MK Dons dropped out of the automatic promotion places after losing 2-1 to Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park on Saturday.
In a difficult afternoon for Paul Tisdale's side on the Wirral, David Perkins' goal on the half hour was immediately cancelled out by Kieran Agard as things ended all square at the break. But a drab second half showing from the visitors allowed Connor Jennings to power home a header on 62 minutes, enough to secure the win for Rovers.
More disappointing for Tisdale than the result would be the lack of chances created after falling behind, with Scott Davies barely tested.
The result sees Dons drop to fourth spot, now with just three points separating Bury in second and Tranmere in fourth with four games to go.
An arm injury to Joe Walsh, picked up in last week's defeat to Lincoln City, only added to Paul Tisdale's defensive woes as he was once again left short of cover at the back. It meant Jordan Houghton dropped into the back four, with Ouss Cisse returning in the centre of the park as part of two changes to the side. The other saw Chuks Aneke replace David Wheeler up front.
Tranmere's ominous home record had played a huge part in their charge for promotion late in the season, and they were very much on the front foot for the opening half hour. With the stakes high in the battle for the two final automatic promotion spots, Dean Lewington perhaps got a bit lucky when he was adjudged to have been fouled by Connor Jennings before he wrapped the ball past Lee Nicholls onto to see it chalked off. The home side though would take the lead on the half hour when David Perkins thrashed home from the edge of the box after Dons could only partially clear a corner.
The lead though would last just two minutes. Jake Hesketh, the pantomime villain after falling theatrically holding his face earlier in the day, managed to skip past the challenge of Liam Ridehalgh, picking out Kieran Agard, who got the deftest of headers to glance it past Scott Davies.
Hesketh could have silenced the home boos on the stroke of half time when he danced past a couple of challenges, but fired straight at the Rovers keeper.
Knowing anything but a win would almost certainly rule them out of the running for an automatic promotion spot, they came out very much on top in the second period, and there was an air of inevitability about their second, coming on 62 minutes. Ben Pringle, who had the measure of Callum Brittain all afternoon, once again beat the full back to pick out Jennings, whose bullet header restored the home side's lead.
With a threadbare bench, Tisdale's only real attacking options on the bench came in the form of David Wheeler and Stephen Walker were introduced but made little difference as Dons barely made any impact on Davies' goal.
Referee: John Brooks
Attendance: 8,357 (347)
Tranmere Rovers: Davies, Ridehalgh, Monthe, Norwood, Jennings, Caprice, Ellis, Perkins (Harris 32), Morris, Pringle, Banks
Subs not used: Pilling, Buxton, Nelson, Harris, Mullin, Gilmour, Dagnall
MK Dons: Nicholls, Lewington, Martin, Houghton, Brittain, Cisse, McGrandles, Harley (Wheeler 69), Hesketh (Walker 78), Aneke, Agard
Subs not used: Moore, Watson, D'Ath, Kasumu, Asonganyi