A late Ched Evans goal saw MK Dons beaten 1-0 by fifth-placed Fleetwood Town at Highbury Stadium.
A spirited defensive display looked to have earned Paul Tisdale’s men a point on the Fylde coast but substitute Evans struck with five minutes to play to earn his side all three points.
The defeat – the Dons’ seventh in eight games – sees them drop to 20th in the Sky Bet League One table.
Boss Tisdale made five changes from the midweek defeat to Rochdale, with Joe Walsh, Regan Poole, Kieran Agard, Jordan Houghton and Hiram Boateng all coming to the starting line-up.
Poole took up a spot in central midfield and started strongly, winning three big headers in quick succession on the half-way line. His midfield partner Houghton later swung in a teasing cross from the right which the Dons weren’t able to take advantage of, despite Alex Cairns failing to gather.
Fleetwood threatened from two corners either side of the 10-minute mark but the Dons were able to deal with both deliveries. Wes Burns then had the hosts’ first shot on goal – an ambitious left-footed strike which flew well wide.
There wasn’t much in the way of chances until Boateng met a whipped cross from George Williams on 25 minutes and headed over the bar from eight yards out. Fleetwood responded and Kyle Dempsey had an attempt blocked on its way through to Lee Nicholls.
It took a well-timed tackle from Jordan Moore-Taylor to dispossess Dempsey inside the area in the 33rd minute, moments before Paddy Madden headed wide from a right-wing cross.
With six minutes to play in the half, Fleetwood had the ball in the net through Josh Morris but the goal was rightly chalked off due to a foul on Nicholls in the build-up. That was the final effort before the referee’s whistle sounded for the interval.
Early in the second half, the hosts had two great opportunities to break the deadlock. First, a vital touch from Poole prevented Madden from having a tap in at the far most, and then half-time substitute Ched Evans failed to convert from close-range after connecting with a return ball in.
MK Dons countered with Callum Brittain, who sent a fizzing low ball across the face of goal – one which went untouched. Soon after, at the other end of the pitch, Poole threw himself in the way of a goal-bound strike from Jordan Rossiter.
On 56 minutes, Harry Souttar headed over from a Fleetwood corner. Teammate Madden also failed to hit the target with a header, minutes later.
Tisdale then went to the bench and made his first substitution of the game, replacing Boateng with Conor McGrandles.
Nicholls was forced into his first real save on the hour mark, showing great reflexes to deny Burns. MK Dons went straight up the other and saw Gilbey fire over with an ambitious long-range effort.
Three minutes later, Coutts had an 18-yard shot deflected off target which led to a chance for Dempsey from the corner – his volley sailed over the goal and into the MK Dons supporters behind the goal.
The Dons came forward again with 20 minutes to play and Gilbey had a first-time shot deflected wide. McGrandles also had an effort blocked as he searched for a way past the Cod Army.
Jordan Bowery then replaced Brittain, moments before Moore-Taylor bravely got his head in the way of a fierce Fleetwood strike. The hosts later missed the target from a free-kick, five yards from the edge of the box.
The game was finely posed but with five minutes to play, the home side edged in front in fortuitous circumstances. Nicholls appeared to have gathered a cross from Lewie Coyle but a collision with a teammate saw the ball spill free to a grateful Evans, who slotted in. 1-0.
Baily Cargill was Tisdale’s final roll of the dice. He came on with two minutes to play in place of Lewington and almost earned his side an equaliser. However his stoppage-time header failed to hit target and neither he nor a teammate were able to muster another opportunity.
MK Dons: Nicholls, Williams, Lewington (c) (Cargill 89), Walsh, Poole, Gilbey, Agard, Moore-Taylor, Houghton, Brittain (Bowery 70), Boateng (McGrandles 58).
Subs: Moore, Dickenson, Martin, Harley.
Booked: Moore-Taylor, Lewington, Houhgton
Fleetwood Town: Cairns, Coyle, Andrew (McAleny 82), Souttar, Burns, Dempsey, Morris (Evans 46), Dunne, Coutts (c), Rossiter (Hunter 60), Madden.
Subs: Crellin, Clarke, Southam-Hales, Sowerby.
Goal: Evans (85)
Referee: M Edwards
Attendance: 2,722, (216 away)