TEN man Dons saw off a resurgent Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium as they jumped back into the League One play-off spots.
Sean O’Hanlon opened the scoring in the first minute with a great glancing header, and Dan Powell cooly slotted home on the hour to give the visitors a deserved 2-0 lead.
But when O’Hanlon was given his marching orders for a second booking, Rovers turned on the pressure but could only beat David Martin with a Jeff Hughes penalty seven minutes from time as Dons’ impressive away run continues.
Powell returned to the starting 11 after missing out at Leyton Orient last Tuesday, and O’Hanlon regained his position in the centre of defence. Loanees Rowan Vine, David Amoo and deadline day signing Keanu Marsh-Brown all made the bench.
Rovers were looking to bounce back from their humiliating 6-1 defeat at Walsall at the weekend, but they got off to a nightmare start.
A silly challenge on Lewis Guy allowed Peter Leven to direct a freekick into the area and - just like at Orient - O’Hanlon got the last touch as it drifted into the far corner of the net, handing Dons the lead inside 50 seconds.
But in an even opening five minutes, it was Rovers who had the ball in the net next. Scott Davies’ long ball over the defence appeared to fool everyone, allowing Will Hoskins through on goal. But with the linesman’s flag raised, Martin allowed the ball to bounce harmlessly into his goal, prompting celebrations from some players, only for it to be chalked off by the referee.
Luke Daniels was forced into making a great stop at his near post on nine minutes after Luke Chadwick and Jabo Ibehre shared a couple of neat passes, with the latter firing a low effort goalwards, which the stopper deflected out for a corner.
Rovers certainly did not look like a team capable of losing 6-1 again though. Introducing a host of new faces after transfer deadline day, Dave Penney’s men looked eager to score the equaliser, and but for the offside flag, they could have been in behind Dons’ defence on several occasions in the opening 15 minutes.
Former Don David McCracken was forced off through injury after just 20 minutes, replaced by another debutante Gavin Williams.
Dons began to play the ball along the ground, and controlled the tempo of the game, while the Rovers defence were happy to pump long balls over the top for Hoskins to try and latch on to. One that the pacey striker was able to catch up to was put out of play by the well-timed sliding challenge of Mathias Doumbe.
After a period of Rovers pressure, Chadwick nearly doubled the lead in the 26th minute when - again linking up with Ibehre - the winger was given time on the edge of the area to curl a right-footed shot towards goal, but with Daniels rooted to the spot, Chadwick’s effort was narrowly off target.
Rovers went back on the front foot again in the run up to half time, with a series of near-misses and close calls, but Martin was never really troubled, despite the swirling winds causing havoc with the flight of the ball.
Karl Robinson said Leven had been working on his set pieces recently, and the work was telling as he sent in another fantastic freekick just before the interval - this time finding the head of Ibehre, but his effort went narrowly over the bar.
The second half began quietly, but Dons looked the more comfortable, kicking with the wind and playing some neat football, but created little in the way of clear cut chances - an Ibehre shot over the bar the only to note.
Rovers then enjoyed a period of pressure as they looked to get on level terms, winning a string of corners on the hour, but Martin was still not forced into a save.
And the home team were made to pay minutes later. Ibehre collected the ball 30 yards out, and turning towards goal, threaded a ball through the Rovers defence for the breaking Powell to run on to and coolly slot past Daniels to double Dons’ lead.
Leven forced a great save from Daniels shortly after, and from the corner, Powell had another chance as Dons threatened to run riot.
Rovers didn’t count themselves out yet though as they went back on the attack, with Byron Anthony’s powerfully struck shot blocked at the source by a brave Danny Woodards.
And they were handed a stroke of luck in the 67th minute when O’Hanlon - already booked - tugged back Hoskins, leaving the referee with no option but to send him off. Guy made way for Gary MacKenzie to bolster the defence in O’Hanlon’s absence.
Martin was called to make his first save of the day from a Williams freekick, brilliantly diving low to his left to block the stinging shot.
With the man advantage the Rovers fans were lifted, but it was Dons substitute Vine who should have wrapped the game up. Chadwick somehow made it to the by-line to pull the ball across the face of goal, but with the net gaping and the keeper nowhere to be seen, the on-loan QPR man incredibly put wide, keeping the score at 2-0.
Deadline day signing Marsh-Brown replaced Ibehre with 12 minutes to go and took up the left flank, with Vine now operating as a lone striker, and the pair nearly linked up immediately, but the Fulham youngster was just beaten to Vine’s flick by Daniels.
Rovers created their best chance with nine minutes remaining when Jo Kuffour’s shot had Martin beaten, but not the woodwork, and it bounced clear.
But the home side were given a lifeline seconds later when Rene Howe’s shot was blocked by the arm of Doumbe, leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot, and Hughes calmly fired the penalty home to set up a thrilling last seven minutes.
Marsh-Brown showed the 99 travelling fans his array of tricks as he worked space for himself and forced a good low save from Daniels as the clock ran down.
But the home side kept up the pressure as they searched desperately for an equaliser. Martin was forced into another low save at his near post when Hughes fired one in, and Dons looked to run down the five minutes of additional time.
Words were exchanged between members of the Rovers coaching staff and Vine as they teams left the pitch at the end, but the result lifts Dons back into the play-off places ahead of a tough trip to Hillborough on Saturday.
Referee: Roger East, Attendance: 4,829 (99)
Bristol Rovers: Daniels, Anthony, McCracken (Williams, 19), Bolger, Sawyer (Kuffour, 68), Kalala, Campbell © (Regan, 46), Davies, Hughes, Howe, Hoskins
Subs not used: Green, Richards, Reece, Swallow
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington (c), Doumbe, O’Hanlon, Woodards, Gleeson, Leven, Powell (Vine, 70), Chadwick, Guy (MacKenzie, 67), Ibehre (Marsh-Brown, 78)
Subs not used: Searle, Stirling, Amoo, Marsh-Brown, Chicksen
Bookings: O’Hanlon, Bolger, Vine, Marsh-Brown, Anthony
Sent off: O’Hanlon