MK Dons sank to their second successive defeat in League 1 as they were beaten 3-1 by Colchester United.
Defensive errors were at the heart of the Dons’ problems once again as Craig Eastmond and Jabo Ibehre gave the U’s a 2-0 lead at half-time. Jordan Spence breathed some life into the Dons’ hopes of rescuing at least a point from the match until Macauley Bonne’s right-footed curler clinched the points for Joe Dunne’s side.
The result leaves Karl Robinson’s side licking their wounds sitting six points adrift of the play-offs with a huge matcha against Coventry City awaiting them this weekend.
The Dons made two changes to the side which lost three days earlier to Bradford City with George Baldock and Ben Reeves starting in place of Daniel Powell and Izale McLeod.
In the Colchester side, which comprised of five changes to the side which drew with Preston at the weekend, was former Dons striker Jabo Ibehre who had a shot at goal within the first minute but the low effort was held by Ian McLoughlin.
At the opposite end Dons had their own early opportunity at goal when Patrick Bamford brushed past his marker to find space inside the area but was denied by Sam Walker who tipped the ball out for a corner.
Robinson’s men dominated the early phases with their neat, sharp passing at times cutting through the muscle of the U’s team. There were some promising passages of play between the front four with Bamford and Dele Alli in particular looking to link-up as often as possible to cause problems for the United defence.
The visitors, however, went a goal behind in the 20th minute when they failed to clear fully clear their line. A long throw-in was launched into the box which the Dons defenders could only turn into the path of Craig Eastmond who, stood inside the D, drilled a low shot into the back of the net courtesy of the inside of the post.
It was a big blow to the Dons who had looked stronger in terms of their creativity with Reeves pulling the strings in midfield but the U’s energy and persistence to get to every second ball hampered the Dons’ game plan.
After taking the lead the U’s arguably enjoyed their best spell of the game although were unable to threaten a second as the match fizzled into a scrappy affair.
When the U’s simplified their play the Dons failed to cope with the pressure they were placed under as Luke Garbutt launched a long ball up field when Jordan Spence struggled to deal with as he headed the ball towards his own goal in the hope McLoughlin would be on hand to rescue him.
McLoughlin, though, was outmuscled and beaten to the ball by Ibehre who was able to bundle in the second of the night for the hosts.
The half-time interval came at the best time for the Dons as they needed to regroup and formulate a plan to get back into proceedings. However, Robinson men almost went close to falling 3-0 down when another mix-up in the box gifted Magnus Okuonghae a glorious chance in front of goal but the U’s man managed to drag the ball wide when it seemed easier to score.
Dons made two changes with Powell and Jason Banton entering the fray in the hope of injecting some pace and threat. Winger Powell did just that when he found himself in the box to fire a volley from Reeves’ pass which was expertly turned away by Walker.
From the resulting free-kick, once again from the boot of the impressive Reeves, Spence freed himself from the shackles to head home and make amends from his error which led to the U’s second.
With the hosts holding a record of only three League wins heading into the match the Dons could sense some nerves in the opposition. Williams was left with his head in his hands in the 64th minute when he glancing header from Stephen Gleeson’s free-kick rose just inches over the bar.
Still looking for a goal to get back onto level terms Robinson introduced McLeod into a formation that looked more like the traditional 4-4-2 with the striker moving alongside Bamford to offer support.
Colchester appeared to be clinging on to their lead as the Dons looked for an equaliser with Darren Potter adding his name to the list of chances as he headed Lewington’s cross wide of the post.
The Dons though were almost caught out at the other end when Ibehre’s through ball found substitute Macauley Bonne completely unmarked, but somehow he turned the ball straight into the body of McLoughlin.
The Dons’ goalie stopped a certain goal in the 76th minute when a Colchester break saw the ball pop loose in the box to Bonne who once again had the ball at his mercy. This time McLoughlin flung his body to the left of the line to stop the ball from nestling into the bottom corner and at the same time kept the visitors’ hopes of rescuing something from the game alive.
Two minutes later though Colchester sealed the three points when another throw-in failed to be marked by the Dons and Bonne was able to wait for the ball to bounce before curling his strike in at the near post from outside the box.
As the Dons launched themselves into an all-out attack McLeod collided with Walker and the post before receiving lengthy treatment from both medical teams.
The stoppage resulted in seven minutes of added time but in truth the game and result had already past the Dons by and Robinson and his troops will have to rebuild for Saturday’s return to MK1.
Colchester United: Walker, Wright, Dickson, Okuonghae, Eastmond (Bond 78), Ibehre (Szmodics 90), Eastman, Wilson, Gilbey, Vose (Bonne 68), Garbutt.
Subs not used: Cousins (GK), Morrison, Olufemi, O'Donoghue.
Goals: Eastmond 20, Ibehre 44, Bonne 78
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): McLoughlin; Hodson, Spence, Williams, Lewington (c); Potter, Gleeson; Baldock (Banton 53), Reeves (McLeod 69), Alli (Powell 46); Bamford.
Subs not used: Burns (GK), Flanagan, Smith, Carruthers.
Attendance: 2,597 (169 away)