A stoppage time winner from Daryl Murphy earned Bolton a win over 10-man MK Dons on Saturday as Russell Martin still seeks his first win in charge.
With both sides in the relegation zone at kick-off, Joe Mason should have put Dons ahead after 19 minutes, but saw his effort come back off the post. George Williams' second-half red card left Dons with an uphill battle late on, but Lee Nicholls' dramatic penalty save in the 89th minute threatened to steal the headlines.
Daryl Murphy though, who had missed the spot-kick two minutes earlier, then swept home from inside six yards to snatch the three points for the Trotters as Dons remain in the bottom three.
After the Leasing.com Trophy clash against Wycombe in midweek, Russell Martin made nine changes to his side, and three from the side which started against Port Vale a week ago for the trip to Bolton. Joe Mason, the last man to score a hat-trick for the Trotters, made his first start for Dons as he partnered Jordan Bowery upfront, while Ben Reeves made just his second start since his return in the summer. Former Dons defender Adam Chicksen lined up for Bolton.
With neither side enjoying their time in League One this season and both desperate for a win, it was the visitors who made the brighter start at the University of Bolton Stadium, and could have been ahead on 18 minutes but for the upright. After Bowery's persistence won the ball back on halfway, Callum Brittain's ball through the middle sliced open the Bolton defence to put Mason through one-on-one with Remi Matthews, but saw his strike come back off the post.
After picking up a bit of form in recent weeks, Bolton grew into the game could have drawn level on the half-hour but Lee Nicholls was a decent match for Luke Murphy's near-post strike.
Dons were dealt a blow shortly before half time when Jordan Moore-Taylor went down off the ball and could not continue, forcing Russell Martin's hand in bringing on Baily Cargill.
Bolton's late surge continued in the run to half time, with both Luke and Daryl Murphy drawing excellent saves from Nicholls, with the latter thinking he'd scored his header only to see the keeper claw it away.
The second half turned into a real spectacle as both sides fancied their chances of a much-needed win. Mason and Bowery both came close for Dons, while Nicholls' fielded a number of crosses into his penalty area.
After two red cards for Kieran Agard in recent weeks, Dons were once again reduced to 10 men when George Williams lashed out at substitute Thibaud Verlinden with 24 minutes remaining, offering referee Andrew Madley no choice but to send the defender off.
As Bolton threw everything forwards, Dons actually had a great chance to win it with eight minutes to go when Joe Walsh found himself on the end of Bowery's header back across goal, but the defender somehow lifted his effort over the bar, when Mason was arguable better placed to finish.
Nicholls had been excellent all afternoon and came to Dons rescue again in the final minute when Cargill handled in the penalty area, affording referee Madley no choice again but to point to the spot. Nicholls though guessed the right way, diving to his left to deny Daryl Murphy from the spot.
But there was nothing the keeper could do two minutes later to keep out Murphy for a second time as he swept home from inside the six-yard box to deny Dons a valuable point.
Referee: Andrew Madley
Bolton Wanderers: Matthew,s Emmanuel, Lowe, Wright, L Murphy, D Murphy, O'Grady (Politic 78), Chicksen, Dodoo (Verlinden 56), Bridcutt, Earl
Subs not used: Alexander, Darcy, Zouma, Senior, Graham
MK Dons: Nicholls, Lewington, Walsh, Moore-Taylor (Cargill )38, Williams, McGrandles, Gilbey, Reeves (Boateng 70), Brittain, Mason (Dickenson 82), Bowery
Subs not used: Moore, Kasumu, Asonganyi, Sorinola
Sent off: Williams