Dons are living on a hope and a prayer now after a stubborn Crawley defence stood firm at stadium:mk on Saturday.
Ryan Lowe scored a hat-trick of offside goals as the home side dominated the game, but after a spectacular first half, the game fizzled out in the second.
It makes Tuesday night’s clash with Swindon at stadium:mk do or die if Karl Robinson’s side are to make it to the play-offs this season.
After back-to-back wins over Easter, Robinson made just one change to the side which beat Brentford on Monday. Chris Lines made way for Daniel Powell, shifting Patrick Bamford into the hole behind Ryan Lowe.
And it was that pair that combined to put the ball in the net after just four minutes. After Sergio Torres fouled Stephen Gleeson 25 yards out, the on-loan Chelsea man stepped up to take the set piece, and though it looked to be sailing wide, Lowe leapt highest to nod it in - only for the offside flag to cut short his celebrations.
The pair were linking up brilliantly and were causing no end of problems for the Crawley defence. First, Bamford fired a long range effort into the chest of keeper Paul Jones after a neat Lowe lay-off, and then five minutes later, Bamford returned the favour to his partner though Lowe’s strike was narrowly over the top.
It was all MK Dons in the first half. Crawley barely had any possession in the attacking third as Dons passed around them with relative ease. Unlike against Brentford when the defence were under strict orders not to join in with the attacks, Jon Otsemobor in particular needed no coaxing forwards and he became a regular outlet on the flank with Powell.
Paul Jones was the main reason the scores were level after 27 minutes when he pulled off a quite incredible save to keep out Lowe. After a brilliant run from Otsemobor and a clever flick on from Bowditch, the full-back picked out Lowe in the middle. With the net wide open, Lowe turned the ball towards goal. But sensationally, Jones raced back across his line, throwing his left arm at it, pushing it out for a corner. Lowe stood dumbfounded, just staring at the keeper.
Two minutes later, Bowditch had the keeper scrambling again though his drive was just wide of the upright.
There was a stark reminder that goals win matches when, after 32 minutes, Billy Clarke got in behind the Dons defence in a rare Crawley attack, but dragged his shot just wide of Ian McLoughlin’s goal - a real let off for the home side.
But try as they might, that goal didn’t look like coming in the opening 45 minutes. Lowe had the ball in the net again five minutes before the interval after Shaun Williams’ cameo run saw him burst from the halfway line and into the area, forcing Paul Jones into a low stop. But Lowe was offside when he tapped in the rebound from six yards.
Two minutes later, Powell put over from two yards out after a great run from Bowditch down the left put the ball on a plate for the winger.
The second half began with less of the zip and energy Dons showed in the first. Although Crawley only threatened through a Mustapha Dumbuya shot two minutes after the restart, there wasn’t the same desperation to get the goal to nudge themselves in front. Jones needed to be alert to tip another Williams effort over the top, but that was about as close as Dons came.
In fact, it was Crawley who towards the end of the game began to play some of the nicer football, forcing Dons to track back and chase around in midfield. McLoughin remained largely untested though as excitement in the game rapidly fizzled out.
Dons began to get back into the mix though with 10 minutes to go. Substitute Luke Chadwick saw a shot from close range blocked after a lay-off from Lowe, and Potter somehow shot wide of the mark when he skipped past two defenders and Williams put one into the stands as they desperately tried to keep their season alive.
Lowe completed his hat-trick of offside celebrations with five minutes to go, breaking free of the defence but not the trap as he fired past Jones for a third time, only to be brought back to Earth by the flag.
There was some desperate defending from the visitors as Dons threw everything at their opponents in stoppage time, but the goal just didn’t come.
With Swindon not playing and the sides in the play-off spots picking up points, the gap to the Robins in sixth is seven points with five games remaining, with Dons having played the same or more than those in the all-important top six.
Referee: Darren Bond
Attendance: 7,746 (390)
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Otsemobor, Chicksen, Doumbe, Williams, Potter, Gleeson, Bowditch, Powell (Chadwick 60), Bamford, Lowe
Subs not used: Smith, Baldock, Lines, Rasulo
Crawley Town: Paul Jones, Dumbuya, Sadler, Essam, Clarke, Torres, Walsh, Bulman, Adams (Connolly 90), Mike Jones (Hunt 90), Hayes (Proctor 72)
Subs not used: Maddison, O’Brien, Elford-Alliyu