MK Dons saw a one-goal lead slip as Crewe Alexandra came from behind to win 2-1 at the Alexandra Stadium and delivered a hammer blow to the Dons’ hopes of the play-offs.
Patrick Bamford had put the Dons in the driving seat with his first goal in professional football, but Crewe re-gathered and equalised through Mathias Pogba. The Dons saw efforts from Chris Lines and Shaun Williams hit the woodwork, but their hard work was undone by Pogba’s second goal six minutes before the break.
Dons’ woes were further compounded when Antony Kay received his second caution and was sent-off in the closing stages. The Dons stay nine points adrift from the play-offs with eight games remaining.
The Dons were without skipper Dean Lewington, who picked up medial ligament damage to his knee in the win over Tranmere Rovers on Saturday, so Jon Otsemobor was brought into the fold as Adam Chicksen
moved into the left-back position.
With Lewington out of action, it meant Stephen Gleeson took over the captain’s armband for the match against a Crewe side who started the game just three points behind the Dons.
Injuries to the captain, David Martin, Luke Chadwick and Daniel Powell, added by Dele Alli’s involvement with England Under-17s, the Dons were only able to name four substitutes on the bench.
Crewe burst out of the blocks and had the chance to open the scoring within the first minute when Ryan Colclough beat the offside trap only to fire at the body of Ian McLoughlin before Shaun Williams cleared the loose ball.
Dons, though, should have had a penalty soon after when some excellent football from Ryan Lowe allowed the former Crewe Alex striker to flick the ball over the advancing Steve Davis, who found himself out of the area and as Lowe struck the ball again the arm of Mark Ellis appeared to block the shot, which looked to be goal-bound.
The dubious decision came in a good spell for the Dons as they aimed to establish a grip on the game. Dean Bowditch showed some early skill as he ran with the ball at his feet to cut inside, yet he fired wildly and his shot fell well off-target.
The Dons were in control of the possession as they dominated the ball going forward, however, they failed to make it count in front of goal with Williams watching a shot from a clever Bowditch corner unable to beat the first man.
It took until just after the half-hour mark for the Dons to break the deadlock when Bamford, just seconds after picking the wrong run made a fantastic move into the box to open up space between the two defenders and the young striker glanced a fine header onto Lowe’s cross which left Steve Phillips in no man’s land.
The game had hardly been the most entertaining of spectacles but the Dons had arguably deserved their lead as they began to turn the screw on their hosts. A second goal almost came a matter of minutes later when Bowditch saw a shot blocked on the line by Harry Davis and Lowe blasted the follow-up shot well over.
The strong period from the Dons stirred Crewe into action and had it not have been for a clearance from Antony Kay, Pogba would have been clean through on goal. It was then Bowditch’s opportunity to deny a goal as the forward cleared a goal-bound header from Ajay Leitch-Smith on the line.
Crewe’s pressure eventually told though, when Gregor Robertson’s deep cross was played into the box and Pogba was able to outmuscle everyone else at the near post to nod home the equaliser.
In the last minutes of the first half the Railwaymen should have taken the lead when Luke Murphy fizzed in a fantastic low cross which went begging as both Pogba and Ellis failed to tap in from a matter of yards. It was a huge let-off for the Dons and the half-time interval proved to be an ideal intervention.
Following the break Bamford, with an added pinch of confidence following his first goal in professional football, fancied his chances from distance when a quick free-kick found him on the right-hand side and the forward drilled a shot at Phillips.
Soon after Chris Lines also tried an effort from long range and was left with his head in his hands as his fierce strike struck the inside of the post and Lowe, who was in an offside position, also hit the woodwork from point-blank range.
Neither side were able to establish a foothold on the second half proceedings with Nathan Ellington sending the tamest of shots into the body of Ian McLoughlin and Colclough also turned a chance wide after making the most of a poor clearance from the Dons defence.
George Baldock and Izale McLeod were introduced for the Dons to bring a renewed energy to the side as the game hit a stagnant period.
The match threatened to fall away, but a fine Williams free-kick went agonisingly close to re-establishing the Dons’ lead when the Irishman hit the bar and no one was able to get on the end of the loose ball before the Railwaymen cleared up.
However, it was the hosts who found themselves in the lead for the first time in the game six minutes from time when Pogba got the better of Kay as the defender allowed the ball to loop over his head which played the striker through to goal.
Pogba only had McLoughlin to beat but the young keeper initially blocked the shot, but the ball fell kindly to the Crewe forward and he tucked the ball home.
The evening went from bad to worse for the Dons when Kay, who had been booked four minutes earlier, received his second caution of the game for a foul on Matt Toole and was duly given his marching orders by the referee.
Crewe Alexandra: Phillips, Davis, Ellis, Murphy (c) (Turton 59), Pogba, Leitch-Smith (Tootle 85), Mellor, Robertson, Osman, Colclough, Ellington (Aneke 75).
Subs: Martin (GK), Dugdale, West.
Goal: Pogba 40
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): McLoughlin; Otsemobor, Kay, Williams, Chicksen (Smith 85); Potter, Lines; Bamford, Gleeson (c), Bowditch (Baldock 64); Lowe (McLeod 69).
Sent-off: Kay 87
Goal: Bamford 31
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex)
Attendance: 3,770 (143 away)