Mansfield Town will battle for a spot in Sky Bet League One via the play-offs following a 1-0 defeat away to MK Dons this afternoon.
David Wheeler’s second-minute header was the only facet to separate the sides on a day where automatic promotion loomed large.
Mansfield emerged for the second period in spirited, battling nature yet were unable to restore parity as they ended the season in fourth position.
The teamsheet signalled only one change for Mansfield as Alex MacDonald, stationed at right wing-back, replaced Gethin Jones.
Otherwise, it was an unchanged line up named by David Flitcroft.
However, with the game not even three minutes old, the hosts made use of their first corner of the afternoon.
Dean Lewington spotted David Wheeler’s late run and the midfielder made no mistake in finding the back of the net with his head.
Mansfield, though, sought a quick response through Mal Benning but his delivery fell into the palms of Lee Nicholls.
At the other end, Chuks Aneke rose highest to double the Dons’ lead, yet the cross from the far side carried too much weight.
In the 19th minute, Flitcroft’s hand was forced into his first change of the afternoon with Matt Preston – who had suffered a blow to the head – coming off for Ben Turner.
And moments later, Benning produced a moment of individual brilliance to deny Aneke from a goal line clearance and keep the arrears to a single goal.
The Stags boss then opted for his second change on 37 minutes as Danny Rose entered the fray in place of Willem Tomlinson.
Following the substitution, Mansfield countered at pace but MacDonald’s eventual effort was smothered expertly quickly by Joe Walsh.
Gilt-edged chances did not rear their head in the lead up to half time as Mansfield entered the interval needing to overturn the one-goal deficit that faced them.
They looked to do so with less than minute elapsed when Tyler Walker broke free – the striker, however, fired his low shot towards Nicholls.
Flitcroft’s charges had emerged from the tunnel with an evident desire to restore parity.
Mansfield then conjured a slick move consisting of five one-touch passes before Walker’s subsequent cross fell agonisingly beyond CJ Hamilton.
Although the hosts would not lie low, highlighted when Aneke drilled an effort into the side netting from close range.
Moments later, Neal Bishop found himself in a pocket of space but dragged his long-distance effort wide of Nicholls’ upright.
In the 67th minute, Conrad Logan was called into action to deny Kieran Agard superbly during a one-on-one situation.
The Stags restored their pressure soon after as Rose’s header back across goal had to be cleared by Walsh in timely fashion.
Despite the magnitude of the afternoon, and the spoils at stake, the amber and blue were not backing down.
Ryan Sweeney flicked a delivery from the final substitute, Jorge Grant, goalwards yet nobody was able to apply the final touch as it trickled away for a goal kick.
Grant then latched onto the ball after some fine interplay on the edge of the Dons’ penalty area but watched his driven effort deflect wide.
Rose was next to try his luck but his long-distance effort was gathered by Nicholls.
The home side broke and found themselves with a promising two-on-one situation – but MacDonald raced back to intercept what would have been a deadly pass.
Despite all their efforts, the Stags were unable to conjure the vital equaliser and it confirmed the hosts would clinch the final automatic promotion spot in Sky Bet League Two.
Defeat at Stadium MK means Mansfield will feature in the first leg of the play-off semi-finals on this forthcoming Thursday away to Newport County.
STAGS XI: Logan (GK), Benning (Grant 69’), Preston (Turner 19’), Pearce ©, Bishop, MacDonald, Mellis, Tomlinson (Rose 37’), Sweeney, Walker, Hamilton.
SUBS NOT USED: Smith (GK), Atkinson, Jones, Smith.
MK DONS XI: Nicholls (GK), Williams, Lewington ©, Walsh, Aneke (Simpson 90’), Agard, Martin, McGrandles, Wheeler (Watson 69’), Houghton, Brittain.
SUBS NOT USED: Moore (GK), Cisse, Hesketh, D’Ath, Harley.
REFEREE: Lee Probert.
ASSISTANTS: Andrew Garratt & Matthew Wilkes.
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Peter Wright.
ATTENDANCE: 20,718 (5,227 away).