Richie Barker has praised the persistence of Dons’ fringe players this season, saying Karl Robinson has a nice headache when it comes to team selection.
The likes of Jordan Spence, Tom Flanagan, Samir Carruthers and Mark Randall have all spent considerable time on the substitutes bench this season, but have performed well when they’ve stepped into the breach in recent weeks.
Robinson has admitted this is the most in-depth squad he has ever put together, and Barker believes this is because of the extra work the fringe players are putting in to get themselves into the manager’s plans.
“When we’re doing work in the week, everyone who could be involved still does the work and still prepares to ensure if they get thrown in, they know what we expect them to do.
“To be fair to Jordan Spence, Tom Flanagan and George Baldock before he got injured, they’ve all knuckled down. Jordan and Tom have reaped the rewards of that.
“Randall’s chances have been few and far between, but he stepped in at Yeovil and was excellent at Barnsley. We need these players if we’re going to be successful. It’s not just about the 11 that start.
“Unfortunately for Tom Hitchcock, he is the victim of others’ success. I think Will (Grigg) and Benik (Afobe) have scored 20 between them, and there can’t be many others to have that already.
“But he’s another one who does extra, but they all do.
“Samir did when he wasn’t in the team, and Carl Baker brings experience. They all want to force their way in.”
Flanagan admitted last week that sitting on the bench is the most frustrating part of being a footballer, something which pleased Barker.
He said: “It’s a positive way to look at it as a footballer. There are an awful lot of players who seem happy to coast through life, picking up their money and not worried about playing.
“Tom Flanagan is not one of those players. In the last few months, he has been coming to be asking for extra help. He does extra, and requests it. He’s determined to get to the next level and force his way into the team. He doesn’t throw tantrums or kick up a fuss. He trains in the right way.”
Dons will have to be at their best for the visit of Mark Cooper’s Swindon Town on Saturday.
The Robins comfortably beat Chesterfield 3-0 on Tuesday night to move ahead of Dons in League 1, while Dons were left to lick their wounds as their Capital One Cup campaign came crashing down with a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United.
But Barker believes Dons react well to defeats, having bounced back from losses against Peterborough and Bristol City with wins in their next games.
“We’ve reacted quite well to defeats this season,” he said. “If getting knocked out of the cup in the last 16 means for the next few weeks we can make a good push in the league, then it may turn into a positive.”