MK Dons bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup despite a spirited showing at Sky Bet Championship leaders Brighton & Hove Albion.
Robbie Neilson’s men matched their opponents but goals in both halves from Israel internationals Beram Kayal and Tomer Hemed proved to be the difference in the third-round tie.
George Baldock returned to the starting XI in place of the injured Paul Downing, who joined Dean Bowditch on the sidelines. Jack Hendry was also unavailable due to injury and will now return to Wigan Athletic following the expiration of his loan deal.
Brighton settled the quicker of the two teams but it was the Dons who had the first shot on target – Chuks Aneke forcing a decent save from Niki Maenpaa after a smart turn created a shooting chance from 15 yards.
However, the hosts went in front on nine minutes when Kayal fired in off the post after being teed up on the edge of the box.
At the other end, Aneke was looking lively and after receiving the ball from Darren Potter, he drove forward and curled an effort just over the top.
Dons’ No.25 was again involved on 13 minutes as he headed down Ed Upson’s cross for Ben Reeves, who really should have done better from 15 yards.
Chris Hughton’s side responded through a speculative effort from Richie Towell before the Dons tested the hosts’ backline with a fierce cross from Reeves.
Despite making 11 changes, the Seagulls’ side was still full of quality and that was on show in the 29th minute as they broke forward, which ended with Joe Walsh blocking a strike from the edge of the box following Rob Hunt’s cut-back.
An exquisite Reeves turn gave him space to pick out Upson with an inch-perfect pass, but the midfielder was unable to get a good connection on the volley with 10 minutes of the first-half remaining.
Steve Sidwell headed over Jamie Murphy’s corner while, at the other end, Reeves fired the final chance of the first half off target following a smart counter-attack.
The men from MK1 started the second period strongly and only a last-ditch tackle from Sam Adekugbe denied Kieran Agard latching on to Nicky Maynard’s pass inside the hosts’ box.
Neilson’s side kept up their pressure but Brighton threatened on 52 minutes when Potter cleared a dangerous cross eight yards out after Murphy had got to the byline.
Aneke was continuing to ask questions of the Seagulls’ backline and he tested Maenpaa with a curling 25-yard effort after being fed by Reeves.
Maynard and Agard combined on the hour mark but the latter couldn’t pick out a team-mate – the Dons were on top as they looked for an equaliser.
Murphy threatened with a volley but Hemed really should have made it 2-0 on 66 minutes, firing over the top with only David Martin to beat after a quick break had caught out the Dons.
Hemed fired down the throat of Martin but he made no mistake on 72 minutes, heading home Kayal’s cross from the right to cap a good spell for the hosts.
Brighton’s No.10 again forced Martin into action as they upped the tempo, which for the second half had been dictated by the Dons but they were unable to make the most of their territorial advantage.
Substitute Daniel Powell almost caught out Maenpaa with a cross before Reeves shot off target from the edge of the area as the Dons looked to reduce the arrears.
Youngster Callum Brittain made an immediate impression after coming on, coming close to setting up Powell before helping to win a corner – Dean Lewington headed into the arms of Maenpaa.
Defeat for the Dons but positives to take including limiting a very-talented Brighton side to minimal chances while also looking a threat on occasions at the other end.
Starting XI: Martin; Baldock, Williams, Walsh, Lewington (c); Potter, Upson; Agard (Powell 79), Aneke (Brittain 83), Reeves; Maynard.
Unused subs: Nicholls, Furlong, Rasulo, Thomas-Asante, Tshimanga.
Bookings: Williams, Maynard.
Attendance: 11,091 (704 Dons fans).