MK Dons were edged out 2-1 in a tight encounter with promotion favourites Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Darren Potter cancelled out Stefan Scougall’s sixth-minute strike with a smart finish in the opening minutes of the second half, but Billy Sharp won it for the fourth-placed Blades just after the hour mark.
George Baldock, Dean Lewington, Joe Walsh and Ed Upson returned to the starting XI for the clash in Yorkshire – the latter operating in a midfield three.
The Dons created the first opportunity of the afternoon inside two minutes when Samir Carruthers got away from his marker and fed Ben Reeves, who forced a smart save from Simon Moore.
However, the Blades went ahead four minutes later, Scougall bundling home from close range after the men from MK1 had failed to clear a corner.
Carruthers was looking impressive in the middle of the park and he burst forward once again before looking to pick out frontman Dean Bowditch.
Daniel Lafferty then headed Kieron Freeman’s deep cross into the side-netting while, at the other end, a couple of deliveries were cleared as the Dons aimed to get back into the high-tempo game.
Kieran Agard, back from a knee problem, replaced the injured Carruthers just before the half-hour mark, with the formation switching to a 4-2-3-1.
Shortly afterwards, Billy Sharp fired narrowly wide from Freeman’s cross, but the Dons hit back and a Baldock almost found Bowditch at the near post.
The next opportunity of the end-to-end encounter fell to John Fleck, who shot across David Martin and off target from 25 yards with 10 minutes to go until the break.
Some good football on the edge of the Blades box created a shooting chance for Agard who, after wriggling away from his marker, shot wide from 15 yards.
The resolute Walsh was in the right place at the right time at the start of the second half as he headed away under pressure inside the Dons’ box.
That proved to be crucial as the Dons went up the other end and levelled on 49 minutes, Potter perfectly picking out the bottom corner from 18 yards after good work by Bowditch and Dean Lewington.
Chris Wilder’s men hit back and enjoyed a good spell of pressure but the Dons dealt with it relatively well and regained a footing in the game. They almost capitalised on that as Bowditch was put through on goal although Moore was alert to sweep up.
Instead, they found themselves 2-1 down on 63 minutes as Sharp controlled and poked home from close range after Scougall had kept the ball alive.
That didn’t deter the Dons, who responded well and some smart play from Baldock created a shooting opportunity for Reeves but he mis-timed his effort and the Blades escaped.
Bowditch’s effort over the top from an Upson corner proved to be his last involvement as he was replaced by Daniel Powell, with Richie Barker looking to bring a fresh approach for the final stages.
Caolan Lavery whistled an effort past the left-hand post as the Blades came close to sealing it late on, but the miss gave the Dons hope although they were unable to find an equaliser.
Starting XI: Martin; Baldock, Hendry, Walsh, Lewington (c); Potter, Upson, Carruthers (Agard 28); Reeves, Colclough (Maynard 61), Bowditch (Powell 79).
Unused subs: Nicholls, GB Williams, Downing, GC Williams.
Bookings: Hendry, Baldock, Walsh, Potter.
Attendance: 20,495 (411 Dons fans).