Gary Sawyer’s strike nine minutes from the end all but ended MK Dons’ chances of a play-off place as they went down 2-0 to Leyton Orient.
Orient were in a similar position to Dons coming into the game, knowing that a win was essential if they were to keep their slim play-off chances alive. But while the home side had more of the ball, it was Jamie Jones in the Orient net who made the important saves to keep his side in it.
But as it looked like it was heading for a 0-0 draw, Sawyer’s strike beat McLoughlin to put the home side ahead.
And Kevin Lisbie polished off a great Orient break as Dons pushed for the equaliser to make it 2-0 with a minute remaining.
Karl Robinson made two chances to the side which started against Swindon on Tuesday, with Ryan Lowe and Chris Lines coming in to replace the injured Stephen Gleeson and Luke Chadwick, who dropped to the bench. The familiar face of Charlie MacDonald started up front for Leyton Orient.
Dons took a while finding their feet, and it gave Orient the edge in the opening 15 minutes. Ian McLoughlin needed to be alert from the off, saving well from Moses Odubajo twice, while Jimmy Smith made life easy for the keeper, heading straight at him when unmarked at the far post.
Kevin Lisbie was having a decent game for the home side. The powerful striker was holding play up well, inviting Smith and Martin Rowlands to join in the attacks which seemed to come with regularity. McLoughlin though was relatively unchallenged, early saves aside.
It took Dons half an hour to create a decent opening of note - Dean Lewington surging forward and slipping Bamford through. As Jamie Jones rushed to close the angle, the on-loan Chelsea man deftly clipped the ball over the top of the keeper, but his strike wasn’t on target, as it nestled into the wrong side of the net.
Two minutes later, Dean Bowditch had the ball in the net, but taking a leaf from Ryan Lowe’s recent book, he was deemed offside and his strike was ruled out.
Dons mounted a late surge in the half and Shaun Williams forced Jones into an excellent diving stop from a 20-yard free kick - the closest either side had come to opening the scoring in the first 45 minutes.
The second half carried on in a similar vain though, with neither side really getting on top or creating much in front of goal. Orient probably just about edged the possession stats and certainly had the ball in the box more often than Dons did at the other end, though Bowditch came closest when Adam Chicksen’s cross picked him out sliding in at the far post, though Jones was a match for it.
Robinson rolled the dice with a double substitution on the hour, replacing Lowe and Chicksen with Daniel Powell and Luke Chadwick, and they linked up well almost immediately to create a chance for Bamford, which he bent just wide of the mark.
It sparked Dons into life again, but they found Jones on top form to keep them at bay. Williams again forced a great save from the keeper from another free kick, but saw another goal ruled out when Mathias Doumbe crashed into Jones as he attacked Bowditch’s resultant corner.
As conditions got ever worse on the already dubious Brisbane Road pitch, Orient’s long ball came to their aid as they too began to look ever more dangerous on the attack. And after coming close on a handful of occasions, the home side struck the dagger blow which ended Dons’ play-of dreams. As the ball pinged around the edge of the area, it fell kindly for full-back Gary Sawyer, who let it drop before drilling a low, skidding effort, beating McLoughlin into the corner of net.
Dean Cox almost doubled the lead two minutes later when he reached Odubajo’s cross at the far post, but McLoughlin got down low to his right to make a great save.
But he could do nothing about Orient’s second. Caught on the break, Lisbie and Cox burst on ahead of Lee Cook. Cook spread it wide to Cox, who in turn slid in Lisbie on the far side, who neatly finished past the hapless McLoughlin with a minute to go.
With other results around them, most notably Swindon’s 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United, it means Dons are still four points off the play-offs, but now crucially have just three games remaining.
Referee: Andy D’Urso
Attendance: 4,634 (648)
Leyton Orient: Jones, McSweeney, Sawyer, Vincelot, Cox, Lisbie, Smith, MacDonald (Cook, 68), Clarke, Odubajo, Rowlands
Subs not used: Butcher, Obafemi, James, Lee, Vanderhyde
MK Dons: McLoughin, Lewington, Otsemobor (McLeod 81), Williams, Doumbe, Chicksen (Powell 61), Bowditch, Lines, Potter, Bamford, Lowe (Chadwick 61)
Subs not used: Smith, Baldock, McLeod, Kay
Booked: Vincelot, Lisbie