Checkatrade shot might not be out of the question for MK Dons

Robbie's Reaction
Robbie's Reaction

Robbie Neilson hasn't ruled out a shot at winning the Checkatrade Trophy this season, but admits Dons' League 1 campaign will always take priority.

Dons cruised past Brighton U21s at Stadium MK on Tuesday night in the first of three group games in the much-maligned competition, in front of just 1,500 supporters as the fans turn their noses up at the way the tournament is being run.

But with a Wembley final and silverware on offer at the end of the rainbow - a competition Dons won back in 2008 - Neilson hasn't ruled out a shot at going the distance this season.

He said: "At the end of the day, it's a chance to win something. There aren't many things you can win at this level - it's unrealistic to think you're going to win the FA Cup or the Carabao Cup, but we've got this and the league. If we get out the group stage and get a decent draw, we'll start looking at it.

"There are a lot of league games in the first few months of the season, so the group stage is always going to be a situation where you look at what you need, see where you can develop players and give them game time. Then, hopefully, if you progress further than that, we will start to press harder in it.

"It's difficult. It's a tournament we should all be able to use to develop our young players. At the moment, it's development for the Premier League teams and we have to put out a stronger team. They've changed the rules a little bit this season, we have more of an opportunity to change our team and give younger players a chance. If they're going to have it so the Premier League teams can blood their kids, we have to be able to as well. And we've managed to do that a bit more this season.

"You can only really approach this competition as the game comes up. If you have a few injuries, you concentrate on the league but if you have a fully squad, and maybe don't have a midweek game the following week, you can go a bit stronger. It's an opportunity to get game time."

Tuesday night's game against Premier League Brighton's U21s was as routine as they come. With barely any first team appearances in the Seagulls' line-up, it was men against boys at times. And it certainly wasn't a night to remember for Brighton keeper Rob Sanchez, who was at fault for both goals, giving the ball to Gboly Ariyibi to tap in the opener before bringing down Brandon Thomas-Asante for Aaron Tshibola to convert the spot kick.

For Neilson, it was a positive performance coming off the back of two 4-1 defeats in a row.

"It was a good performance all round," he added. "These games are difficult - out main focus is the league so to come into the Checkatrade Trophy tonight, I felt handled it professionally. We moved the ball well, we got two goals and a clean sheet.

"I thought Sam Nombe and Brandon Thomas-Asante did well. They're two young guys in and around the first team so they have to use this opportunity to show what they can do. They still have a lot of development to go, and will play a lot in our U23s, but they showed when they are called upon, they'll give us something. Young players bring enthusiasm, energy and bring forward running. The more experienced players bring balance and defensive aspects.

"We have to develop and go forward, but we have to make sure they understand the other side of the game too so when we put them into the first team, they make the right decisions.

"We have to get into the winning mentality and we haven't done that this season so we had to use tonight as an opportunity to build some momentum going into our game on Saturday. We spoke a lot about our targets at the beginning of the season and we haven't hit them yet so we had to use tonight to help us get going.

"We need to bring that confidence to our league play, and hopefully tonight helped with that. We decided to go semi-strong, and put a few of the first team out there to give them a bit more game time and thankfully it worked."