowded him out. It was something to finally lift the crowd and, from Johnson's resulting corner, the Dons were in front. Exeter had done well to clear the Amercian's dipping delivery, Rob Edwards thumping a header out of his box, but Carrington was waiting to reload the attack.
Red and white shirts appealed for a flag as Wilbraham stretched out a leg to control it, but there was nothing that could save them as grieving front-man seized his moment. The pre-meditated t-shirt tribute earned him a caution, but his offer of a handshake to referee Gary Sutton suggested he knew it was coming. Suddenly, the Dons were in control as Carrington and the excellent Gleeson took a grip on midfield.
Three minutes later it should have been game over as Carrington, unerringly accurate again, picked out Baldock over the top, but the Dons' leading scorer was unable to stretch Paul Jones as he cut in from the left. The home side were nearly made to pay as Exeter fought back - Harley and O'Flynn both drawing decent saves from Martin after taking aim from the left of the box. Robinson introduced the fresh legs of Easter and Jabo Ibehre, the former still without a league goal this season.
And the Welshman couldn't have dreamed of a better chance to break his duck, sent totally clear by Baldock on 76 minutes, before Jones just denied him. It summed up Easter's season, the approach work perfect but the killer touch agonisingly absent, and he had his defenders to thank that it wasn't a telling moment. The monumental Sean O'Hanlon it was that came to the Dons' rescue just a minute later, launching himself in the way of O'Flynn's goal-bound shot after Harley had found the former Barnet man in the box.
MK Dons (4-4-2): Martin; Kouo-Doumbé, MacKenzie, O'Hanlon, Woodards; Guy (Carrington 42), Gleeson, Chadwick, Johnson (Easter 72); Baldock, Wilbraham (c) (Ibehre 72).
Subs not used: Searle, Howell, Chicksen.
Goals: Wilbraham 53
Booked: Wilbraham, Chadwick, Martin, Baldock
Exeter City (3-5-2): P. Jones; Duffy, Edwards (Archibald-Henville 68), B. Jones; Tully (Thomson 79), Sercombe, Noble (c) (Dunne 82), Harley, Golbourne; O'Flynn, Logan.
Subs not used: Cozic, Stewart, Watson, Krysiak.
Attendance: 8,002 (606 away)
Referee: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire)