Britt Assombalonga scored his first goal in more than a year as 10-man Nottingham Forest ensured MK Dons’ disappointing stint in the Championship ended in defeat.
A sluggish start from Dons gifted Forest the lead after just eight minutes when Chris Cohen headed home Ben Osborn’s cross. But Dons were level 11 minutes later as Nicky Maynard finished a great Dons move.
Danny Fox’s challenge on Jordan Spence seven minutes before the break saw him sent off, though despite dominating the second half, Dons would get hit with a sucker punch as Assombalonga came off the bench to score the winner on 74 minutes.
The season would come to an end with Karl Robinson making three changes to the side which started the 3-2 defeat to Ipswich last week. Alex Revell dropped to the bench despite netting twice at Portman Road, being replaced by top-scorer Nicky Maynard, while Carl Baker and Jordan Spence both came in for Daniel Powell and George Baldock.
Forest too went into the game with nothing but pride at stake to finish their campaign, but it wasn’t long before they were in the ascendency. Having already tested Charlie Burns twice, via Ben Osborn and Matt Mills, they took the lead after just eight minutes as Chris Cohen’s met Osborn’s cross at the far post to head past the young Dons keeper.
And but for some last ditch defending from Spence, it could have been 2-0 after quarter of an hour when Oliver Burke was given the freedom of the penalty area to break to the byline, almost picking out Osborn’s late run to the far post, only for Spence to interject and put out for a corner.
And Forest were made to pay for the miss when a wonderful passing move drew MK Dons level. Picking the ball up on half way, Carl Baker slid the ball to Samir Carruthers, who in turn played a brilliant eye-of-the-needle pass to Josh Murphy in behind the defence. Murphy collected and drove the ball low to the far post where Maynard was waiting to roof it past Dorus De Vries to equalise after 19 minutes.
It gave Dons a huge boost in the arm and kick-started their afternoon. Murphy, as usual, was their key creative outlet and twice more got in behind the Forest defence, only to see a strike wide and win a free kick for his team on the edge of the box.
The real spark came though seven minutes before the interval when a rash challenge from Danny Fox caught Spence high, prompting an angry reaction from the Dons players. Referee Stephen Martin wasted no time in sending Fox off, reducing the visitors to ten.
With their advantage, Dons started the second half with the wind in their sails and penned Forest into their half. Substitute Ben Reeves, who replaced Spence shortly after the restart, came close to breaking the deadlock with a header at the near post which tested De Vries, while Kevin Long should have put Dons ahead from the rebound but somehow put wide.
Maynard, now a goal clear of Murphy in the top-scorers rankings, nearly doubled his tally for the afternoon when, once again, Murphy beat his man to put in a deep cross to the far post. Baker was able to reach it at the back, sending it back into the dangerzone for Maynard to attempt the acrobatic finish, but caught it flush and sent it over the bar.
But while Dons had the lion share of chances, it would be Forest who would take the lead with 17 minutes to go. Easily beating Baker, Osborn burst into the box before teeing up substitute Britt Assombalonga, who rattled the ball home - his first goal since returning from over a year out with a knee injury.
It was a cruel way for Dons to lose, especially given the chances they would miss through Reeves and another Long header as they chased the game.
The result means Dons finish the season 23rd on 39 points, relegated back to League 1.
Referee: Stephen Martin
MK Dons: Burns; Spence (Reeves 50), Long, Walsh, Lewington (c); Potter, Carruthers (Jackson 89); Baker, Bowditch, Murphy; Maynard (Revell 72)
Subs not used: McFadzean, Jackson, Kasumu, Powell, Furlong
Nottingham Forest: De Vries, Lichaj, Mills (c), Fox, Jokic, O.Burke (Mendes 68), Cohen, Tesche (Assombalonga 61), Gardner, Osborn, O’Grady (Manchienne 40)
Subs not used: J.Wright, Macheda, Vaughan, Grant
Sent off: Fox