Alex Gilbey marked his return to first team action by scoring the decisive penalty in a shoot-out to book MK Dons' spot in the second round of the Carabao Cup, beating AFC Wimbledon 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
Both sides had missed penalties during normal time, the first came from Conor McGrandles after just three minutes when he skied his effort over the top. He was made to pay by Scott Wagstaff who opened the scoring after eight minutes, but made amends by equalising.
As Dons got on top, David Kasumu rattled home a wonderful first senior goal for Dons, before AFC Wimbledon captain Joe Pigott missed a penalty of his own. But as the game entered the final minute of stoppage time, AFC Wimbledon were level as Luke O'Neill thrashed home a late second.
It sent the clash to penalty kicks, and with Pigott missing a second penalty of the night, along with Callum Reilly's effort denied by Nicholls, it left Gilbey to slot home the decisive kick.
With the Carabao Cup coming as Dons' second game of the season, Paul Tisdale opted to make four changes to the side which started against Shrewsbury on Saturday. Baily Cargill and Regan Poole came in to the defence and the midfield featured David Kasumu and Ryan Harley. Rhys Healey, who netted the winner at Stadium MK, was not included in the squad.
Given the knock out nature of the clash, penalties were on the cards should the game end in a draw. But after just two minutes, Dons were awarded one when Regan Poole was upended by keeper Nik Tzanev. Conor McGrandles though sent the penalty well over the bar.
As early as the penalty was though, Dons were made to pay for the miss as AFC Wimbledon took the lead just five minutes later as Scott Wagstaff lashed home a half-cleared corner.
While the game was being played at a breakneck speed, which did not really play into Dons' hands, they found themselves level within eight minutes when, after great work from Regan Poole, McGrandles was able to make amends for his earlier miss, wrapping it home from around 12 yards.
With the game settling into a slower pace more suited to Dons' approach, it allowed the visitors to get into their groove somewhat. The combination of Poole and Brittain was finding results on the right flank, with the duo a part of everything Dons did going forwards. Both fizzed dangerous balls into the AFC Wimbledon penalty area, but while Brittain's effort zipped just over Nik Tzanev's bar, Jordan Bowery should have done better from his header from close range.
As the visitors began to get on top towards the end of the first half, they continued that early in the second period and were rewarded just five minutes in. With the advantage of a short corner seemingly fizzling out, David Kasumu popped up in space on the edge of the penalty area to bend home a wonderful effort past Tzanev for his first senior goal as Dons took the lead.
While the visitors looked to be on top of the game, AFC Wimbledon showed the fragility of a one-goal lead when they were awarded a penalty when Ryan Harley brought down Kwesi Appiah. Like McGrandles' effort from the spot earlier in the game though, Joe Pigott's penalty was poor and easily saved by Nicholls, who of course denied AFC Wimbledon from the spot when the sides met in 2017.
As the home side began to find their feet in the second half, they amped up the pressure on the visitors but struggled to find the target. A flurry of chances came their way inside the penalty area, but some brave defending ensured Nicholls never really needed to break a sweat.
At the other end, Bowery nearly put the game to bed with five minutes remaining when, from similar Kasumu range, bent an effort goalwards only to see it this time brilliantly denied by Tzanev. The keeper again did well to deny substitute Alex Gilbey's deflected effort as the game ticked over to 90 minutes.
But with the game into the final 60 seconds, AFC Wimbledon's laboured build-up play seemingly had fizzled out, but a deep cross found Luke O'Neill to lash home at the death to send the game to spot kicks.
With excellent opening penalties leading to a 2-2 tie, Callum Reilly saw his spot kick saved by Nicholls - his second save of the evening. Baily Cargill though failed to capitalise when he saw his kick denied by Tzanev, but while Conor McGrandles made up for his earlier miss, Joe Pigott gave his poor second half penalty a run for it's money by blasting his effort over the bar. It left Alex Gilbey to slide home the decisive effort to win it and book MK Dons' spot in the second round.
Referee: Craig Hicks
Attendance: 2,191 (280)
AFC Wimbledon: Tzanev, O'Neill, Thomas, Wagstaff, Hartigan, Appiah (Folivi 72), Connolly (McDonald 62), Guinness-Walker (Osew 62) , Kalambayi, Pigott, Reilly
Subs not used: McDonnell, Roscrow, Rudoni, McLoughlin
MK Dons: Nicholls, Martin, Poole, Cargill, Lewington, Brittain, McGrandles, Harley (Gilbey 63), Kasumu, Bowery, Agard (Asonganyi 68)
Subs not used: Moore, Williams, Walsh, Boateng, Nombe