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This time Dons columnist Dominic Damesick talks about a tough Stevenage test, Ryan Lowe, and whether the boss should be a bit more accepting of criticism.
Karl Robinson is giving the impression of being a confident man, and so he should. He has achieved consecutive fifth place finishes, and this season has, at his disposal, what is probably his strongest squad to date, in what is, arguably, the weakest League 1 since he took charge.
It is a sign of the times that the Dons go into Saturday’s game against second-placed Stevenage, who lost their first league game of the season last weekend, expecting nothing less than a win. The top-end of the League 1 table is still very congested, a quarter of the way through the season, with only three points separating Stevenage from the Dons, who are down in seventh.
Only Tranmere have made a really flying start to the season, and their just reward is to sit seven points clear at the top of the pile. Most people appear to doubt that Ronnie Moore’s men will be able to sustain their early season promise, but as each week goes by, Tranmere have to be taken more seriously, and perhaps afforded slightly more respect.
Indeed, Robinson refused to allow Ryan Lowe to join the league leaders on loan last week, so clearly wants to do them no favours.
The true test for Rovers will be when they lose their first game. It will then be interesting to see whether that is merely a speed bump on their road to success, or if a defeat leaves Tranmere a bit flat, and begins their previously predicted slide into mid-table mediocrity.
As for Saturday’s opponents, it was widely speculated that the departure of Graham Westley to Preston last January would burst their bubble. After successive promotions, and a promising start to life in League 1, it was suggested that the departure of Westley – who had overseen the rapid ascension of the club – would serve as a reality check for the overachieving Stevenage side.
However, Gary Smith – a former Wimbledon academy coach – deserves great praise for keeping Stevenage’s momentum going, despite losing key players – such as John Mousinho – to Westley’s new-look Preston side. Stevenage, much like Tranmere, are another side that are widely expected to be unable to sustain their early season promise over the marathon of the League 1 season. Yet, the club finished sixth last season, and have shown no signs of being a weakened outfit so far this term, so Robinson will need no reminders of the staunch test his side will face tomorrow afternoon.
Robinson, though, has unerring faith in his squad to overcome such challenges, and the fans should have faith in a man who continues to prove himself as a highly accomplished manager and tactician.
Yet, Robinson should understand why a few concerns have been raised by those who believe that the quality within the Dons’ ranks and the quality of their performances should have yielded a slightly better start to the season.
Such concerns need not be taken as a sign that the fans are turning on Robinson, but as a sign that they want exactly the same thing he does, promotion, and that they care as deeply and fervently about the club as Robinson himself appears to do. Dismissing the questioning of a minority of fans, regarding the system the Dons play, as ‘stupidity’ does Robinson no favours.
To assume that all those who question his tactics have not considered their opinions is an arrogant stance, rather than merely one of confidence. Robinson will stick with the 4-2-3-1 system, and is (for now) right to do so, as it bore such fruit last season, and has only really been let down this season by a lack of clinical finishing – something Robinson is seeking to rectify with the addition of a striker in the near future.
He must understand people’s frustrations, and should show a little bit of humility, not by pandering to calls for change, but by acknowledging that most of the dissenting voices just want to see the same thing he does – Championship football in Milton Keynes.
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