David Wheeler was the hero as MK Dons beat Mansfield Town 1-0 to win the high stakes clash and achieve his side’s promotion to League One.
The QPR loanee continued his prolific home form by heading MK Dons in front within two minutes of kick-off.
On a high stakes afternoon at stadium mk, both sides threw everything at their opponents to try and get the result they needed, with many chances passed up on a frantic afternoon.
But the sole goal was all that was registered, and MK Dons leapfrogged Mansfield Town to win and book their place in League One next season, achieving an immediate return to the third tier after being relegated last season.
After 45 League Two matches, the Dons and Stags entered the final contest of the regular season level on points and split only by goal difference.
Both Paul Tisdale and David Flitcroft entered the contest knowing victory would secure either side their play in League One, while a draw would be enough for Mansfield to squeak through and put MK Dons into the play-offs.
The match was therefore set up for a frantic finale to the season – one of three such things remaining to be resolved in League Two, along with a 5-way scrap for the final play-off spot and a battle between Macclesfield and Notts County to avoid dropping out of the EFL altogether.
Needing to win, it was the home side who made a cracking start. They were able to win an early corner, before Dean Lewington’s well-weighted delivery found Wheeler, who headed home.
Amid lively weather that included sun, showers and hail, the two teams began to apply pressure on one another, with Mansfield forced to try and get something after conceding the advantage.
Mansfield were forced into an early change with defender Matt Preston taken off injured, and for a brief period, MK Dons began to look likelier to get further chances.
The Dons had a superb chance to make it two as Kieran Agard fed Chuks Aneke following clever work out wide, and his effort was cleared off the line by Mal Benning.
Mansfield had brief episodes where they burst forward in a frantic opening half, but it was mostly the Dons’ control of the match, although their attempts to get beyond the away backline were largely being frustrated.
The Dons also won a number of set-pieces and had some appeals, but the best chance fell when Aneke had an effort deflected off target with the final moment of the first 45.
Tyler Walker had a chance for Mansfield in the early moments of the second period, as the away side’s top scorer had a low angled shot saved by Nicholls.
MK Dons would also get close early in the second period, as a looping header from George Williams was kept out by Conrad Logan.
The away side began to look more on top in their attempts to find the equaliser and regain the promotion advantage. But MK Dons would then find a better chance, as a last gasp deflection took Aneke’s low effort into the outer side-netting rather than between the posts.
Mansfield continued to look like the side likelier to get the game’s second as they threw bodies forward, with their best chance seeing Neal Bishop arrow one just past the post.
But just as the Dons spent a period of play on the defensive, they came so close to sealing the deal, as Aneke lead a fast breakaway and laid it off for Agard, who was well denied by Logan in the Mansfield goal.
Having rode that out, Mansfield continued to try and find an equaliser, and came very close as Russell Martin had to head a dangerous header off the line, before visiting defender Krystian Pearce narrowly failed to make contact with a free-kick.
Mansfield still enjoyed the majority of possession as they continued to try and find a way past a deep-defending Dons, racking up a large number of corners as they went.
On the break, the Dons nearly bagged number two, as Logan saved to keep out Aneke’s lob.
Still Mansfield tried to break, as sub Danny Rose was denied on a turn before the player brought on by Mansfield as a first half sub had a header saved.
But Mansfield struggled to keep the momentum going as the match entered six minutes added time, as MK Dons won some free-kicks and corners.
Mansfield very nearly got an opener after Williams’ couldn’t fully clear a cross but a shot from Bishop cannoned off his offside team-mate.
Still the game continued as it reached a 7th extra minute, but MK Dons had done enough to hold on and win, cueing a celebratory pitch invasion as MK Dons got the three points and booked their spot in League One for next season.
MK Dons: Nicholls – Williams, Martin, Walsh – Brittain, McGrandles, Houghton, Lewington – Aneke (Simpson 90) – Agard, Wheeler (Watson 69)
Subs not used: Moore, Cisse, Hesketh, D’Ath, Harley
Goal: Wheeler (2)
Booked: Nicholls, Aneke, Houghton
Mansfield: Logan – Preston (Turner 19), Pearce, Sweeney – MacDonald, Tomlinson (Rose 36), Bishop, Mellis, Benning (Grant 70) – Walker, Hamilton
Subs not used: Smith, Atkinson, Jones, Smith