Difficult road ahead for struggling Dons

Shaun Williams. Pic: Lee Scriven
Shaun Williams. Pic: Lee Scriven

Something has got to change at stadium:mk, and it has to change fast.

Dons’ 3-0 defeat on Tuesday night, 256 miles from home in Carlisle, was not nearly as disappointing as the nature in which it came – a performance which worringly lacked desire and passion.

Karl Robinson has always prided himself on fielding a team who show drive and willing to put in a performance, and it was abundantly clear on Tuesday that something was drastically wrong.

Some fans, in the aftermath, pointed in the direction of Shaun Williams’ departure on Monday as a root cause of the Brunton Park problem.

This squad is no stranger to seeing players depart. Prior to the sale of Williams, Dons have seen Jason Banton, Dale Jennings, Jordan Spence, and Patrick Bamford all head out the exit door this month – players who helped Dons to an incredibly successful December, which restarted their play-off ambitions.

But those ambitions now lie in tatters after picking up just a point in nine against sides struggling at the wrong end of the table.

Perhaps the sale of Williams is the straw that broke the camel’s back, but players with a mere modicum of understanding about their chosen industry will know they are a commodity that can come and go at the drop of a hat. But that is a very fickle excuse for turning in shoddy work.

The financial situation at the club is no secret. Robinson makes no attempt to hide the fact that he is desperate to bring in new faces, to land a stand-out player who can make a real difference and raise a few eyebrows. But for one reason or another, that simply isn’t possible, even with the money from the Williams deal.

The truth is that Dons will struggle to replace the two players who top their scorers board. Both Bamford and Williams were stand-out players, not just in Robinson’s side, but in League 1 as a whole. Their promotion to the Championship is something that many predicted, but feared to utter aloud in case it happened.

Players of their calibre rarely slip through the net of the country’s top clubs, and even fewer go unnoticed.

And that makes it even harder for Robinson to replace them without any sort of financial clout behind him.

Maybe things need to get worse before they get better, and the almost inevitable sale of Dele Alli comes sooner than many would want.

Maybe the manager can pull another rabbit, or a Bamford, out of the hat in the loan market.

But after Tuesday night’s showing, he might need to find another Bamford, Williams, Andros Townsend and Jason Puncheon just to keep his side in the top half come May.

Robinson will be hoping his side’s embarrassing performance against Carlisle was just an unfortunate flash in the pan, and the players were having an off night – though Dons’ record of Tuesday night performances away from home would suggest it was true to form.

There is little to suggest that the team Robinson has assembled has lost faith in the way in which the club operates after the sale of a popular player who was out of contract in a matter of months, and eligible to walk away for nothing in the summer.

What is true though is that something is wrong. The longer this slump in performance goes on for, the more December looks like a blip.

Defeat to Carlisle probably put paid to any realistic chance of a play-off spot this season. It’s now up to Robinson and the chairman to ensure the knock on effects don’t hamper next season too.