Cup exit means no more distractions

Daniel Powell battles against Chesterfield
Daniel Powell battles against Chesterfield

For the first time since 2011, Dons go into the new year with nothing on their minds but League 1.

Saturday’s disappointing performance against Chesterfield saw Karl Robinson’s men fail to reach the FA Cup third round for only the second time under his tenure.

With knockout punches already coming in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and Capital One Cup, Dons now have nothing to concentrate on but League 1 - an almost a perfect scenario?

In previous seasons, a run in the FA Cup has come as a welcome distraction from somewhat indifferent league form.

Two years ago, when Dons reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, Robinson’s men picked up just one league win between January and March, culminating in a capitulation of what had started as a promising season.

Similarly last term, Dons’ third round exit was met with a dreadful month of January, which saw their sensational December turn out to be a blip in an altogether disappointing season.

With the way things stand at present, this current campaign represents Dons’ best chance of promotion since 2012.

With a game in hand over current leaders Bristol City, Dons could yet go top of the pile.

So is it a good thing that Dons have no more distractions between now at May 2, or do cup competitions offer a good way of removing the players from the all-intensive pressure cooker that is the fight for promotion?

“It can work both ways,” said Robinson. “I look back at Roberto Di Matteo’s time here, and the club had that awful run in March with postponed games and it cost them promotion.

“And under Paul Ince, there was something similar, but they went on to win the league.

“We always seem to be the team with games in hand.

“I don’t think we’ll have as many games postponed as we have done in recent years, so we need to make sure we’re fresh and take whatever happens between now and the end of the season in our stride.

“At the start of the season, people predicted we would be finishing in the bottom half of the table.

“We have turned that around and now people are predicting we can win the league.

“Two years ago, I’d have gotten carried away and offended people with some of my statements.

“But I’ve learned a lot in that time, and we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground.

“I’ll admit that I’m excited, more exciting than I have been in a long time. This club is getting better all the time.”

And that excitement is something which has transposed onto the players. After the win over Sheffield United, goalkeeper David Martin admitted the manager has had to clamp down on promotion talk in the dressing room.

This weekend promises to post another stern test to Dons’ promotion resolve, with a trip to Deepdale to take on Preston.

Simon Grayson’s side sit fourth in the table, level with Dons on goal difference, having played a game more.

But after stealing a win at Bramall Lane, and then losing on Saturday, Robinson admits his side need to buck up their ideas before the trip up the M6, with the ways of old and accepting a draw against one of the divisions top sides now long gone.

“We haven’t played well in the last two games,” he said. “We need to rectify that before we go to Preston at the weekend.

“No disrespect to Preston, but we aren’t going there for a point.”