Antony Kay’s late header gave Dons their first away win of the season in an otherwise grotty game at Bramall Lane.
Kay’s 87th minute header at the far post was enough to settle it at 1-0, though moments earlier, Febian Brandy should have put United into the lead. He later received a straight red card in stoppage time.
Both late chances were the highlights of an otherwise miserly affair, with both sides cancelling each other out in a game not even a mother could love.
Karl Robinson once again made sweeping changes to the team which played on Tuesday night, but took heed of the performance against Sunderland by keeping Izale McLeod and Samir Carruthers in the starting line-up. David Martin returned between the sticks and Dean Lewington returned from injury to take back his spot at left back, and the captain’s armband.
His impressive performance and goal against Sunderland had clearly filled McLeod with confidence as he made his second consecutive start, but perhaps he was over-confident after a superb dummy saw him clear the challenge of Harry Maguire, but rather than pass to the unmarked Patrick Bamford in the box, McLeod continued his run and opted to shoot. Embarrassingly, he scuffed it five yards wide.
It epitomised a fairly dull opening 15 minutes. United had more of the ball, though the telling ball was all-too-often overhit and beyond the reach of the front line. Dons looked comfortable at the back, but looked too keen to send up a long ball for McLeod to chase.
And the remainder of the half played out in the same way. Neither side created anything concrete in front of goal and barely raised the pulses of the fans in the stands. McLeod blazed a shot over the top for Dons in one of the few highlights of the half, while Martin got his knees muddy to scoop up a few long balls from the United midfield which were just out of reach of Lyle Taylor.
Neither the Dons nor the United fans could feel particularly angry at their sides though. Both were playing well enough, but the niggly nature of the midfield scrap made for a stop-start feel, and both cancelled each other out. Both managers looked fairly relieved to see half-time.
Heart-rates were raised a touch just three minutes into the second half when United’s new signing Jose Baxter hit a shot from the edge of the box, but it deflected off Antony Kay and straight into the path of Taylor. Somewhat taken by surprise, the striker slid in but put the ball wide of the mark. His blushes though were sparred by the offside flag.
It was so hard to get the game flowing when referee David Webb had the whistle in his mouth seemingly every 30 seconds to stop play, though neither defences were doing themselves any favours with constant shirt pulling and silly pushes in the back, while the midfield seemed more intent on mis-timing tackles than forcing anything creative.
David Martin though finally had something to do 20 minutes into the second period when, of course from a free kick, Tony McMahon’s low strike needed the keeper to be at his best to get down low to his left to palm it away.
It was hard going for both teams in such a turgid affair, but substitute Febian Brandy could have injected some late drama had he been able to hit the target. With seven minutes remaining, Baxter broke clear in behind Lewington and through on goal. Pulling the ball back across, Joe Ironside stepped over it allowing Brandy the open goal to aim at. But incredibly, he dragged his shot wide - perhaps already wheeling off in celebration.
And United would be made to pay for the miss as three minutes later, Dons took the lead. Another free kick saw Dons send forward the big men from the back, and Shaun Williams managed to pick out Kay unmarked at the far post, heading back across George Long and into the far corner of the net.
Both incidents certainly woke both sets of fans up from their afternoon slumber, with Dons fans breaking into chorus, while the Bramall Lane faithful were far more vocal in their displeasure than before, furious that their side had found themselves behind at such a late stage.
Brandy’s afternoon got worse in stoppage time as he was shown a straight red card by referee Webb for a nasty looking challenge on Lee Hodson, and Dons held on for all three points.
Referee: David Webb
Attendance: 15,080 (353)
Sheffield United: Long, Maguire, Hill, Flynn (McFadzean 90), Doyle, Taylor (Ironside 56), Baxter, Collins, Coasy, Murphy (Brandy 64), McMahon
Subs not used: Howard, Westlake, McGinn, McGinty, McFadzean
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Hodson, Kay, Williams, Gleeson, Potter, Banton (Alli 70), Carruthers (Baldock 75), Bamford, McLeod (Chadwick 62)
Subs not used: Otsemobor, Smith, Reeves, McLoughlin
Booked: Carruthers, Flynn, Williams, Gleeson, Potter