A nightmare second-half five-minute spell saw 10-man MK Dons surrender three points in a 4-2 loss to play-off rivals Stevenage on Tuesday night.
The Dons, playing one of the two games in hand they had over a number of their top six rivals, paid a heavy price for Mathias Kouo-Doumbe's 63rd minute dismissal, who picked up two cautions in ten minutes, as Stevenage netted twice to condemn the Dons to defeat.
Karl Robinson's men had taken the lead in the game when Jay O'Shea found the net with only three minutes in the clock, but Boro hit back through Michael Bostwick midway through the first half to even the score.
But a topsy-turvy second half, with every twist in the book, followed and as Kouo-Doumbe headed for an early shower Scott Laird headed Stevenage in front before Darius Charles nodded their third. Late hopes of an equaliser came for the Dons when Tom Flanagan pulled a goal back four minutes from time, only for an unfortunate own goal to follow from Gary MacKenzie.
The defeat was the Dons' first away from home in the League in seven games and leaves them five points clear of seventh place and six off the automatic promotion spot.
O'Shea was given the nod to start his first game since late August to replace Darren Potter, who was ruled out by a bout of 'flu and Gary MacKenzie returned to the starting line-up after two weeks out of action due to injury.
The home side exploded out of the traps at a frightening pace as they registered their first shot inside 50 seconds when Ronnie Henry made space on the right, a cross was played into the box yet Chris Beardsley lost his composure with a wild shot high into Row Z.
It would have been easy for the Dons to have been stunned by such an energetic start from Stevenage, instead Robinson's men went on the attack themselves with Adam Smith, in his trademark fashion, racing down the flank and drilling a low cross into the box. A defensive mistake resulted in a loose ball being pounced on by O'Shea and the Irishman took his chance with both hands as he confidently stroked the ball into the back of the net.
On a tight pitch, the Dons' natural width game had to be adapted at times to allow the service to reach Charlie MacDonald up front on his own. Stevenage's Lawrie Wilson worked hard on squeezing the Dons into tight areas of the pitch, keeping Dean Lewington's advancing movement to a minimum and yet at times it was Wilson who, despite dropping deep to strengthen the defence, helped keep Boro pressing forward.
With a bit of confidence on his side O'Shea fancied his chances from distance and with a sight of goal he sent a long range shot wide of Chris Day's post. However, against the run of play, it was the Boro who were to celebrate when Bostwick was afforded space 25 yards from goal to riffle a shot which zipped across the wet surface, past David Martin and into the bottom corner.
The home side, watched on by Gary Smith who expected to be named manager in the next 24 hours, began to push on and when Lewington was caught out by Wilson it opened up a route through to goal as the Stevenage man weaved his way through the Dons defence to cross the ball into Darius Charles' feet. The striker took the chance first time, but his dipping strike from inside the box fell inches past the post.
Beardsley wasted a glorious chance to put Stevenage ahead minutes before the interval, after picking up a long cross from Scott Laird, getting the better of Kouo-Doumbe in the process, he had the opportunity to drive at Martin's goal. Yet, he opted to take a touch, allowing Lewington to close him down which ultimately cost him a chance to at least test the Dons goalie.
The game restarted at a lively pace, with Jabo Ibehre going close to reinstating the Dons' lead when Bowditch's corner found him at the near post and after having a shot blocked the forward's second attempted skimmed through the bodies only to nestle in the side netting.
MacKenzie was caught out by Charles high up the pitch and the mistake allowed the Boro striker a free run at goal, but when the shot from the left of the box was played Kouo-Doumbe had recovered in time to make a goal saving clearance.
O'Shea's performance throughout the night will have strengthened his own case for regular selection, with an energetic display that saw him cover every inch of grass at the Lamex Stadium.
His ability to make intelligent runs complimented the vision of his team mates and when a long hopeful ball was knocked up field it was O'Shea who picked up the ball and from an acute angle shot at Day.
However, the Dons then suffered a nightmare five minutes that turned the game on its head. First a foul by Kouo-Doumbe on Beardsley by the far touchline saw the French defender pick up his second booking, leaving the Dons to see out the best part of 30 minutes with 10 men.
But it didn't stop there, from Luke Freeman's resulting free-kick Laird escaped his marker in the box to get the flick on need to head beyond Martin and take Stevenage into the lead for the first time. And the punishment continued for the Dons, who brought on Flanagan to strengthen the defence as Bowditch gave way, when the backline was pulled apart and Charles planted a thumping header on another Freeman delivery, this time a cross from the left, to extend their lead to 3-1.
It seemed as though all hope had gone for the Dons as they desperately tried to keep Stevenage's advantage to a minimum but they were given great hope when a great ball in from O'Shea was met by the bullet header of Flanagan at the far post to pull the Dons back within a goal.
Yet, the game which in the second half had almost every twist, there was another blow to come for the visitors as a drilled cross by Charles was turned into the net by MacKenzie to end a miserable evening for the men from MK.
Stevenage: Day, Wilson, Laird, Charles, Ashton, Byrom (Edwards 89), Roberts (c), Freeman (Long 68), Beardsley (Cowan 82), Bostwick, Henry.
Subs not used: Julian, Shroot.
Booked: ByromGoals: Bostwick 25, Laird 65, Charles 68, MacKenzie (OG) 88
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Smith, MacKenzie, Kouo-Doumbe, Lewington (c); Gleeson, Chadwick (Powell 78); Bowditch (Flanagan 65), Ibehre, O'Shea; MacDonald.
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Baldock, McNamee.
Booked: Kouo-Doumbe, Ibehre, Smith
Sent-off: Kouo-Doumbe 63
Goals: O'Shea 3, Flanagan 86
Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire)
Attendance: 3345 (510 away)