Richie Barker says the MK Dons side he first encountered is unrecognisable compared to the one he’s working with this season.
Dons’ Head of Coaching joined up with the team in April, following Gary Waddock’s departure to take over at Oxford, but came at a time when injuries had crippled Dons’ chances of reaching the play-offs.
As Karl Robinson’s side limped over the finish line, Barker had barely cast an eye over most of the first team squad, with the likes of Ben Reeves, Darren Potter, Dean Bowditch and Lee Hodson all sidelined for long periods.
With seven new faces introduced over the summer, and the return to fitness of the afore-mentioned quartet among others, Barker said an awful lot has changed.
He said: “The difference is massive - as big a difference as there can be. I think there were five players on loan when I came here.
“Then there was Giorgio (Rasulo), who I’m sure will be a top talent, but he is only 16. Brendan Galloway, Dele and we were relying on these players, on other people’s players and players on short term contracts.
“It was a mix and match side. But we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again and we need to ensure we’ve got competition for places without relying on other people’s players.
“I remember looking at the first league game, and thinking that I’d only seen three of them play.
“At the end of last season, a lot of them weren’t fit or weren’t here.
“We’ve evolved a lot in six months in the right way, and more people are starting to see that.”
Barker, 39, took a step away from managerial top jobs to accept being Robinson’s number two on a permanent basis in the summer.
The former Crawley boss, who admitted enjoying beating his former side last time out, said he wouldn’t take a back seat for many clubs or managers, but at Dons it feels right.
“I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “It’s different in many different ways.
“There aren’t too many clubs or people I’d have considered going back to being a number two for.
“This club and working with Karl fits, and we work pretty well together.
“Some of my strengths are his weaknesses and vice versa. It’s a good place to be with a good group of players.”
With momentum and a break behind them, Dons are now concentrating on the next six-week period to kick on and progress.
After a very solid start, with just one defeat in all competitions so far, to early League 1 pacesetters Peterborough, Barker believes a strong showing in the next month or so will begin to define where Dons will end up come May.
He said: “I think if we can keep the right mentality, keep everybody fit, can keep competition for places and keep everyone believing, both players and fans, then there’s no reason, come the end of the season we’ll be moving up.”