A calamitous mix-up between Alan Smith and David Martin allowed Jordan Hugill and Port Vale all three points as the season continues to go out with a whimper.
Hugill was on hand to tap in when Smith took the ball out of his keepers’ hands as they both went for the same long ball forward, ending Dons’ five-game winning streak away from stadium:mk, while lifting Vale above them in the process.
Worryingly for Karl Robinson though was the lack of chances created by his side again, with just two shots on target during the 90 minutes.
Peterborough, who play Bradford in the Good Friday late kick off, now need just a point to eliminate Dons from the play-off hunt once and for all.
It was an unfamiliar system that Karl Robinson employed in his starting line-up against Vale. After impressing there against Crawley last Saturday, Alan Smith dropped into a back three alongside Jordan Spence and Dean Lewington. Sanmi Odelusi joined Izale McLeod up front, while George Baldock was employed as a right winger. Mark Randall and Brendan Galloway dropped to the bench.
Having won their last five on the road, Dons predictably started the brighter of the two sides, passing swiftly around in midfield, without really creating a lot going forward. In fact, their first chance, coming on 11 minutes, seemed to catch everyone by surprise as McLeod cut inside and wrapped his left foot around a strike, but saw it come back off the bar.
Vale meanwhile seemed happy to contain the visitors, and catch them on the break. And their best chance came when Matthew Kennedy gave the ball away in the penalty area, allowing the home side to counter the length of the pitch, but Ryan Lloyd’s good ball across the face of goal was just out of reach of Ben Williamson’s out-stretched boot.
By and large, neither goalkeeper had an awful lot to do in the opening half hour. David Martin did well to close the angle when Williamson broke the offside trap, getting an important leg to his shot. At the other end, McLeod too broke through the offside trap, but another lob attempted let him down, this time playing the ball into Sam Johnson’s arms.
There was a delay in play when Sanmi Odelusi and Tom Pope collided in the air when battling to win a Vale corner. Stretchers were immediately summoned on to the field with the Vale striker leaving on one, while Odelusi could leave under his own steam but couldn’t continue.
The home side should have taken the lead two minutes after play resumed when substitute Jordan Hugill, who replaced Pope, raced in behind Jordan Spence, but he dragged his shot well wide with the goal looming.
Dons hit the woodwork again 10 minutes before the break when Kennedy wormed himself some space on the edge of the area, and his left-footed strike dipped sharply as it passed over Johnson, but not enough to avoid crashing back off the bar.
And the bar would come to Dons’ rescue in stoppage time when Martin’s punch only went as far as Carl Dickinson on the edge of the area, but his strike too came back off the frame of the goal as the sides went in goal-less at the break.
The deadlock lasted just two second half minutes though, and it came from a defensive calamity for Dons. A long ball pumped forwards drew out Martin to collect on the edge of the box, but Smith didn’t hear his call and headed the ball out of his hands. This allowed Hugill, who didn’t give up on the long punt, an easy tap in to the unguarded net to put the hosts in front.
If nothing else, the goal exposed the defence’s shaky side, and for the next 20 minutes, Vale looked more than capable of extending their lead. Fortunately for Dons, they seemed particularly shot-shy when in good positions, allowing the visitors back in numbers to get in some vital blocks.
Chances for Dons though were once again at a premium, and they registered just two shots on target for the second game in succession. In a rare chance at the other end, Powell forced a great save from Johnson when Kennedy’s ball in bounced off him, with the keeper acrobatically leaping to his right to keep it out.
As the clock ran down, Dons saw a lot of the ball, but failed to get through the busy Vale defence. While McLeod looked alive, his touch left a lot to be desired, while with rumours abound about his future, Gleeson looked distinctly uninterested in the centre of midfield.
Without chances, Dons never looked likely to challenge Vale for the victory even after five minutes of stoppage time at the end. And with heads dropping all over the pitch at the full time whistle, it looks like Dons will struggle to even play for pride in the remaining three games of the season.
Referee: Andy Madley
Attendance: 5074 (308)
Port Vale: Johnson, Yates, Robertson, Dickinson, Dodds, Pope (Hugill 29), Williamson (Tomlin 83), Griffith, Lloyd, Duffy, Knott (Birchall 80)
Subs not used: Shuker, Nathan Smith
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Smith (Rasulo 68), Spence, Baldock, Gleeson, Alli, Powell, Kennedy (Hall 80), Odelusi (Galloway 30), McLeod
Subs not used: Randall, Loveridge, Burns