Report: MK Dons 3 Rovers 0
Rovers' return from the international break ended in disappointment as they went down 3-0 at the hands of MK Dons.
The early sending off of Adam Henley proved to be the pivotal moment as Gary Bowyer's side suffered their first loss in five outings.
The hosts started brightly but it was a hotly-disputed penalty after just ten minutes that provided the talking point as Henley was adjudged to have brought Josh Murphy down in the box.
The tackle was shown to be outside the area, but to compound Rovers' anguish, the Welshman was issued a red card and Ben Reeves converted from the spot.
Rovers responded well with Jordan Rhodes having a huge shout for his own spot-kick waved away after he was sent crashing to the ground by the arm of Antony Kay.
The second half saw the visitors build up a real head of steam as Rhodes forced David Martin into a point-blank save, before Shane Duffy saw a near-post header cleared off the line.
But with 19 minutes to go Rovers were caught with a sucker-punch as Simon Church doubled the home side's advantage, and their misery was compounded a minute from time when Reeves got his second of the game from close-range to make it a miserable first league visit to stadiummk.
Unchanged for the first time this season, and looking to build on their impressive display last time out, unfortunately a poor start proved costly at stadiummk.
Inside the first minute the hosts gave warning to the threat they would carry when Rob Hall, the Dons' only change from their draw with Bristol City, took advantage of the space afforded to him in front of goal to let fly only to be denied by a smart save from Jason Steele.
Rovers were carrying their attacking threat through Craig Conway, but it was MK who were finding the opportunities, and on ten minutes they were awarded a hotly disputed penalty when Adam Henley brought down Josh Murphy as the Norwich loan-man broke through on goal.
The challenge looked outside the area, but Referee James Linington, who was a long way away from the incident, pointed to the spot and added to Rovers' misery by issuing a red card to Henley. Ben Reeves made no mistake from 12-yards as Steele dived the wrong way.
With the visitors down to ten men Ben Marshall moved to right back, whilst Tom Lawrence switched to the right of midfield for additional cover.
As Rovers struggled to come to terms with going behind the Dons looked for a second, the fleet-footed Murphy cutting in from the left to shoot only for the ball to deflect off Shane Duffy and skim the side-netting.
But before the midway point of the first half Rovers had strong claims for a penalty of their own as Jordan Rhodes was taken out in the box by the arm of Antony Kay. Inexplicably neither official saw the incident as the appeals went unheeded.
The home side almost made the most of their man advantage on 37 when a ball up to Hall was teed up for Jake Forster-Caskey, but his effort was beaten away by Steele.
Then at the other end the best chance of the half came as Conway crossed for Rhodes, but the ball was just too high for the in-form striker to get any meaningful connection as he glanced it behind.
Yet Rovers should have been trailing 2-0 at the break when a poor back pass from Duffy led to Simon Church being through on goal, but he failed to find the target with just Steele to beat.
Neither side made a change as the two teams returned for the second half, with both showing early attacking intent.
Hall flashed a shot across goal for the home side before Rovers had another good shout for a penalty as Conway broke into the box before going down under a challenge from Jordan Spence, but once more the officials were unmoved.
Then a clever pass from Markus Olsson set Hope Akpan racing away down the right, his centre was dummied by the Swede to tee up Conway but his effort was charged down.
Another quick break from the visitors followed with Corry Evans doing well to find Conway on the left, he crossed for Rhodes who headed goalwards but David Martin in the Dons goal made a fine point-blank save.
In what was an absorbing contest it was then the home side's turn to create a couple of opportunities, Murphy with a shot that deflected off a Rovers head to loop over the bar, before Steele was alert to beat away an effort from Reeves.
As Rovers prepared a double change Conway had the ball before cutting inside from the left to let fly, but his fierce strike was deflected behind.
Nathan Delfouneso and Lee Williamson replaced Akpan and Evans before the resulting corner, and as Conway sent the ball into the box Duffy saw his goalbound header cleared off the line by Jake Forster-Caskey.
But just as Rovers were building a real head of steam they were caught with a sucker-punch on the break. Murphy, who had impressed throughout, got the better of Marshall down the left and his centre was headed home by Church six-yards out to double the Dons' advantage.
Nicky Maynard, who spent a few weeks on trial with Rovers over the summer almost scored a minute after his introduction, meeting a teasing cross from Dean Lewington the forward headed goalwards only for Steele to make a great one-handed save.
With the wind knocked out of their sails after that second goal, Rovers failed to get their forward play going in the closing stages. Instead it was the hosts who put the seal on a victory with a third goal a minute from time.
A well-worked free-kick saw Rovers opened up and Reeves stole into the box to bend the ball into the bottom corner to ensure a miserable first league match between the two sides.
MK celebrated a first home win since August, leaving Rovers still looking for their first three-point haul on their travels.
MK DONS: Martin, Spence, McFadzean, Kay, Lewington (c), Poyet, Forster-Caskey, Murphy (sub Carruthers 86 mins), Reeves, Hall (sub Baker 63 mins), Church (sub Maynard 77 mins).
Subs not used: Burns, Hodson, Powell, Gallagher.
Goals: Reeves 11 (pen), 89 mins, Church 71 mins.
Booked: Poyet, Hall.
ROVERS: Steele, Henley, Duffy, Hanley (c), Olsson (sub Spurr 86 mins), Marshall, Akpan (sub Delfouneso 68 mins), Evans (sub Williamson 68 mins), Conway, Lawrence, Rhodes.
Subs not used: Raya, Kilgallon, O'Sullivan, Taylor.
Booked: Akpan, Marshall.
Attendance: 11,548 (including 1371 Rovers fans)