MK Dons exited the Emirates FA Cup at the First Round stage following a 3-1 defeat to Grimsby Town at Blundell Park.
Paul Tisdale’s men took the lead through Kieran Agard’s seventh goal of the campaign but three second-half finishes from the hosts saw the Dons fall to their first defeat in six games and leaves them with just the league and Checkatrade Trophy to concentrate on for the remainder of the campaign.
Boss Tisdale said in the build-up to the tie that we would be taking the Emirates FA Cup seriously this season and he was true to his word as he named an unchanged starting XI from the team which beat Crawley Town last weekend. The only alteration to the squad saw Ousseynou Cisse return to the fold in place of Peter Pawlett, on the bench.
Grimsby started well and forced the first corner of the game five minutes in. Lee Nicholls punched clear the original delivery but a return ball led to a chance for Jake Hessenthaler, who blazed over from 10 yards out.
Three minutes later, MK Dons produced their first shot of the game as Rhys Healey fired wide with an ambitious long-range drive. Healey was involved again in the 14th minute as he drove deep into the Grimsby half and set up Aneke, whose first-time shot was saved by James McKeown.
Tisdale’s men forced a corner shortly after from which Baily Cargill lifted a shot over the crossbar when well-placed. Kieran Agard then had a chance to get on the scoresheet on 18 minutes but couldn’t connect properly from Aneke’s low cross.
MK Dons were eventually rewarded for their dominance in the 23rd minute and it was a result of some excellent determination from Callum Brittain.
The right wing-back didn’t give up on what appeared to be a lost cause - defender Akin Fameow shielding the ball out of play for a goal kick - and managed to nick the ball off the Grimsby man. He took a touch to compose himself and then picked out Agard, who adjusted his body brilliantly to send a first-time shot past McKeown and into the bottom left-hand corner. 0-1.
Grimsby’s Elliot Embleton forced Nicholls into his first save of the game on the half-hour mark, as his side looked to get back level before the break. Embleton had another opportunity two minutes later but his low deflected attempt was, again, collected by the MK Dons goalkeeper.
The Mariners maintained their threat and with nine minutes remaining the half, Wes Thomas sent a header goalwards - albeit the header never truly troubled Nicholls. The same goes for Harry Clifton’s try shortly afterwards.
MK Dons responded and, from a corner, Cargill headed over. Agard then almost earned himself a second, showing similar determination to Brittain in chasing down a long ball and beating McKeown to it - he poked the ball past the goalkeeper but it rolled just wide of the right upright.
Tisdale’s side were forced to settle for a one-goal lead at the interval and they went about doubling that advantage early in the second half - they spent the opening three minutes inside the Mariners half.
Grimsby, though, drew level five minutes into the second period courtesy of a stunning goal from the impressive Embleton, who found the top corner of Nicholls’ net with a 18-yard right-footed drive. 1-1.
Embleton tried his luck again soon after the re-start but this time his attempt from range flew wide of the target. He and his teammates kept their foot on the gas but Nicholls dealt with two dangerous deliveries sent into the mix.
Embleton forced Nicholls into another save in the 54th minute before MK Dons went agonisingly close to restoring their lead - Healey set up Aneke in the box and his low drive across goal was deflected just wide of the post.
The Mariners went back on the attack after dealing with the corner and they edged in front through Thomas, who collected a loose ball in the penalty area and sent a shot under Nicholls from close-range. 2-1.
MK Dons almost drew level straight from kick-off but Healey’s goal-bound strike was brilliantly cleared away by the head of Danny Collins. Gilbey followed up with a shot which was blocked.
Tisdale made his first substitution shortly afterwards, replacing Aneke with Lawson D’Ath. He was involved in the 69th minute as he climbed well to meet a cross from Williams - however, he couldn’t direct the header on target.
Just as it looked like MK Dons were beginning to turn the screw, Grimsby extended their lead through Charles Vernam, who collected a cross from the right and sent a first-time effort into the far corner. 3-1.
Nicholls prevented Ben Pringle adding a fourth with a quarter of an hour to play with a diving save down to his left.
Tisdale then brought on both Robbie Simpson and Cisse - the latter making his first appearance since suffering an injury away at Luton Town in early October. The pair combined on 80 minutes but Cisse fired over.
Brittain also cleared the crossbar in the closing stages while Gilbey missed the target with the Dons' final chance on goal - a right-footed drive from the edge of the area.
Starting XI: Nicholls; Williams, Walsh, Cargill; Brittain, Houghton (Cisse 78), Gilbey, Lewington (c); Healey (Simpson 74), Aneke (D’Ath 64), Agard.
Unused subs: Moore, Hancox, Jackson, Watson.
Goal: Agard (23)
Booked: Houghton, Williams, Walsh
Referee: C Boyeson
Attendance: 1,991 (154 away)