NEWPORT County AFC need to respond to another League Two reality check after being beaten 3-0 at Milton Keynes Dons.

The Exiles suffered a reverse of their recent trip to Walsall to trail 3-0 at half-time against the fifth-placed Dons in Buckinghamshire, and it could have been more.

Dan Kemp opened the scoring in the 12th minute, Jack Payne fired in after 21 and then former Exiles loanee Alex Gilbey slotted before half an hour had been played.

The Exiles had holes all over the place and were off the pace as MK followed Notts County in being a possession-based side that thrived against a side usually known for its industry.

The Dons kept pushing for a fourth but were wasteful in a second half that drifted to a conclusion with the result decided.

It wasn’t only a tough afternoon on the scoreboard, the Exiles suffered an early blow when influential right-back Shane McLoughlin needed to go off after what seemed to be a muscle injury to his lower left leg.

County, who remain right in the mix for the play-offs despite having shortcomings exposed in MK, don’t have long to lick their wounds.

They reacted to the Notts loss by beating Gillingham and hope to repeat the trick at Harrogate on Tuesday.

County made one enforced change to the XI that beat Gillingham 1-0 with injured midfielder Harry Charsley replaced by James Waite, whose spot on the bench went to forward Kiban Rai.

Former Exiles defender Cameron Norman was fit to start against his former teammates after being forced off in the final stages of their 1-1 draw with Wrexham.

Will Evans caused problems in the second minute to put in a dangerous cross that was put out for a corner with Seb Palmer-Houlden lurking and that was swiftly followed by the Dons doing the same, Matt Baker alert to block from Stephen Wearne’s shot in the box.

MK were lively in midfield and dangerous down their right with Kemp and Kyran Lofthouse both firing shots a yard or so wide of Nick Townsend’s goal.

South Wales Argus: OPENER: MK Dons celebrate Dan Kemp's strikeOPENER: MK Dons celebrate Dan Kemp's strike (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

However, there was no escape in the 12th minute when a neat build-up ended with Wearne back-heeling inside the box to Kemp, who calmly side-footed in with his right.

County’s nightmare start got worse when Shane McLoughlin, a mainstay down the right, went down and got treatment on his left lower leg.

He was immediately replaced with Lewis Payne coming on as a like-for-like change.

The Exiles were then gifted a half-chance by a poor clearance by goalkeeper Michael Kelly but Palmer-Houlden failed to play in Evans, and they were soon two goals down.

MK had a free-kick 30 metres out and, with far too much ease, Payne and Kemp combined before the latter fired across Townsend from inside the box down the left.

Two became three in the 29th minute with Scot Bennett treading water in pursuit of a long ball and Wearne rolling the ball back for Gilbey to roll in with Townsend helpless.

It was one-way traffic and County were grateful that Payne dragged a good chance wide in the 42nd minute after patient build-up play down the left.

He failed to test Townsend but Joe Tomlinson did in the first of five added minutes, and thankfully the ‘keeper was up to the task.

Joe Tomlinson wellied a shot from the left that was going into the far corner but County’s number one dived to his left to pull off another contender for save of the season.

The Dons finished the half with 12 shots to none and, more importantly, three goals to none… and it could have been worse.

Coughlan reacted with a pair of changes at half-time with Kyle Jameson and Luke Jephcott, two players short of match sharpness, on for Waite and Baker.

That meant a change of shape with Bennett moved to midfield and Jephcott in the middle of a front three, and the summer signing swiftly had the Exiles first shot of note with a header that was easily claimed by Kelly.

However, it looked more likely to become a four-goal game than a two-goal one and Townsend produced a pair of fine saves to deny Kemp and Wearne before the former was denied by an offside flag after going too early with his run.

Coughlan, perhaps with an eye on Harrogate, made his final two changes after 58 minutes with Matty Bondswell on for Bennett and Offrande Zanzala replacing Palmer-Houlden.

That was followed by Newport’s Ellis Harrison coming on for the hosts on the hour as they continued to press for a fourth.

Townsend pulled off another cracking save to tip over from Lewis Bate and then Payne and/or Jameson did just enough to deny Emre Tezgel.

Harrison was denied by an offside flag and then MK wasted a break with numerical advantage for Tomlinson to fire a cross/shot that was kicked away by the County stopper.

A rare foray to the other end resulted in a big penalty appeal after Evans went down on the turn in the box but referee Ben Atkinson was not interested.

Matthew Dennis should have made it 4-0 and County then almost made it 3-1 with three minutes to go only for Jephcott to be denied a first goal for the club by a fine save by Kelly, who tipped his curled effort around the right post.

The Exiles fired a blank and were poor at the other end, with a big improvement needed in Yorkshire on Tuesday.

MK Dons scorers: Kemp, Payne, Gilbey.

County: Townsend, McLoughlin (Payne 17), Baker (Jameson 45), Bennett (captain), Clarke, Lewis, Morris, Wildig, Waite (Jephcott 45), Evans, Palmer-Houlden.

Substitutes: Maxted, Rai.

Yellow: Wildig, Morris, Evans.

Referee: Ben Atkinson.

Attendance: 6,354 (512 County).