A hat-trick from Rushian Hepburn-Murphy condemned ten-man MK Dons to a 3-1 defeat at Stadium MK.
The scores were level heading into the break after Ben Reeves cancelled out Hepburn-Murphy’s early opener, but a dubious red card shown to Kieran Agard on the stroke of half-time meant Paul Tisdale’s men had to play the final 45 minutes a man down.
Tranmere made that advantage count, with Hepburn-Murphy striking twice to secure his hat-trick and seal the points for the visitors, leaving the Dons without a league win in nine attempts and in the Sky Bet League One relegation zone on goal difference.
Reeves made his first start since returning to MK Dons, as one of two changes made by boss Tisdale. Reeves replaced Hiram Boateng while Conor McGrandles came in for Regan Poole.
Both sides had early sighters on goal. First, Kieran Agard chased down a through ball which was shielded into the arms of Scott Davies by Manny Monthe. Then, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy glanced a header wide from a left-wing cross.
On 11 minutes, Joe Walsh got in the way of a 20-yard strike from Kane Wilson to send it wide of goal. From the resulting corner, Sid Nelson lifted an effort over the bar.
The Dons then had their best chance of the opening quarter of an hour, as Reeves flashed a ball across goal which Callum Brittain diverted just past the right upright.
Reeves was involved again a minute later as referee Matthew Donohue waived away a penalty for what appeared to be a foul on the Dons’ number 7 inside the area, just as he went to pull the trigger.
It was Tranmere, though, who would break the deadlock with 19 minutes played. Kieron Morris delivered the cross for Hepburn-Murphy, who snuck in between Jordan Moore-Taylor and Lewington and flicked a first-time effort past Lee Nicholls. 0-1.
Tisdale’s men went in search of an instant response but weren’t able to convert from two corners. Conor McGrandles then found himself deep in the penalty area but that led to a chance on the counter for the visitors, who saw Connor Jennings denied, one-on-one, by Nicholls.
With eight minutes to play in the half, Liam Ridehalgh sent a curling free-kick over the bar from 30 yards. Nicholls then showed quick reactions to race off his line and prevent Hepburn-Murphy from having the time to have a shot on goal after beating the offside trap.
The Dons went close on 41 minutes as McGrandles burst into the area down the right. His low ball was towards Agard at the near post but a sliding tackle from Nelson dealt with the danger.
Moore-Taylor did brilliantly to prevent Tranmere from countering and set the Dons on the attack once again. McGrandles collected and picked out Reeves, who took two touches before drilling a low shot past Davies and into the net. 1-1.
Joy was short-lived for the home supporters, though, as a refereeing decision moments before the break swung the contest back in Tranmere’s favour.
Danns came off worst in a evenly-contested 50-50 with Agard, which resulted in the MK Dons man receiving his marching orders. To make the Stadium MK crowd even more irate before the break, Donohue only cautioned Jennings for a clear elbow on Dean Lewington.
Despite being down a man, the Dons made a bright start to the second half and went close early on – Moore-Taylor an inch or two away from converting a cross from inside the six-yard box.
However, Rovers made their superiority in terms of numbers count a minute later, as Hepburn-Murphy lashed home his second of the game from the edge of the area, after being picked out by Jennings. 1-2.
A vital interception from Williams prevented the visitors from doubling their lead shortly after the re-start. At the other end, McGrandles sent a left-footed drive just over the crossbar from 18 yards.
Tisdale went to his bench on 67 minutes, replacing Reeves with Dylan Asonganyi on the bench. His side, though, had a mountain to climb, as two minutes later Hepburn-Murphy raced into the area and slotted home his hat-trick goal to double the advantage. 1-3.
Regan Poole and Baily Cargill both came on with Tisdale’s final rolls of the die. His earlier sub, Asonganyi, went close moments later with a deft flick which almost looped over Davies in the Rovers goal.
The Dons continued to push forward in an attempt to salvage something from the match but, with a man disadvantage, weren’t able to fashion a clear scoring opportunity to threaten Rovers, who saw out their 3-1 victory.
MK Dons: Nicholls, Williams (Cargill 73), Lewington (c), Walsh, Reeves (Asonganyi 67), Gilbey, Agard, Moore-Taylor, McGrandles, Houghton (Poole 73) Brittain.
Subs: Moore, Martin, Boateng, Harley.
Booked: Walsh, McGrandles
Red card: Agard
Tranmere Rovers: Davies (c), Ridehalgh, Nelson, Monthe, Morris, Jennings, Caprice (Blackett-Taylor 56), Perkins, Hepburn-Murphy (Mullin 82), Wilson, Danns.
Subs: Pilling, Ray, Potter, Maddox, Borthwick-Jackson.
Goal: Hepburn-Murphy (19, 53, 69)
Booked: Jennings, Monthe, Mullin
Referee: M Donohue
Attendance: 7,171 (621 away)