The fight for automatic promotion will go down to the final day of the season as Dons were 3-2 winners over Rochdale in a thriller at Spotland.
Samir Carruthers and Dean Bowditch fired Dons into a two goal lead by half time as the visitors looked comfortable. Peter Vincenti pulled a goal back for the home side before Daniel Powell made it 3-1. But Ian Henderson’s 87th minute goal made it edgy towards the end, though Dons were able to hold on.
Elsewhere, Preston cruised to a 3-0 win over a heavily weakened Swindon side at Deepdale, taking the battle to the last day.
Tuesday’s substitute goal-scorers Dean Bowditch and Carl Baker were included in the starting 11 as the only two changes to Karl Robinson’s side. Rob Hall was rested, while Darren Potter, who was due to start, had to pull out because of an injury he picked up in the warm-up, and was replaced by Lewis Baker.
And he nearly had a hand in Dons taking an early lead. Keeper Jamie Jones came out of his goal to deal with a routine ball back to him, but his clearance only went as far as Lewis Baker. He nodded the ball into the path of Dele Alli, who took a couple of touches to bring it down before unleashing a fierce volley on goal. Fortunately for Jones, it cracked the inside of the post and bounced to safety.
With their play-off chances still in the offing, Dale certainly weren’t going to lie down. Looking particularly dangerous on the left flank, Michael Rose almost picked out Peter Vincenti with a glorious cross-field ball, but it was just too long for the giant Dale man.
But despite playing some nice stuff, the home side found themselves trailing after 15 minutes as Dons kept up their end of the promotion bargain. Caught dawdling on the ball, Andrew Cannon had his pockets picked by Bowditch on the edge of the box. Poking through to Samir Carruthers, he easily cut around Oliver Lancashire to fire into the bottom corner.
It should have been 1-1 10 minutes later though, and Dons only held on courtesy of a shocking miss from Callum Camps. With Jordan Spence caught ball watching, Rose was able to burst into the area down the Dale left, pulling Antony Kay towards. With Camps unmarked on the penalty spot, all he had to do was hit the target, but incredibly he fired well side of the mark leaving all of Spotland astonished.
And they were made to pay when Bowditch doubled Dons’ lead in the 29th minute. In almost a mirror image of the opener, Carruthers this time pinched the ball from Thomas Kennedy’s toe and gave to Bowditch on the edge who struck it first time into the bottom corner for 2-0.
Dale were still the side doing most of the leg work though but were doing little in front of goal to threaten David Martin. His only real involvement came when Camps this time managed to find the target, but his strike through the crowd was easily dealt with by the Dons stopper.
The game got nasty in the run up to half time though. With lots of niggly fouls and kicks, the game became very disjoined, while off the field, the Dale fans were growing more frustrated with every whistle in Dons’ favour.
Into the second half, Carruthers should have put the game to bed in the 65th minute when he was picked out by Alli’s slide-rule pass to go one-on-one with Jones, only to fire straight at the keeper.
And the miss would prove costly as Rochdale pulled a goal back a minute later. Ian Henderson got the better of Spence down the right and put a dangerous ball across the face of goal, and Peter Vincenti did the simple job of tapping home.
The fiery home crowd were roaring on their side, and for a spell, Rochdale looked every bit worthy of an equaliser and came close but for a sensational interception from Kyle McFadzean to prevent them going level.
And it proved decisive as Dons restored their two goal advantage with 15 minutes to go. Only just on, Daniel Powell shrugged off the enthusiastic attentions of Bennett and from the tightest of angles, managed to squeeze the ball past Jones for 3-1.
But far from an easy final 10 minutes, Dale continued to force the issue and got a goal back with three to go as Henderson got in behind Spence again to rattle home.
Hearts were in mouths in stoppage time too, when Henderson lined up a strike from the edge of the box, and taking a wicked deflection off Spence’s head, Martin had to back track and flap to make a sensational save to keep his side ahead.
The final whistle was met with huge relief from the travelling MK Dons fans, with it still all to play for next Saturday against already relegated Yeovil.
Referee: Michael Bull
Rochdale: Jones, Bennett, Lancashire, Vincenti, Tanser, Camps (Andrew 54), Allen (Noble-Lazarus 54), Rose (Bunney 63), Cannon, Kennedy, Henderson
Subs not used: Lillis, Rafferty, Eastham, Logan
MK Dons: Martin, Lewington, Kay, McFadzean, Spence, Potter, Alli, Bowditch (Powell 71), Carruthers (Hall 71), C Baker, Grigg
Subs not used: Hodson, Hitchcock, Cole, Burns
Booked: Spence, Bennett, Cannon, Alli, Grigg