MK Dons failed to build on their win over Oxford United as they were beaten 3-1 by Gillingham at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
Two goals in two first-half minutes from Mikael Mandron and Brandon Hanlan did most of the damage although the Dons did pull one back early in the second period courtesy of Alex Gilbey’s third goal in five games.
However, Max Ehmer struck just four minutes later to restore the two-goal advantage which the Kent side were able to maintain through until the final whistle.
Boss Martin named an unchanged starting XI from the side which beat Oxford United 1-0 at Stadium MK. There was, though, a return for striker Sam Nombe, who missed the win due to illness – he was amongst the substitutes along with George Williams back from suspension.
Gillingham started bright and worked their way into the MK Dons penalty area inside the opening minute. Jack Tucker had an effort on goal which was blocked by Dean Lewington.
It took the Dons some time to get going but they eventually found their groove and began controlling the tempo of the game with their possession-based football. It almost led to a chance on 14 minutes but Callum Brittain couldn’t find space to pull the trigger inside the box.
The first shot on target in the game didn’t arrive until the 21st minute. It was Oliver Lee with the right-footed strike that Lee Nicholls got a right arm to. The hosts had the next attempt to, eight minutes later – a drive from former Don Stuart O’Keefe which was blocked by Brittain.
Gillingham looked the more likely to open the scoring and they did so on the half-hour mark through Mandron, who met an Oliver Lee cross at the near post and glanced a header over Nicholls and into the far corner of the net. 1-0.
The home side then quickly doubled their lead, thanks in part to a mistake from the linesman in not spotting an offside in the build-up to Hanlan’s low finish under Nicholls. 2-0.
In search of an instant response, the Dons won a free-kick 30-yards from goal. However, Dean Lewington’s ball in was comfortably gathered by Jack Bonham. They certainly managed to weather the storm but weren’t able to muster another opportunity before the half-time whistle.
Martin made a double substitution at the break, introducing both Nombe and Jordan Bowery from the bench in place of Boateng and Agard. The switch certainly provided a spark and within seven minutes, his side had reduced the deficit.
Nombe was involved, winning an aerial challenge on the left flank. The ball eventually fell to Gilbey, who did the rest – lifting the ball over his marker before driving deep into the are and firing a low shot past Jack Bonham. 2-1.
Their joy, however, was short lived as Gillingham restored their two-goal advantage within four minutes of the re-start. The hosts were awarded a free-kick, five yards from the edge of the penalty area, and while Nicholls did well to keep out the initial effort from Oliver Lee, he wasn’t able to stop Ehmer’s follow-up. 3-1.
Martin’s men responded well but weren’t able to create a shooting chance until Gilbey sent a low drive into the arms of Bonham from 25 yards out on 69 minutes.
Mason followed up with a left-footed curler which skidded just wide of the left upright, shortly before Nombe sent a long-range effort over.
The Dons’ final change arrived with less than a quarter of an hour left to play, as Reeves replaced McGrandles in midfield. He was picked out by Nombe shortly after coming on but was unable to bring the ball under control inside the box.
A decent opportunity fell the way of Bowery late on but he wasn’t able to get connection with a loose ball, after Bonham had parried Gilbey’s effort from distance.
That proved to be the final glimmer of hope for the Dons, who will have to pick themselves up ahead of their crucial trip to Southend United on Boxing Day.
MK Dons: Nicholls, Lewington (c), Walsh, Poole, Gilbey, Agard (Nombe 46), McGrandles (Reeves 76), Mason, Houghton, Brittain, Boateng (Bowery 46).
Subs: Moore, Williams, Dickenson, Kasumu.
Goal: Gilbey (52)
Gillingham: Bonham, O’Keefe, Ehmer (c), Ogilvie, Hanlan (Jakubiak 90+2), Mandron, Fuller, Jones, Lee (Charles-Cook 80), O’Connor (Marshall 89), Tucker.
Subs: Walsh, Hodson, Ndjoli, Pringle.
Goals: Mandron (31), Hanlan (33), Ehmer (56)
Referee: N Kinseley