FIFTH in the League 1 table and four points off the automatic promotion spots with a quarter of the season gone – MK Dons manager Karl Robinson is frustrated.
Being knocked out of both the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is a blessing in disguise, but with just one league win on the road so far, Dons find themselves eight points off the summit already.
Four sendings-off early in the campaign hampered their chances of winning games at Bournemouth and Swindon, while falling behind to Notts County, Coventry and Portsmouth almost certainly cost Dons victories – dominating all three games, but coming away with a draw from each.
“I’m frustrated really,” said Robinson, summing up his side’s start to the season. “I think our performances have deserved more than we got really. People will point their fingers at 20 minutes against Portsmouth and judge our season on that.
“But we’ve been exceptional for long periods of games, and we’ve often been the best team in it. It’s a good solid start, and we’re only a few points behind second.
“We’re a few points behind first, but I’m sure that will be hauled back as the season wears on. The boys look fitter and fitter. There’s more to come out of this group.”
Asked whether there was a team in League 1 he felt could threaten Dons, Robinson replied flatly: “No.”
His confidence has grounds too. Dons have outplayed most of the teams they’ve come up against this season – perhaps Swindon aside, though Dean Lewington’s first half sending off hardly helped things there.
But Dons have played just four teams in the top half of the table so far this season, and face three tough games coming up, starting on Sunday against Preston North End, Stevenage the following Saturday, before a Tuesday night trip to Crawley Town.
“It’s hard to nominate one team,” the manager said. “But there are three or four very good teams in this league and we’re one of them.
“It’ll still be a long, hard season, but we’ve just got to roll our sleeves up and get on with it.
“Tranmere, Stevenage and Crawley have all done really well, but it’s a long haul – not just where you are now, but where you are in seven or eight months.
“We feel we have a strong group of players who can compete for the length of the season. We believe we’re in a very strong position.
“There are a few teams firing on all cylinders at the moment and playing the best they can play. We’re not too far behind them.
“When these boys get going, they’ll be unstoppable.”