Aaron Donnelly’s first-half goal proved the difference as MK Dons were beaten 1-0 by Port Vale at Vale Park.
In a game of very few chances, it was the home side who took the points through their centre-back’s effort on 22 minutes.
Mark Jackson’s men, now without a win in six, remain 22nd in the Sky Bet League One table but fall four points adrift of safety.
Head Coach Jackson made three changes from his side’s midweek draw with Lincoln City, two of which were enforced. Henry Lawrence, Bradley Johnson and Dawson Devoy were the players who came in to the starting XI in place of Jonathan Leko (suspension), Josh McEachran (injury) and Ethan Robson.
Jamie Cumming was the first goalkeeper called into action, when he was forced to punch clear a Port Vale corner in the fifth minute. Soon after, the hosts won a free-kick, from which Ellis Harrison headed over.
Zak Jules produced a vital interception minutes later, preventing Matty Taylor from collecting Harrison’s cross inside the area. Jules also got something on Taylor’s headed effort on 10 minutes to direct it away from goal and allow Cumming to gather.
On a difficult surface, the Dons were struggling to find any sort of rhythm. Referee Darren Handley also had a part to play in what was a stop-start beginning to the contest.
Handley delayed the delivery of a Port Vale free-kick on 22 minutes, one which led to their opening goal. The Dons could only half-clear the initial cross into the box and, from David Worrall’s drive back into the mix, DONNELLY stuck his foot out and directed the ball past Cumming. 1-0.
In response, the Dons worked a shooting opportunity for Maghoma, whose low left-footed shot was blocked. The loose ball eventually fell to Sullay Kaikai, but his effort on the bounce sailed over.
Daniel Harvie got a head to Dawson Devoy’s driven free-kick into the area on 34 minutes but it didn’t lead to a shooting chance for Jack Tucker, with the ball running away from him inside the area.
With six minutes to play in the first half, Taylor curled over from a well-placed free-kick. Maghoma then got himself in the way of Ben Garrity’s fierce attempt on goal.
Despite five added on at the end of the first 45, the Dons were unable to create a chance of note to test Aidan Stone in the Port Vale goal. As a result, Jackson added an attacker to his side in place of a defender at the break, introducing Will Grigg in place of Lawrence.
Two minutes into his appearance, Grigg thought he had stole possession off Nathan Smith and set up Mo Eisa for a shot on goal but the linesman adjudged the ball to have gone out for a goal kick. At the other end, Grigg raced across to block Taylor’s effort, following a well-worked Port Vale set piece.
On 54 minutes, opportunity opened up for Harvie to have a go for goal on the edge of the D but he dragged his attempt wide of the target. Cumming then produced a stunning save to keep the deficit at one when he reacted superbly, diving to his left, to divert Harrison’s effort onto his post.
Just past the hour mark, Jackson went to his bench for a second time and replaced Eisa with Max Dean. Dean caused problems for Ojo early on and thought he’d caused the midfielder to earn his second yellow card – though Mr. Handley provided the Port Vale man with one final warning instead for his trip on Dean, 10 yards from the edge of the D.
The free-kick that was awarded was taken by Kaikai, whose strike was blocked by the wall. Kaikai took the resulting corner and picked out Johnson, who headed wide at the far post.
Nathan Holland came on in place of Johnson with 13 minutes left to play. Before he could have any attacking involvement, he watched on as Cumming used his right leg to keep out a goal-bound strike from Dave Worrall.
Holland was involved at the top end of the pitch on 82 minutes when he broke into the box and delivered a low ball in towards Grigg, one which was turned behind by a Port Vale defender.
Jules met Kaikai’s following corner but saw his header deflect over. Kaikai’s second delivery was cleared only as far as Devoy but his sliced attempt was easily gathered by Stone.
Six minutes of stoppage time were awarded. In the fourth of those there appeared to be a chance for Grigg following a long pass into the area but play was halted for a foul on the goalkeeper by Jules.
That was the closest the Dons came to salvaging a result, as they fell to defeat at Vale Park.
MK Dons: Cumming, Watson, Tucker, Eisa (Dean 63), Johnson (Holland 77), Harvie, Lawrence (Grigg 46), Kaikai, Devoy, Jules, Maghoma
Subs: Ravizzoli, Smith, Robson, Grant
Booked: Jules, Tucker, Harvie
Port Vale: Stone, Donnelly, Smith, Worrall, Garrity (Conlon 69), Benning, Ojo (Holden 77), Forrester, Taylor (Wilson 78), Harrison (Proctor 78), Pett
Subs: Stevens, Agyakwa, Politic
Goal: Donnelly (22)
Booked: Harrison, Ojo, Wilson
Referee: D Handley
Attendance: 6,696 (314 away)