MK Dons were beaten 2-1 by Northampton Town on a disappointing afternoon at Sixfields Stadium.
Alex Gilbey was on target for the Dons but goals either side of his strike from John-Joe O’Toole and Chris Long saw Robbie Neilson’s men leave empty-handed.
Robbie Neilson handed Marcus Tavernier his Dons debut as one of four changes to the side which drew 0-0 with AFC Wimbledon. Peter Pawlett, Osman Sow and Ike Ugbo were the other three players included in the starting XI.
Two of the three additions combined well inside the opening minute and their play led to a chance for Alex Gilbey, who saw his shot deflected wide for a corner.
The Dons, however, were unable to take advantage of the set piece and their opponents almost made them pay with a set piece of their own shorty after but Matt Grimes’ left-footed effort was saved by Lee Nicholls, diving down to his left.
On 8 minutes, Pawlett tried his luck with a 25-yard effort which was blocked by a defender before a teasing delivery from Callum Brittain almost fell kindly for an unmarked Sow - goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell did well to intercept the cross.
Neilson’s men were dominating possession but just after the quarter-hour mark they fell behind. Cobblers winger Joe Bunney did well to get to the byline before picking out John-Joe O’Toole, who managed to turn the ball past Lee Nicholls at the near post. 1-0.
The goal came against the run of play but it did little to dampen the Dons’ confidence as just three minutes later they drew level. Osman Sow did brilliantly to shrug off his man and latch onto Pawlett’s through pass. He then delivered an inch-perfect cross into the path of the the on-rushing Gilbey, who fired home his third Dons goal of the season. 1-1.
Northampton responded with a shot from Sam Foley which was deflected into the arms of Nicholls. O’Toole then had a similar chance to the one which broke the deadlock but this attempt at a flick was blocked by Ethan Ebanks-Landell.
At the other end, Sow was presented with a great opportunity to put the Dons in front but O’Donnell somehow managed to get a hand to his headed attempt. The striker had pounced after Ugbo’s effort was parried.
Brittain then produced a diving save out of O’Donnell with a 30-yard strike on the half-hour mark and from the resulting corner, penalty appeals for what appeared to be a handball were ignored by referee Brett Huxtable.
With six minutes remaining in the half, Chris Long - one of three former Dons in the Cobblers’ side - saw a drive blocked by Wootton. Long was handed another chance moments later and this time he made no mistake and found the far corner of the net with a first-time finish from Sam Hoskins’ pass. 2-1.
The Dons failed to threaten O’Donnell’s goal before the half-time whistle but they wasted no time in creating a chance in the second period as Pawlett dragged a left-footed shot just wide of the far post after just two minutes.
Northampton were proving stubborn opponents, though, and with 59 minutes on the clock Chuks Aneke was introduced off the bench in place of Sow.
Soon after his entrance, he watched on as Brittain came close to inadvertently turning Long’s cross into his own net - fortunately, the defender’s clearance went over the bar.
Substitute Hildeberto Pereira then forced Nicholls into a save before Crooks fired just wide of the left post, as the hosts enjoyed a dominant spell.
Neilson’s men were struggling to break down the Northampton defence and with eight minutes remaining their task was almost made even harder but somehow Long managed to miss the target from inside the six-yard box.
Tavernier shot over just before Agard was brought in hope of inspiring a late comeback. Within minutes of his introduction, the striker appeared to be brought down in the area but the referee waved away the Dons’ calls for a penalty.
The visitors were again appealing for penalty shortly afterwards - this time for a handball - but only a corner was awarded. From the delivery, Williams produced a save out of O’Donnell and the Cobblers defence managed to scramble away the loose ball.
In the final minute of regulation time, Aneke shrugged off a challenge to send a shot towards goal - one which was saved by O’Donnell. Long then wasted a good opportunity for the Cobblers, shooting straight at Nicholls when well-placed.
Ugbo came close to pouncing in stoppage time after O’Donnell failed to hold Agard’s driven effort before the Dons were presented with one final chance to earn a share of the spoils after Aneke was brought down on the edge of the area.
The forward, though, reacted to the foul and Mr. Huxtable felt his reaction was worthy of a red card so the substitute made his way down the tunnel.
Tavernier took the free-kick but his strike was saved by O’Donnell. The Dons had time to take the resulting corner but couldn’t fashion a chance before the full-time whistle sounded.
Starting XI: Nicholls; Brittain, Ebanks-Landell, Wootton, Williams; Cisse (McGrandles 71); Gilbey, Tavernier; Pawlett (Agard 83); Sow (Aneke 59), Ugbo.
Unused subs: Sietsma, Upson, Nesbitt, Muirhead.
Goal: Gilbey (19)
Booked: Agard, Gilbe
Sent off: Aneke
Attendance: 7,231 (1,210 away)
Referee: B Huxtable