The disappointment and pain is still in the air at stadium:mk as Dons face up to the grim reality of another season in English football’s third tier.
Though Swindon’s 3-0 win over Stevenage meant Dons’ result against Scunthorpe mattered not a jot, their 1-0 defeat hammered home an unsettling point: Dons haven’t been good enough this season.
That is no secret or taboo subject to Karl Robinson, his staff or his players. They know, and have admitted as much.
The rather subdued ‘lap of appreciation’ after Saturday’s defeat to Scunny was as much an apology as it was a send-off for Dons’ supporters – both parties coming to terms with a fifth year in League 1 turning into a sixth.
Robinson has already met with chairman Pete Winkelman to discuss the way the season has panned out, and they both know they have fallen short of the mark.
Robinson said: “He’s not happy, but why should he be? We fell from a great height and it’s a reflection on us all. He still has a burning desire to get up, but there’s been an outlay financially for him, so it’s more sour.
“We’re not in a good place right now, but we know why and the reasons are obvious to us all. And we have to make sure they change.”
For the boss, the season began to unravel just before Christmas time when two of his most important players were extinguished for three months.
The blow of losing both Stephen Gleeson and Luke Chadwick was reflected in the results. In the 15 matches Gleeson missed, Dons won just one league game, while Chadwick’s return five games earlier saw Dons turn three straight losses into four draws in a row.
Add to the mix an injured Gary MacKenzie and niggles to Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell, and Robinson admits he simply could not cope with the number of problems his side were dealing with.
“You have to set your stall out with your strongest 15 or 16 players, and ours is arguably strong enough to go up,” he said.
“But without four or five of them, we weren’t prepared. We spent the budget on the core players, and probably should have kept some spare to bring in extras. But it would have meant we didn’t have the strongest team at the start.”
Talk of Robinson’s future is nothing new. His name has been among the favourites for every available job in the Championship for three years now. However, many have still questioned whether or not this would prove to be his last at stadium:mk.
The man himself though is planning for another term with the club, but isn’t shying away from where he aims to be in a matter of years.
He said: “The chairman knows my ambition – I want to be in the Premier League and my dream would be to do it with this club. This is the club that gave me the chance and made me who I am.
“I’m already rebuilding for next season. But if it comes to a point where the club has to get rid of me for whatever reason, then it’s one of things I have to accept.
“And if someone comes in for me, they’ll get financially rewarded too. But I’m still in love with this city.
“It’s like a marriage. You go through good and bad times, but the loyalty will remain – regardless of how many arguments you have.
“My future is, right now, in the hands of the Gods and no-one knows where that will be. But for now, I’m trying to sign players for next season. I’m on a cheaper budget, but maybe it’ll be better than ever.”
The only way to judge that will be in a year’s time, and whether he is managing a football club destined for the Championship.