MK Dons were unable to build on the spirited victory over Peterborough United as they fell to a 3-1 defeat at Oxford United.
Wes Thomas put the U’s ahead on 15 minutes but Alex Gilbey’s header drew the Dons level soon after.
Oxford, however, restored their lead in first-half stoppage time through Gino van Kessel before fellow striker Jonathan Obika sealed victory with a 58th-minute goal.
Robbie Neilson was forced into making changes to his side following the two red cards picked up in the spirited victory over Peterborough United. Ousseynou Cisse dropped into centre-back to replace Joe Walsh, with Ed Upson coming into the side to take his vacated position in the middle. The other changes saw Kieran Agard come in for the suspended Osman Sow while Chuks Aneke was given a rest with Robbie Muirhead returning to the starting XI.
Both sides spent the first 10 minutes sizing each other up, with the Dons arguably shading the possession battle. They didn’t, however, threaten the Oxford goal until the 13th minute when Muirhead’s cross for Agard was cut out by Aaron Martin - the in-form striker would have been in on goal had the defender not been in the way.
A minute later, the U’s took the lead with their first chance of the game. van Kessel was allowed to get to the byline and from there he picked out an unmarked Thomas, who slotted past Nicholls from six-yards out. 1-0.
The response to falling behind was just what Neilson would have wanted from his team. First, Peter Pawlett saw a chipped pass loop just above the head of Agard. Soon after, the Dons won themselves a corner but from Upson’s delivery, Cisse’s header into the mix was collected by Simon Eastwood.
A neat one-two between Pawlett and Agard then set up a shooting opportunity for the former but his effort was deflected wide of the left post. The Dons were unable to fashion a chance from the resulting corner.
On 23 minutes, Gilbey forced Eastwood into his first save of the afternoon - the U’s stopper got down well to his left to palm the low effort wide of the post. From the resulting corner, the Dons deservedly drew level. Gilbey was the man with the goal, sneaking in at the far post to head home after Williams climbed well to flick on Muirhead’s delivery. 1-1.
Gilbey came close to setting up a chance for Agard four minutes after parity was restored but his pass ran through to Eastwood. At the other end, Thomas produced a save out of Nicholls with a low right-footed shot which was collected at the near post.
With half an hour on the clock, Obika was presented with a glorious opportunity to put Oxford back in front but he rattled the crossbar from 12-yards out. A real let off for the Dons, who then went close through an Agard header which went wide of the left upright.
Obika was denied yet again by Nicholls in the 40th minute before Upson had an ambitious attempt at goal direct from a free-kick 40 yards from goal - the low effort went wide.
Two minutes of stoppage time were awarded and with the last chance of the half, Oxford got themselves back in front. Jack Payne’s initial effort was kept out by Nicholls but the Dons goalkeeper failed to gather the loose ball - their was a claim that the ball was kicked out of Nicholls’ hands in the build-up but referee Andy Woolmer wasn’t interested in the appeals. Payne then regained possession and set up van Kessel, who converted despite Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s best efforts on the line. 2-1.
Neilson stuck with his XI for the second half and he was almost rewarded inside three minutes as Agard went close. The striker was played in down the left but his low drive was saved by Eastwood.
The Dons then created another opening on 50 minutes but Golbourne couldn’t keep the ball in play when trying to latch onto Upson’s through pass.
Oxford were later awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area but Ricardinho’s effort was blocked by the wall. An even better opportunity fell the way of Thomas on 53 minutes but Nicholls was equal to his close-range strike - an important save by the Dons’ number 1.
The Dons’ first change of the afternoon arrived in the 56th minute - Aneke brought on to replace Muirhead. Soon after his introduction, the forward created a chance for Gilbey but the midfielder had a goal-bound effort blocked by a defender.
That move would have left Neilson hoping it was a sign of things to come but two minutes later, Oxford extended their advantage as Obika got behind the Dons’ backline from a long through ball and sent a shot under Nicholls, into the far corner. 3-1.
Neilson’s men now had an uphill battle to salvage something from the contest.
They went agonisingly close to reducing the deficit on 67 minutes when Canice Carroll inadvertently turned a cross onto his own crossbar. The rebound fell to Aneke but his strike was deflected wide.
The Dons were throwing men forward in search of a goal but that left them susceptible to the counter attack. Oxford almost took advantage in the 72nd minute but both Payne and van Kessel had shots blocked.
With a quarter of an hour to play, Pawlett had a right-footed shot stopped by Eastwood. Agard had an attempt kept out too moments later before Aneke showed great footwork inside the area to create an opportunity for himself - his right-footed effort was also saved.
The Dons were handed a boost in their attempts to get back into the game on 81 minutes when Ricardinho was dismissed for a terrible lunge on Conor McGrandles.
The energetic duo of Sam Nombe and Brandon Thomas-Asante were also introduced off the bench in hopes of inspiring a dramatic late comeback but up against 10 men, neither they nor their teammates could muster a decent enough opening to trouble the scoreline.
Starting XI: Nicholls; Williams, Ebanks-Landell, Cisse, Golbourne; Upson (Thomas-Asante 86); Pawlett, Gilbey, McGrandles, Muirhead (Aneke 56); Agard (Nombe 80).
Unused subs: Sietsma, Wootton, Ariyibi, Seager.
Goal: Gilbey (24)
Booked: Wootton, Muirhead
Attendance: 7,628 (650 away)
Referee: A Woolmer