David Wheeler broke Mansfield Town hearts as his second minute header stole a narrow 1-0 victory for MK Dons in a thrilling winner-takes-all automatic promotion decider at Stadium MK this afternoon.
The result – Stags' third defeat in a row – left Mansfield facing a two-legged play-off against Newport County while MK Dons fans invaded the pitch to celebrate their promotion.
There were few chances in a tight game, though both sides had efforts cleared off the line and Stags keeper Conrad Logan made a superb save to deny Keiran Agard.
Dons dominated the first half but Stags went up a gear after the break and piled on the pressure only to see the home side defend superbly and few attempts get through to test Lee Nicholls.
Mansfield suffered a huge blow on 19 minutes when key defender Matt Preston was injured, but replacement Ben Turner defended manfully and Stags boss David Flitcroft tweaked his formation, made attacking substitutions and could do little more than hope for a lucky break that never came.
Mansfield made a surprise change as midfielder Alex MacDonald came in as a right wing back in place of Gethin Jones, who dropped to the bench.
The atmosphere was white hot as the sides kicked off on a chilly afternoon in bright sunshine.
Mansfield began the game brightly on the front foot but found themselves behind after only two minutes from the Dons' first corner.
Dean Lewington floated it in towards the near post where Wheeler guided a header past Logan.
On the restart Logan had to race out to clear ahead of Wheeler chasing a through ball to prevent further early damage.
Stags won a free kick which saw Preston hurt while challenging for a header and need lengthy treatment. But he was eventually able to play on.
The sky darkened and it began to hail as Stags won their first corner from which Will Tomlinson drilled a tame low shot at Nicholls.
Preston just managed to out-jump Chucks Aneke at the far post to concede a corner and prevent him nodding in a second on 18 minutes.
However, he was again hurt in the challenge and this time he had to go off, replaced by Turner.
On 24 minutes the Dons came close again, this time Mal Benning clearing Aneke's low finish off the line after Dons worked the ball well from a left wing throw-in.
On 27 minutes Jacob Mellis tried his luck low from distance and when Nicholls could only parry he was lucky CJ Hamilton wasn't closer to pick up the pieces.
Stags needed a foothold into the MK half and Flitcroft made a brave change on 37 minutes as he threw striker Danny Rose on for midfielder Tomlinson and went three up front.
Agard went down in the Stags box as he tried to turn and shouted for a penalty, but referee Probert was unimpressed.
Four minutes were added, but Stags were unable to find a way back into it as they went in a goal behind.
For the second half Hamilton was moved to right wing back and MacDonald went into a central midfield role.
They began with purpose and in the first minute Walker had a low near post drive saved, Stags' best effort of the game so far.
On 49 minutes Logan safely clutched Williams' header from a Lewington free kick as MK quickly responded.
But the Stags had clearly gone up a gear and were now starting to enjoy their best spell of possession all game with the away fans screaming them on.
Stags won two corners in a row, Rose heading wide from the second of them.
On 58 minutes only a great block from MacDonald denied Aneke as his shot was sent into sidenetting.
Dons were already time-wasting on 63 minutes as keeper Nicholls was booked for failing to get get the ball back in play quickly enough.
Bishop was narrowly wide with a low, swerving 25 yard shot on 65 minutes.
The game was becoming more and more stretched and on 67 minutes Logan kept Stags in the contest with a brilliant block after a home break had seen Aneke lift the ball into the box for Agard, whose first touch was immaculate but his finish blocked.
Stags sent on Jorge Grant for Benning on 69 minutes as a last throw of the dice and seconds later Rose saw his far post header cleared off the line by Martin.
It was agonising watching for the visiting fans as their side dominated possession and bravely threw everything forward.
But it left them vulnerable to the counter and Aneke again tested Logan with a cheeky lob but didn't quite get it right.
MacDonald was booked for a tired trip on Houghton on 81 minutes, then Rose had a shot on the turn comfortably saved as Sweeney stayed up as an extra striker as we entered the nervy last seven minutes.
But the Dons held firm to see out the 90 and the six added minutes as Mansfield found themselves dumped into the play-offs with Logan and Mellis booked late on and the match ending in rumbles of thunder.
MK DONS: Nicholls, Williams, Lewington, Walsh, Aneke (Simpson 90), Agard, Martin, McGrandles, Wheeler (Watson 69), Houghton, Brittain. Subs not used: Moore, Cisse, Hesketh, D'Ath, Harley.
MANSFIELD: Logan; Sweeney, Pearce, Preston (Turner 19); MacDonald, Bishop, Tomlinson (Rose 37), Mellis, Benning (Grant 69); Walker, Hamilton. Subs not used: Smith, Atkinson, Jones, Smith.
REFEREE: Lee Probert of Wiltshire.
ATTENDANCE: 20,718 (5,300 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Ben Turner.