Ten-man MK Dons missed a stoppage time penalty as they dropped into the relegation zone after losing 2-1 to Brighton on Saturday.
Carl Baker’s first game back from injury saw him roll his spot kick wide of the mark after his cross was handled in the area, but it tells only half the story.
A tight opening half gave birth to a sensational second, with Tomer Hemed winning and converting a penalty before heading Brighton 2-0 up on the hour mark. Antony Kay pulled one back for Dons with 21 minutes to go, before defensive partner Kyle McFadzean saw red for an elbow.
Baker’s late penalty miss, combined with Rotherham’s fine run seeing them beat Ipswich at Portman Road, sees Dons drop into the relegation zone with eight games remaining.
Samir Carruthers’ actions at Cheltenham in midweek meant he was suspended for the visit of Brighton to stadium:mk, leaving Karl Robinson short of defensive midfielders. Jonny Williams was used as a makeshift alongside Darren Potter, and Nicky Maynard led the line. Both Sam and George Baldock started for their respective sides.
Despite the difference in the side’s fortunes this season, Dons started the brighter of the two. On something of a decent run of late, the home side were the more creative going forwards, and should have found themselves ahead when Williams picked up the loose ball in the centre circle and ran straight through the middle, only to tamely knock his shot to keeper David Stockdale.
Rob Hall was keen to get on the ball and twice opted to shoot from range when a ball in to Maynard’s feet may have been a better option, while the lively Williams was looking at home in his deeper role, eager to add another body to Dons’ front line.
As the half drew to a close, Brighton began to grow into the affair and began to carve themselves some chances. Stand-in keeper Cropper was called into action twice in the latter stages, first keeping out James Wilson’s effort from just inside the area, before throwing a leg at Sam Baldock’s clever effort from much closer in.
The former MK Dons man lasted just seven minutes into the second half before Brighton boss Chris Hughton made his first chance, and Tomer Hemed had an almost immediate impact. Tussling for the ball in the area, the Israeli was downed by Darren Potter within three minutes of his arrival. Dusting himself off, Hemed made no mistakes in sending Cropper the wrong way to put Brighton into the lead.
And it wasn’t long before he doubled their advantage, just six minutes as Dons were caught on the counter and despite getting men back, Hemed climbed highest at the far post to power home Jiri Skalak’s cross to make it 2-0 and leave Dons with a mountain to climb.
That mountain was made a bit smaller though when Antony Kay headed in his second in as many games to reduce the arrears, but all eyes were on keeper Stockdale and McFadzean tussling for the ball in the net afterwards, with both earning a booking.
A clearly flustered McFadzean though would take his anger out on Hemed, appearing to catch him with an elbow within seconds of the restart, earning him a straight red card and reducing Dons to 10 men for the final 19 minutes.
With the atmosphere amped up at both ends, there was still life in the game despite Dons’ reduced numbers. And though chances were skant few, Dons were offered a dramatic lifeline as the clock ticked over to 90 minutes when they were awarded a penalty when Carl Baker’s corner struck a Brighton. But with results conspiring against them, Baker struck his spot kick wide of the mark.
With the international break next weekend, Dons drop into the bottom three.
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh
MK Dons: Cropper, Baldock, Kay, McFadzean, Lewington, Potter, Williams (Baker 76), Murphy, Powell (Spence 76), Hall (Revell 61), Maynard
Subs not used: Burns, Emmanuel-Thomas, Tilney, Bowditch
Brighton: Stockdale, Bruno, Goldson, Dunk, Rosenior, Murphy, Kayal, Stephens, Skalak (Sidwell 77), Baldock (Hemed 52), Wilson (LuaLua 78)
Subs not used: Maenpaa, Bong, Greer, Knockaert
Booked: Skalak, Bruno, Stockdale, McFadzean, Rosenior, LuaLua
Sent off: McFadzean