Chuks Aneke’s 88th minute match winner ensured Newport County AFC suffered their first home defeat of 2019 as MK Dons secured a 1-0 winner at Rodney Parade.
Sometimes in football you get more than you deserve and sometimes you get less, and County were made to pay for hitting the woodwork on four separate occasions when Aneke tapped home from two yards out late on.
The defeat means the Exiles slip to 15th in the League Two table, but it is still eight points off the play-off places with a game in hand.
With the games continuing to come thick and fast, Mike Flynn elected to make two changes to the side which inflicted a rare away defeat on Mansfield Town at Rodney Parade last time out.
Fraser Franks made a welcome return from the ankle ligament injury which had kept him out for a month, whilst deadline day signing Ben Kennedy came in for his home debut after impressing away at Grimsby Town earlier this month.
Usual stand-in captain Mark O’Brien went to the bench and Joss Labadie missed out completely as Flynn decided to implement a 4-4-2 formation in South Wales.
After a simply awful recent run of form – two wins from ten – MK Dons manager Paul Tisdale chose to ring the changes and made five in total compared to the side which lost a five-goal thriller to Swindon Town on Saturday.
The away side maintained the familiar 3-5-2 despite the numerous alterations and fielded a starting side that included former Premier League defender Russell Martin, former Exile Alex Gilbey and in-form striker Kieran Agard.
MK Dons slipped out of the top-seven for the first time since late September with the defeat against Swindon Town, and that desire to get in and amongst the promotion hunt was evident at Rodney Parade.
County also have realistic ambitions to move them themselves back in and amongst it – and this was a typical game where both sides were desperate for all three points.
This certainly wasn’t a tense midfield battle, this was a game where chances came all the time but remarkably, neither side managed to break the deadlock in the first-half.
Incredibly, inside the opening 23 minutes, Tyreeq Bakinson saw a menacing shot tipped over the top by away goalkeeper Stuart Moore, Robbie Willmott almost dinked the shot stopper with a cross-shot, and Jamille Matt wasn’t too far away with a header towards the far post.
After this fixture was originally abandoned just before Christmas, County finally played their 23rd and final opposition in League Two and it was easy to see why they have been up towards the top of the table for the majority of the season.
The midfield trio of Alex Gilbey, Ousseynou Cisse and Conor McGrandles certainly knew how to carve opportunities and space for the attackers – Callum Brittain blazed over when in space and Gilbey forced a smart save from Day with the ball bouncing right in-front of him from distance.
The resurgence in form from Robbie Willmott has been a delight to watch in the last few weeks, his crosses have been nothing but immense and this was clearly a tactic deployed by the Exiles as they pumped 26 crosses into the penalty area during the opening 45 minutes.
Matt superbly chested down one of those deliveries to tee up Tyreeq Bakinson on 27 minutes, but the Bristol City loanee dwelled on the space for far too long and Joe Walsh magnificently timed a tackle to deny the opportunity.
Just before half-time, Mickey Demetriou crashed a header off the crossbar after another inviting delivery then Jamille Matt couldn’t connect to another cross – this one from the outside of Willmott’s boot.
In response, David Wheeler hit the post with a curling drive and then also hooked wide when just two yards out in an enthralling game at Rodney Parade.
You couldn’t believe with all the chances created that neither side had scored – and how County couldn’t break the deadlock amidst their period of sustained pressure just after the interval is anyone's guess.
The Exiles hit the woodwork another three times to make it four occasions overall by the time 65 minutes had elapsed on the scoreboard.
First, Bakinson rattled the crossbar when almost completing a superb solo goal after a 45-yard run, before Fraser Franks somehow hit the post from a corner-kick just two yards out.
Still the crosses continued to be pumped into the penalty area and Ben Kennedy also smacked a header onto the connector of post and crossbar after another superb delivery into the area.
MK Dons were also showing signs of good attacking intent and Conor McGrandles forced a reaction save from Day with a thunderous drive from 25 yards.
The introduction of MK Dons attacker Chuks Aneke made a difference – he offered a different kind of attacking style – and County were punished for not taking their early opportunities as Aneke struck on 88 minutes.
The Exiles lost the ball in the centre, Agard sprinted through on goal with a menacing run, he squared along the six-yard area for Jake Hesketh who forced a wonderful stop from Day in the County goal but Aneke was on hand to tap home from a few yards out.
County had four minutes additional time to try and force at least a draw but sometimes you lose games when you deserve more and that is what happened to the Exiles at Rodney Parade.
Newport County AFC (4-4-2): Day, Butler, Franks (Sheehan 90’), Demetriou, Poole, Kennedy (Dolan 70’), Bakinson, Bennett, Willmott, Matt, Amond (Marsh-Brown 83’)
Subs not used: Townsend, Pipe, Azeez, O’Brien
MK Dons (3-5-2): Moore, Lewington, Cargill, Walsh, Martin (Hesketh 75’), Brittain, Cisse, Gilbey, McGrandles, Wheeler (Aneke 75’), Agard
Subs not used: Nicholls, Baudry, Houghton, Harley, Walker
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Attendance: 2,816 (114 AWAY)
Next up for County: Manchester City (16th February 2019) HOME – Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round