Two quick-fire goals from promotion rivals Preston North End left MK Dons down in fourth as they suffered their third defeat in a week.
After an intriguing first half ended goal-less, Preston capitalised on a lapse in concentration in the Dons midfield to allow Callum Robinson to roll in the opener after 66 minutes.
And three minutes later, the writing was on the wall as Joe Garner headed in from a corner to Karl Robinson’s side licking their wounds as their slide down the table continued.
After the dismal display in midweek against Chesterfield, Karl Robinson was ringing the changes against Preston as he made five to his starting line-up. Out went George Williams, Dean Lewington, Lewis Baker, Ben Reeves and Daniel Powell - in came Samir Carruthers, Carl Baker, Dean Bowditch, Devante Cole and debutant Joe Walsh. In Lewington’s absence, Darren Potter took over the captain’s armband.
With both sides chasing the final automatic promotion spot, naturally, there was little to separate them in the opening exchanges. Preston saw more of the ball in the opening half an hour, and played at a quick tempo which Dons’ midfield took a while to adapt to.
At left back, Joe Walsh was having a decent time of things in his first game for the club. Keeping a tight leash on Chris Humphrey, he grew in confidence as the half wore on. But it was defensive partner, and former room-mate Kyle McFadzean who had the best chance of the first half.
As he retreated from an ineffective Dons corner, the ball dropped kindly to him 35 yards from goal, and he connected clean as a whistle with his right boot, forcing Sam Johnstone into a top stop as the ball looked destined for the top corner.
Preston looked every bit a side challenging at the top of the table, and caused Dons a lot of problems in the opening 45 minutes, even if Ian McLoughlin remained relatively untested. Daniel Johnson, who played for Dons as a trialist in the summer, looked particularly tricky in the centre of the park as play passed through him to spark the away side’s attacks.
It was a similar story in the second half too. While Dons’ defence at times conspired against them, McLoughlin’s gloves stayed fairly clean, though he did feel the full force of Joe Garner as he bravely came to claim a deep free kick.
At the other end, Will Grigg looked to be Dons’ biggest threat as his smart runs were matched by Dean Bowditch’s smart eye for a pass. Only Bailey Wright’s sharpness kept the former from testing Johnstone’s resolve.
With things balanced delicately on a knife-edge though, it wasn’t long before the match eventually toppled. Winning the ball easily in midfield and with Antony Kay stepping up, Preston were suddenly had a four on one break, led by Garner. Drawing McFadzean towards, he slid in Callum Robinson, who routinely beat McLoughlin to give the visitors a 1-0 lead 66 minutes in.
And three minutes later, it was 2-0 as Garner this time was the beneficiary, heading in Paul Gallagher’s corner, leaving the home side visibly shellshocked.
Content with their lead, Preston clicked into cruise control and from there, there was little Dons could do about it. With their tails up, the visitors always looked to have the edge, despite McLoughlin’s best efforts to keep motivation up from the back.
But with little to trouble the Preston defence, Dons never looked likely to get back into the affair, with the writing on the wall from a long way out.
Combined with Swindon’s victory over Notts County, Dons slip to fourth in the table.
Referee: Lee Probert
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Spence (Green 80) , McFadzean, Kay, Walsh, Potter, Carruthers, Bowditch,(Powell 61) Grigg, C Baker, Cole (Reeves 73)
Subs not used: Burns, Flanagan, Andrews, L Baker
Preston North End: Johnstone, Clarke, Huntington, Wright, Laird, Humphrey (Beckford 81), Welsh, Johnson, Gallagher, Robinson (Woods 90), Garner (Davies 86)
Subs not used: Stuckmann, Kilkenny, Reid, Ebanks-Blake
Booked: Spence, Laird, Gallagher