Despite a spirited second-half rally, MK Dons were beaten for the first time in five games courtesy of a 2-1 reverse at home to title-chasing Blackburn Rovers.
Dan Micciche’s side trailed at the break courtesy of an Adam Armstrong brace but they pulled a goal back with 18 minutes to play through Peter Pawlett.
Pawlett, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Chuks Aneke all went close in the final quarter of an hour, while the Dons also had two strong penalty appeals waved away, but they weren’t able to beat Raya and, as a result, slipped back into bottom four on goal difference.
Micciche made two changes to his side, one of which was enforced. Elliott Ward was ineligible to play against parent club due to the terms of his loan deal – he was replaced by Ebanks-Landell. The other switch saw Callum Brittain return to the starting XI in place of Kieran Agard.
Blackburn started well with Adam Armstrong drilling wide from the edge of the area inside the opening minute. An even better chance fell the way of an unmarked Marcus Antonsson moments later but he blazed over from close-range after being picked out at the far post by Elliott Bennett.
The Dons created their first meaningful attack in the 11th minute after Brittain intercepted a pass midway inside the Rovers half. He then found Robbie Muirhead, whose whipped cross was out of the reach of his teammates inside the box.
Blackburn went back straight on the attack and opened the scoring courtesy of Adam Armstrong. The in-form striker raced onto Danny Graham’s through pass, drove into the area and beat Lee Nicholls with a low right-footed strike across goal. 0-1.
Corry Evans had an effort blocked by Upson as Rovers went in search of an immediate second goal. Pawlett then threatened after a direct run through the heart of the Blackburn side resulted in a right-footed shot saved by David Raya.
Nicholls kept out a fierce effort from Armstrong on 20 minutes before his opposite number denied Aneke with a stunning diving stop moments later – the Dons’ number 10 did well to meet Ed Upson’s free-kick but couldn’t beat Raya with his header.
Referee Kevin Friend awarded the Dons another free-kick shortly afterwards and Upson’s set-piece resulted in another chance on goal. This time it was Brittain with the effort – a half-volley from the edge of the D which he sent just wide of the right-hand upright.
It was the Dons who were in the ascendancy as the game passed the half-hour mark but Derrick Williams offered a reminder of Blackburn’s attacking threat when he delivered an inviting cross into the area from which Graham produced a save out of Nicholls with a deft touch.
Late in the first half, Aneke, after a strong run down the right, almost set up Pawlett but the attacking midfielder couldn’t bring down his teammate’s cross inside the area.
The impressive Armstrong then had another attempt at goal – a low drive which Nicholls dived down to his right to stop – before, a minute later, doubling his tally after racing onto another through ball, cutting inside of Dean Lewington and beating Nicholls from close-range. 0-2.
With his side trailing by two, Micciche made two substitutes at the interval. Scott Golbourne was handed his first appearance since recovering from a hip problem in place of Muirhead while Kieran Agard came on for Ousseynou Cisse.
Both substitutes were involved early, with Agard almost pouncing on Aneke’s ball over the top of the Rovers defence and Golbourne delivering an inviting cross for Aneke, who headed over.
The Dons maintained their strong start to the second half and it took a sliding block from ex-Don Paul Downing on 51 minutes to prevent Pawlett converting from a Williams cross. Micciche’s men then went close again from another Upson set-piece – the midfielder, this time, picked out Ebanks-Landell with a cross but the centre-back couldn’t keep his header down.
Blackburn, however, remained dangerous on the counter attack. Golbourne did well to race back and deny Graham a clear sight at goal before Armstrong curled a shot just wide, as he went in search of his hat-trick.
Substitute Jack Payne later dragged a left-footed effort wide of goal before Aneke fired into the side netting, after collecting Brittain’s neat chipped pass into the box.
A great opportunity fell the way of Pawlett on 68 minutes but he was denied by a strong left hand from Raya. Pawlett’s chance came moments after what appeared to be a clear handball in the area, which would have resulted in a penalty.
Just like on Thursday night, the Dons didn’t let a refereeing decision affect them and with their next attack they pulled a goal back. Agard delivered an inch-perfect cross into the area from the right and Pawlett raced onto it to head past Raya from inside the six-yard box. 1-2.
Pawlett’s goal set up a dramatic final quarter of an hour at Stadium MK and the Dons certainly rallied.
Boss Micciche introduced Brandon Thomas-Asante, in the hope of inspiring a late comeback. Chances of that fight-back were almost dramatically reduced on 82 minutes when Dominic Samuel raced clear on the goal but, fortunately for the Dons, he couldn’t hit the target when one-on-one.
With three minutes to play, Agard looked for all the world to be in position to tap in from Aneke’s pass but a covering Rovers defender got back in time to make an interception.
Moments later, Pawlett forced Raya into another excellent stop before Ebanks-Landell headed over from the resulting corner.
The Dons had another penalty shout turned down late on but it just wasn’t to be for Micciche’ men, despite a spirited second-half fightback.
Starting XI: Nicholls; Wootton, Ebanks-Landell, Lewington (c) (Thomas-Asante 79); Williams, Upson, Cisse (Agard 46), Muirhead (Golbourne 46); Brittain, Pawlett; Aneke.
Unused subs: Sietsma, Reo-Coker, McGrandles, Ugbo.
Goal: Pawlett (72)
Attendance: 11,215 (2,524 away)
Referee: K Friend