Southend were dealt a huge blow to their hopes of making the play-offs as goals from Joe Walsh and Ben Reeves saw the Blues lose 2-1 at home to MK Dons.
Robbie Nielson’s side opened the scoring early through Walsh, who minutes before had seen one effort cleared off the line, before heading beyond Christian Walton from the resulting corner.
The Blues then fell further behind less than 10 minutes later as Kieran Agard’s shot was parried into the path of the onrushing Ben Reeves who smashed home the Dons’ second.
Either side of Reeves’ goal, Southend struck the post twice with Anthony Wordsworth’s free-kick and Anton Ferdinand’s side-footed effort hitting the same bit of woodwork.
Southend grabbed consolation late on when George Baldock fouled Theo Robinson in the area, with Simon Cox scoring the penalty but it wasn’t enough to save the Blues from defeat.
With Millwall losing away at Fleetwood, Southend missed a glorious chance to overtake the Lions in the race for promotion and go into the final two games of the season a point outside the top six.
After a comfortable 4-0 win over struggling Chesterfield on Good Friday, Phil Brown made just the one change to his Southend side, bringing in the returning Ryan Leonard for the injured John White.
The Blues began much the brighter of the two sides and carved out a decent chance for Simon Cox who linked well with Will Atkinson only to drag his shot harmlessly wide.
Southend continued to up the tempo early on and George Williams was required to clear away a goal-bound header from Nile Ranger on the quarter hour mark.
Having weathered Southend’s early pressure, MK Dons created their first opening when Stuart O’Keefe’s diving header failed to really trouble Christian Walton in the Blues goal.
The home side continued to press and Ryan Leonard forced a save from Lee Nicholls down to his left before Jason Demetriou saw his effort from the edge of the area deflected off target.
Despite being second best most of the half, the Dons came closest to opening the scoring when Reeves picked out the run of Ed Upson, whose glancing header sailed just inches wide.
The Blues immediately responded by having their best chance as Cox was found inside the six-yard box, but the striker failed to get enough on his header to direct it on target.
MK Dons though were gifted a glorious chance to take the lead before the break when Anton Ferdinand played a short back pass to Walton.
Kieran Agard picked off the pass and had the composure to set up Harvey Barnes, who had an almost empty net to aim for, only for his strike to be superbly cleared off the line by the recovering Demetriou.
After having one cleared off the line late on in the first half the Dons had another effort cleared off the line early in the second by Ranger as he nodded away Joe Walsh’s header.
But from the resulting corner, Walsh put the Dons in front as he met Reeves’ corner with his header beating the dive of Walton to squirm into the bottom corner.
The Dons had been lively in the second half and deserved their lead, and Southend immediately went in search of an equaliser and struck the post with a free-kick from Anthony Wordsworth.
Robbie Neilson’s side though kept pushing forward and were troubling the Southend back line, and only a brilliant last-ditch block from Leonard stopped Darren Potter putting the Dons 2-0 up.
The Blues hadn’t come to the party in the second half and Brown made a double change with both Theo Robinson and Jermaine McGlashan coming on in place of McLaughlin and Atkinson.
But the changes appeared to have little effect as the visitors went and doubled their lead just after the hour mark after Agard’s shot was palmed into the path of Reeves to hit in the back of the net.
You would have expected Southend to throw the kitchen sink at their visitors in search of a comeback but it was the Dons who looked most likely to grab the game’s next goal.
Agard forced a smart save from Walton at his near post after beating the offside trap and Walton was again required as Barnes let fly from outside the area needing Walton to tip the ball over.
It simply wasn’t going to be Southend’s day as they struck the same post for the second time after Wordsworth laid the ball off to Ferdinand who side-footed it against the woodwork.
With time running out Southend pushed forward to try and force a nervy final few moments, but it was The Dons who almost wrapped things up in injury time when Barnes flashed his shot wide.
Southend did manage to grab themselves a consolation goal as they were awarded a penalty in the final minute of injury time after George Baldock fouled Theo Robinson.
Simon Cox took the spot kick, sending Nicholls the wrong way in the 97th minute but it was too little, too late for the Blues as they fell to a third defeat in their last four.
Blues XI | Walton, Wordsworth, Thompson, Timlin, Cox, McLaughlin (McGlashan 58’), Atkinson (Robinson 58’), Leonard, Demetriou, Ferdinand (C), Ranger (Fortune 75’). Subs Not Used: O’Neill, Amos, Hines, Kyprianou
MK Dons XI | Nicholls, Lewington (C), Walsh, Upson, Potter, Reeves (Tilney 90+3’), O’Keefe, Williams, Agard (Muirhead 73’), Barnes, Brittain (Baldock 84’). Subs Not Used: Martin, Rasulo, Downing, Thomas-Asante
Referee: Andy Haines
Assistants: Gavin Muge & Adrian Waters
Fourth Official: Rob Smith
Southend United: Simon Cox (p)90+7’
MK Dons: Joe Walsh 53’, Ben Reeves 62’
Southend United: Theo Robinson 84’, Anthony Wordsworth 90+4’
MK Dons: Ben Reeves 35’