Darryl Murphy scored a 93rd-minute winner as MK Dons were beaten 1-0 by Bolton Wanderers at the University of Bolton Stadium.
Russell Martin’s men were reduced to 10 men midway through the second half and looked to be holding on for a point, especially when Lee Nicholls denied Murphy from the penalty spot in the final minute of regulation time.
Murphy, though, would have the final say, netting late to secure three points for the home side and ensure MK Dons’ winless run continues.
Joe Mason made his first start for MK Dons as one of nine changes from the Leasing.com Trophy tie with Wycombe Wanderers. Matthew Sorinola, who was named Man of the Match in Tuesday’s clash, was amongst the substitutes.
It was Bolton who threatened first as Darryl Murphy headed wide from Adam Chicksen’s second-minute cross. Chris O’Grady then had a shot blocked by Joe Walsh before Josh Emmanuel glanced a header off target, under pressure from Dean Lewington.
MK Dons enjoyed their first real attack eight minutes in, as some nice interplay down the right wing led to Callum Brittain having a low cross deflected out of the danger zone by a Bolton defender.
Brittain was involved again a minute later, playing in Ben Reeves who had a left-footed half-volley blocked on its way to goal. Bolton countered but Nicholls kept out Darryl Murphy’s soft header.
MK Dons had a terrific opportunity to take the lead on 18 minutes when Mason raced onto McGrandles’ through pass. Goalkeeper Remi Matthews got a touch to his left-footed shot and that deflection forced it into the left-hand upright and away to safety.
Two minutes later, Emmanuel fired over from a 25-yard free-kick before Nicholls denied Luke Murphy with a diving save at his near post. At the other end, Reeves blazed over with a left-footed strike from the edge of the area.
The Dons were dealt a blow with eight minutes remaining in the half as Jordan Moore-Taylor was forced off with an injury. Baily Cargill replaced him in the centre of defence.
His defensive partner Williams had an opportunity moments later, heading wide after latching onto Reeves’ deep cross. Bolton responded with Luke Murphy forcing an acrobatic save out of Nicholls, diving towards his top right-hand corner.
Nicholls produced an even better save shortly after to keep the scores level going into the break – the MK Dons number 1 dived at full stretch and managed to get fingertips to a Darryl Murphy header which looked destined for the bottom right corner.
Darryl’s namesake, Luke, had the first opportunity of the second half – a long-range drive which Nicholls kept out. The Dons also went close early in the half, as a Brittain cross was just intercepted in front of Bowery, who would have had a simple header on goal.
On 55 minutes, Mason fired over a loose ball, bouncing midway inside the Bolton penalty area. The striker went close again, two minutes later, with a low shot which Matthews got down to.
The Dons were dealt a further blow on 66 minutes when referee Andy Madley dismissed George Williams for a coming together off the ball with Thibaud Verlinden. The Bolton man was booked for his involvement.
Bolton looked to make their man advantage count but the Dons were doing their best to restrict them to long-range efforts. Bridcutt had one such shot on 73 minutes, and couldn’t find a way past Nicholls.
The home side worked their way into the box with a quarter of an hour remaining but a sliding block from Cargill denied them. Verlinden blazed wide soon after.
Martin’s men did continue to threaten on the counter. Gilbey drilled over on 78 minutes but a better chance fell the way of Walsh, who cleared the crossbar from close range when at full stretch to meet Gilbey’s header.
With 11 minutes to play, Boateng got in the way of what appeared to be a goal-bound attempt from Jason Lowe. Martin then went to the bench for his third and final change, with Brennan Dickenson replacing Mason up front.
Drama unfolded with a minute to play as referee Andy Madley spotted a handball inside the MK Dons penalty area and awarded the home side a late penalty. Darryl Murphy stepped up but saw his effort saved by Nicholls, who was mobbed by his teammates in delighted.
They weren’t, however, able to see out the remainder of the contest, with Murphy making amends for his penalty miss by slotting home a 93rd-minute winner from Verlinden's cross. Heartbreaking for Russell Martin and his men, who deserved at least a point. 1-0.
MK Dons: Nicholls, Williams, Lewington (c), Walsh, Reeves (Boateng 70), Gilbey, Bowery, Moore-Taylor (Cargill 38), McGrandles, Mason (Dickenson 82), Brittain.
Subs: Moore, Kasumu, Asonganyi, Sorinola.
Sent off: Williams
Bolton Wanderers: Matthews, Emmanuel, Lowe, Wright, L Murphy, D Murphy, O’Grady (Politic 78), Chicksen, Dodoo (Verlinden 56), Bridcutt (c), Earl.
Subs: Alexander, Darcy, Zouma, Senior, Graham.
Goal: D Murphy (90+3)
Booked: Verlinden, Emmanuel
Attendance: 11,819 (306 away)
Referee: A Madley