DONS play probably the easiest game in their history tonight – yet it feels a bit like they can’t actually win. But in the long run, they will.
Taking on a Cambridge City side almost 100 league places below them, Dons will suffer one of the biggest upsets in recent FA Cup history, or win through to a second round tie that almost everyone outside of Milton Keynes appears to want them to lose.
Karl Robinson has said once or twice in the past that it feels like it’s ‘us against the world’ but if his side do, as expected, beat their Evo-Stik League Premier Division opponents at stadium:mk tonight, then it pretty much will be.
How much that bothers the club or the fans is a matter of opinion. Reaction to the possibility of playing AFC has been mixed since the draw was first made just over a week ago.
With Dons and the Kingston upon Thames-based club being paired to potentially meet for the second time in as many years, it seems like the Football Gods have made their point. Indeed, York City appeared to require some divine intervention to stand any chance of beating AFC in their first round replay last night.
Denied by the woodwork several times, York could and should have booked themselves a big day out at stadium:mk in early December, but not even AFC keeper Seb Brown’s attempt to gift them the tie was enough as the Yorkshire side eventually lost 4-3 in extra time.
It was an enthralling encounter, and a shame that less than 2,000 people turned out to watch it at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, also known as Kingsmeadow.
AFC have helped to fuel the flames of animosity toward Dons in the time since the second round draw was made last Sunday, and if the one-sided coverage of the debate during their live televised replay with York on ESPN was anything to go by, then they’ve done a pretty good job of it.
The best thing Dons can do is beat Cambridge City and then roll out the red carpet for their opponents, plus the masses of national media who will turn out to watch the game that will no doubt be beamed live to the world, probably by ITV.
Pete Winkelman and everyone connected to the club should hold their heads high at what they have achieved in the last eight years, but they should also leave the mudslinging to others. Robinson often talks about ‘class’ when it comes to matters on the pitch, and in this instance, it’s men against boys.
The fantastic stadium that AFC will get to visit represents what can be achieved in football with the right level of dedication, knowledge and investment. But of course Dons can take nothing for granted and must first beat Cambridge City to make sure this unique and unprecedented FA Cup tie does go ahead.
Since holding Dons to a 0-0 draw on November 2, the Lilywhites have enjoyed two straight home league wins against Bedworth United and Bedford Town, and of course, in the Cup, anything can happen.
If Dons do win through tonight, then they should look forward to their clash against AFC with a mixture of excitement and pride. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression.