Karl Robinson praised the impact of substitutes Izale McLeod and Alan Smith as Dons fought bravely from 2-0 against Gillingham on Saturday, only to ultimately lose 3-2 at Priestfield.
Tom Flanagan gave away two penalties and was sent off in 12 minutes as Dons were immediately put on the back foot.
But the arrival of Smith and McLeod sparked the fightback, getting Dons level by half time through a Patrick Bamford brace.
Danny Holland’s header on the hour mark won it for Gillingham, though Robinson was left scratching his head at the final result.
“The problem you have with a midfielder in defence is that he wanted to win every header! Sometimes you have to keep your position. But one thing everyone knows about Smith is that he’ll give you everything.
“And that’s why Izale is here. He’s a wonderful sub for us to have this year. He creates problems for the opposition. He makes a big difference when he comes on. There’s glimpses here that shows him and Bamford work well together.
“We outplayed them. We passed well, we created chances and we looked fit. We will all look at the result and see we’ve lost, but in the manner in which we’ve lost, we will look at and think ‘wow, what has just happened?’
“We’ve not been out played, but have been on the wrong end of things which have prevented us from winning those matches.
“I thought we deserved a point, but you don’t always get what you deserve.”
Robinson backed Flanagan in midweek after news of Antony Kay’s three month spell on the sidelines after a hip operation, citing the defender as a ready made replacement at the centre of defence.
But his 12 minute spell on the pitch will be a huge learning curve for him, says his manager.
“The problem with young players is their desire to impress, their eagerness to win the ball back and it cost him the first penalty,” said Robinson. “He made a mistake with the pass for the second penalty, and had a rush of blood. It’s a learning curve, but he needs to learn very quickly - and if he doesn’t he’ll find himself in a difficult position.
“He has to get on with it, but that’s football. He chose to play centre half but that’s part and parcel of it. He will learn from it.”
And Flanagan’s suspension means Dons travel to Stevenage on Tuesday night with a long list of missing first team players.
Robinson said: “We’re now without David Martin, Dele Alli, Dean Bowditch, Tom Flanagan, Antony Kay, Lee Hodson on international duty, and Danny Green who goes back to Charlton. Samir Carruthers might get called up too.
“It’s going to be a good week though, I’m looking forward to Stevenage and we have to roll our sleeves up and get on with it.”