MK Dons lost their unbeaten home league record as Neil Mellor's hat-trick lifted the gloom hanging over financially-stricken Sheffield Wednesday.
Mellor, on loan from Preston North End, took his tally for the season to 12 with his second treble three games as the Owls came from behind to leapfrog the Dons into the League 1 play-off places. Having taken an early lead through midfielder Mark Carrington on six minutes, Karl Robinson's Dons looked set for a memorable afternoon in front of a crowd of over 10,000 at MK1.
But Mellor's first and a Luke Chadwick own-goal had them trailing at the break, before Mellor wrapped up the points in the second period. It was a fine end to a wretched week for the Yorkshire giants - given 28 days to find new owners and avoid the threat of administration over an unpaid tax bill on Wednesday. But they remain an almighty force in a hugely competitive division, particularly with the class of the likes of Mellor to call on, as well as the support of a diehard fan base.
Knocked out of the FA Cup in midweek and losing their unbeaten home league record today, the Dons must now regroup ahead of a testing trip to Huddersfield in midweek - the final game before the countdown to Christmas really begins. After 120 minutes of exhausting FA Cup action in midweek, Robinson reverted back to the side that started last week's win at Brentford - bar Jabo Ibehre's return from injury in place of the crocked Angelo Balanta.
obinson had said in the build-up to the game that he hoped the atmosphere provided by two passionate sets of fans could inspire his team, and it looked to have done just that when they marched into an early lead. Ibehre and Michael McIndoe started the attack, exchanging well under pressure down the left before the latter found Sam Baldock sprinting in behind.
Wednesday skipper Darren Purse did just enough to hold off the Dons' leading scorer, but his desperate clearance only reached the edge of the box, where the nerveless Carrington was waiting to pick his spot. An absolute dream of a start for the hosts and for Carrington, who almost produced an even better finish seven minutes later - summoning a recycled corner from Peter Leven at similar range before drawing a finger-tip save from the stretching Arron Jameson. But if Wednesday had looked bright anywhere, it was in attack, where Mellor was full of running and clever movement.
When full-back Tommy Spurr burst round the outside of Gary Teale on 19 minutes, Mellor and Clinton Morrison were lurking in the middle, but Mathias Kouo-Doumbé got a crucial touch to Spurr's fine low cross. A resultant brace of corners allowed the Owls to keep the pressure on and it was a spell that would lead to Mellor's equaliser on 22 minutes.
Tommy Miller's hoisted ball into the Dons box was headed clear by Dean Lewington, but Wednesday forced it right to find the elusive Chris Sedgwick. The cross was just too high for Kouo-Doumbé, but perfect for the head of Mellor, who beat former Liverpool team-mate David Martin to go into double figures for the season. It was turning into a profitable spell for the visitors and within another five minutes they were in front as both Leven and Carrington tried and failed to put telling balls into a packed Wednesday box. Wednesday broke with precision down the right flank, Teale given time to move infield before finding Mellor inside the box,
whose speculative cross deflected past the helpless Martin off the luckless Chadwick. Behind, but not beaten, the Dons set about restoring parity, but their cause was not aided on the half-hour when Baldock, caught by Mark Beevers off the ball moments before, hobbled off injured.
Nevertheless, attacking the Cowshed in the second half, they would have fancied their chances of challenging Wednesday's advantage, particularly with the visitors trying to play on the break. It took until just after the hour-mark for them to create a genuine chance - McIndoe dropping a clever ball over Purse that Ibehre fought hard to win, but Baldock's replacement Lewis Guy failed to make decisive contact inside the box.
The diminutive substitute did slightly better when racing away from Purse with an Ibehre layoff a couple of minutes later, but the angle was fading on him and Jameson saved comfortably. You got the feeling Wednesday were winding up for a killer blow as they held the Dons at arm's length, before suddenly turning on the class in the final third.
Teale should have provided it on 68 minutes when Morrison's wonderful reverse sent the former Wigan flyer racing into the Dons box from the left, but Danny Woodards showed blistering pace of make up a deficit and block his shot. But Mellor would make no such mistake a couple of minutes later, again rising highest in the area to plant Teale's left-wing cross past Martin. Robinson threw on Jemal Johnson and the returning Aaron Wilbraham to chase the game with a quarter-of-an-hour to go, but the Owls were flying, desperate to give their beleaguered fans as much to celebrate as possible.
To their delight, Mellor secured the matchball with seven minutes to go, glancing home at the near post from Spurr's right-wing corner, before being substituted to a standing ovation.
MK Dons (4-4-2): Martin; Gleeson, Woodards, Kouo-Doumbé, Lewington (c); Chadwick (Wilbraham 74), Carrington, Leven, McIndoe (Johnson 74); Baldock (Guy 30), Ibehre.
Subs not used: MacKenzie, O'Hanlon Gueret, Chicksen.
Goals: Carrington 6
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Jameson; Buxton, Purse (c), Beevers, Spurr; Sedgwick (Tudgay 83), Potter, Miller (Palmer 87), Teale; Morrison, Mellor (Heffernan 87).
Subs not used: Hinds, Jones, O'Donnell, Johnson.
Goals: Mellor 22, 70, 83; Chadwick og 27.
Booked: Beevers, Potter
Attendance: 10,552 (2,842 away)
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan)