Russell Martin could not hide his relief as his MK Dons side grabbed a last-minute goal to come from behind and beat Rochdale 2-1 at Stadium MK.
Rhys Healey’s late penalty proved the difference as the home side recorded a first league win in three at the expense of Brian Barry-Murphy’s fellow strugglers.
Dale veteran Ian Henderson had opened the scoring for the visitors with his third goal in as many games, but second-half strikes from Carlton Morris and Healey earned Martin’s men a much-needed win in their fight for League One survival.
He said afterwards: “I feel relieved more than anything. It was an interesting and difficult night.
“I thought Rochdale were excellent in the first half, but I was not impressed with our intensity and it was not the standards that we expect – it was not acceptable, to be honest.
“I am proud of the players because it was not good in the first half and the atmosphere was tense – and to do what they did in the second half was not easy.
“It was a big game for us and I said it to the lads before the game because we could not hide from it – it was a huge game and probably the biggest of the season.
“We have got a run of games now where we need to pick up points but I have a real belief in the players and we will be ready for it.
“I would much rather have the points on the board and if they had won they would have created a big gap between us – we are starting to get in contact with other teams.”
The visitors, however, were left to rue Matty Done’s late challenge on Healey which brought the penalty and the defeat, extending their winless run in all competitions to four matches.
Barry-Murphy said: “We were not in any control in the second half and it felt like a bit of a basketball game. Credit to MK Dons because they really went for the jugular.
“I thought we started the game like a house on fire but we were just not able to build on that.
“Even though we lost I do not think we can have an argument against the result tonight.
“I have got no complaints with the penalty and it looked like a penalty from where I was.
“We were not in control tonight and towards the end of the game we became very ragged and we lost control of the game – we did not have any control and that is not what we practice on.”