DONCASTER Rovers still top League One but their Championship credentials were brought under serious scrutiny after being thoroughly outplayed at Stadium:MK where they lost 3-0.
Goals from Izale McLeod, Daniel Powell and Stephen Gleeson saw possession-loving MK Dons run out comfortable winners in a game they dominated.
The clash will go down as another opportunity missed for Rovers to cement their place in the automatic promotion places.
And it was hardly a confidence-boosting performance ahead of the toughest of trips to promotion rivals Bournemouth on Saturday.
This was a return to the pattern of many of Rovers’ games earlier in the season – seemingly happy to sit back and soak up pressure from the opposition.
To their credit, their defensive play was superbly composed with several attacks broken up and calmly cleared rather than smashed long up field.
But the problem was in the final third were there was a distinct lack of anything of note.
The energetic play Rovers produced in the previous two games was difficult to replicate as they spent the majority chasing the ball as Dons’ passing triangles saw them dominate throughout.
James Harper actually looked to have given Rovers the lead on 15 minutes when he hooked a shot into the corner only for referee Keith Stroud to pull play back for a foul by James Husband.
This was Rovers solitary chance of note during a first half they spent firmly on the back foot.
Dons’ first effort came from distance with Chris Lines producing an excellent curling effort from a Ryan Lowe lay-off only to see Gary Woods save well at the second attempt.
Following this chance, the Dons began to take command of the game in the middle of the park.
Yet while knocking on the door with regularity, they failed to find the find the killer final ball.
Dean Bowditch rattled the post with a free kick from the edge of the area, Woods palmed out and the ball was scrambled clear before Lowe could pounce.
It took a last-ditch block from Jamie McCombe to deny Daniel Powell a shot on goal after James Harper was caught in possession just outside the box.
Lowe hit the bar with a header from a Powell cross but the flag had already gone up for offside.
For all their intricate play, it was a goalkeeping mistake from a long-range effort that gave Dons the opening goal.
The ball fell kindly to Lowe around 25 yards out, he powered a low strike on goal which Woods failed to collect allowing early substitute Izale McLeod in to lift a shot over the prone keeper.
McLeod’s presence gave Dons a different outlet for the second half and he looked a constant threat using his pace to race onto balls over the top.
But it was another goal from almost nothing that doubled the advantage.
The ball was tossed in and out of the area until it dropped for Powell on the edge of the D with the winger turning and volleying a thunderbolt past Woods.
Billy Paynter and Kyle Bennett were introduced for Iain Hume and James Husband in a bid to spark Rovers into life.
It took an hour for Rovers to register their first – and only – shot on target with James Coppinger receiving a pass on the edge of the box, skipping into the area and shooting low only to see Ian McLoughlin save with his legs.
MK Dons had a big shout for a penalty turned down when McLeod was bundled over by Andy Griffin after latching on to a superb pass from Potter.
The game rather petered out as the half wore on but the hosts ensured it was put to bed seven minutes from time.
Substitute Stephen Gleeson, with his first touch on his return from a broken foot, drilled a superb half volley into the bottom corner from a McLeod knock back, ensuring an evening to forget for Rovers.
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Chicksen, Williams, Kay, Lewington, Powell, Potter, Lines, Chadwick (McLeod, 35), Bowditch (Kouo-Doumbe, 74), Lowe (Gleeson, 82). Subs not used: Flanagan, Baldock, Rasulo.
Rovers: Woods, Quinn, McCombe, Jones (Griffin, 46), Spurr, Cotterill, Harper, Lundstram, Husband (Bennett, 62), Coppinger, Hume (Paynter, 57). Subs not used: Maxted, Wakefield, Howieson, Sinclair.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).