ROTHERHAM UNITED’s hearts were broken as Patrick Bamford’s last-gasp winner saw the ten-men Millers lose their unbeaten away record despite a stirring second-half comeback.
Shaun Williams’ penalty put the MK Dons in control at half-time as Michael O’Connor was red-carded for conceding the spot-kick and despite Ben Reeves doubling their advantage, the Millers fought back bravely through Lee Frecklington and a Tom Flanagan own goal.
Despite a share of the spoils looking likely, Bamford’s 12th goal of the season saw the Millers return north empty handed.
Following their disappointing home defeat at the hands of Swindon Town last weekend, Steve Evans made three changes to his starting line-up with Richard Brindley returning to the right-back berth at the expense of Mark Bradley, who dropped to the bench.
Kari Arnason made a welcome return to the heart of the Millers rearguard after helping his native Iceland to the World Cup play-offs while O’Connor was recalled to the visitors’ engine room with Daniel Nardiello missing out as Alex Revell led the Millers’ attack.
The home side were quick out of the blocks and skipper Craig Morgan had to be on-hand in the early seconds to snuff out the danger as Bamford looked to latch onto a throughball from Jason Banton.
Williams then tried his luck from distance but his goalbound effort was deflected behind by Arnason before fine interplay between Banton and Bamford split open the visitors’ defence moments later and the ball fell kindly for the latter, who had the goal at his mercy but Scott Shearer stood up tall to block his sliding effort as the ball looped over the bar.
In the Millers first attack of note, Frecklington released Ben Pringle, who played a timely throughball which saw Revell beat the home offside trap but the ball gathered pace as David Martin advanced from goal and he calmly parried the ball to safety as the ex-Orient striker looked to round him with the empty net beckoning.
Minutes later, the home side failed to clear a Joe Skarz cross decisively and Freckington pounced on the loose ball before firing a rasping drive which Martin nervously scurrying across goal as it whistled past the upright.
The Millers were finding their rhythm and after O’Connor battled hard to win possession, Kieran Agard found space on the left flank to play a slide-rule ball across the goalmouth which Revell was close to slotting home.
O’Connor was then harshly yellow-carded for a sliding challenge on Bamford before Frecklington fired a skimming drive from distance which failed to trouble Martin.
However, the MK Dons came within a whisker of the breakthrough midway through the first half when Bamford’s threaded pass released Banton, who had ghosted away from his marker, before bearing down on Shearer, but the Dons striker curled his effort narrowly wide of the target.
Minutes later, Flanagan arrowed a long ball which saw Daniel Powell shrug off the attentions of Skarz before firing an effort from the edge of the box which flashed into the side netting before the Millers almost broke the deadlock just shy of the half-hour mark.
Martin played a suicidal ball from the back and O’Connor got the better of Darren Potter, who appeared to haul down the Northern Irishman on the edge of the box but referee Robert Madley played advantage as Revell advanced on goal but Martin redeemed himself as he stood up tall to block his goalbound effort.
Potter was shown the yellow-card in the aftermath of the incident before a fine flowing move at the other end paved the way for Banton to work a shooting position but under pressure from Morgan, he screwed his shot wide of the target.
Brindley was the latest to find himself in hot water as he attempted to haul down Banton in full flow but fortunately Morgan was on-hand to block his snap shot.
Williams became the next to see yellow for clipping Agard before Powell got the better of Rob Milsom to fizz an effort which Shearer palmed into the path of Bamford, but a last-ditch tackle prevented the Chelsea loanee tapping into an empty net.
With half-time approaching, Frecklington was yellow-carded for chopping down Williams and from the resultant free-kick, Williams almost punished the Millers to the full with a superb curling effort but Shearer made a flying save to keep the scores level.
At the other end, Arnason’s long-throw was flicked on by Morgan into the path of Revell, but he spooned his effort over when he should have done better.
However, the game took a cruel twist for the Millers just shy of half-time when Bamford’s dinked cross saw Stephen Gleeson get on the wrong side of O’Connor, who appeared to bundle him over as he looked to divert the ball goalwards and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The visitors’ misery was complete when O’Connor was shown a straight red card and from the resultant spot-kick, Shearer guessed the right way from Williams’ weak spot kick but frustratingly, the ball squirmed under the body of the ex-Crawley stopper.
Despite the setback, Revell wasted an opportunity to test Martin in first-half stoppage time before Pringle fired over from distance.
Half-time:- Milton Keynes Dons 1 Rotherham United 0
Following the restart, MK Dons almost doubled their lead within seconds when Powell’s perfectly weighted pass saw Bamford show the Rotherham defence a clean pair of heels before striking a low effort which was bravely blocked by Shearer.
At the other end, Pringle floated a deep corner which saw sub Tom Eaves wrestle with Williams, who seemed to impede his jump but the referee waved away appeals for a spot-kick before Bamford dragged a shot wide of the target following a quick counter-attack by the home side minutes later.
Gleeson then fired a rasping effort from just outside the edge of the box which whistled narrowly wide before Banton stung the palms of Shearer in the next phase of play with a snap shot.
However just past the hour mark, the MK Dons gave themselves some breathing space by doubling their lead when the ball was worked to the right flank and Powell worked a yard of space on Skarz before playing a tantalising cross which was spilled by Shearer and Ben Reeves had the simple task of tapping home into an unguarded net.
The Millers were visibly deflated by the setback and a long ball forward saw Arnason misjudge a header and Reeves looked certain to make it three but he nervously prodded goalwards when he should have done better and the ball squirmed wide of the target.
The home side were threatening to run riot and after Rotherham failed to deal with a Reeves’ corner, Williams flashed an effort narrowly over the bar.
However, the visitors were glimmer of hope with seventeen minutes to go as they halved the deficit against the run of play.
Brindley flashed a ball to the right flank and moments later, Morgan floated a delightful centre which was met by the head of Frecklington, who carefully steered a header into the bottom corner of the goal.
The game was amazingly turned on its head moments later when the Millers equalised in their next attack.
Shearer pumped a long ball forward and with the home side in retreat, Flanagan misjudged his headed clearance under pressure from Tom Eaves and the ball looped over the outstretched hand of sub ‘keeper Ian McLoughlin, who had advanced from his line, and to the joy of the visiting faithful, the ball nestled into the home net.
The Millers were sensing the impossible but with the game on a knife-edge, the visitors’ hearts were broken with two minutes remaining when following a period of home pressure, Rotherham failed to clear their lines and the ball fell kindly for Bamford on the edge of the box, who fired a superb effort which arrowed into the top corner of the goal giving Shearer no chance.
Full-time:- Milton Keynes Dons 3 Rotherham United 2
Milton Keynes Dons- Martin (McLoughlin 46), Otsemobor (Baldock 80), Lewington, Flanagan, Williams, Gleeson, Potter, Reeves (McLeod 80), Bamford, Powell, Banton. Unused:- Hodson, Smith, Rasulo, Carruthers.
Rotherham:- Shearer, Brindley, Skarz, Arnason, Frecklington, Revell (Eaves 46), O’Connor, Milsom, Pringle (Nardiello 89), Morgan, Agard. Unused:- Collin, Mills, Bradley, Tubbs, Tidser.
Referee:- Robert Madley (West Yorkshire).
Attendance:- 11,564 (1406).