Dons have to raise their game against smaller teams says Gleeson

Stephen Gleeson marked his return against Doncaster with a goal. He scored another against Tranmere
Stephen Gleeson marked his return against Doncaster with a goal. He scored another against Tranmere

Stephen Gleeson admitted having doubts about MK Dons’ play-off credentials after Tuesday night’s shock 3-2 defeat to Shrewsbury, but knows the dream is still alive after Saturday’s win over Tranmere.

The Irish midfielder made his first start for three months in the 3-0 win over Rovers, scoring the second goal of the game after Dean Lewington opened the scoring.

Dons closed the gap to the play-off spots to nine points with nine games remaining and stay 13th in League 1, but vitally they remain in with a shot of the top six and a chance of promotion.

But Gleeson admitted that after Tuesday’s defeat, some doubts began to creep into the players’ minds.

He said: “On Tuesday night it was hard to take because we didn’t play too badly, but it hurt. I wouldn’t say our chance had completely gone, but on Tuesday we sat down and said to each other ‘this is it. We need to win seven on the remaining games’ so it’s now six. But we now have to win on Tuesday against Crewe.

“I think if you look at the top eight teams and our results against them, we’d be right amongst it. But it’s the team that the fans expect us to beat that we’ve let ourselves. We beat Doncaster, we drew at Sheffield United, we beat Tranmere, but we lost at home to Shrewsbury.

“We need to look at ourselves. We need to look at whether we’re motivated to play Shrewsbury at home when it’s cold on a Tuesday night. I think it’s a problem that we’ve had this season and it’s something we need to look at. Again, this Tuesday we have to go to Crewe and if we can’t win there, all this means nothing.

“We are nine points off, so we’ve clawed three points back. We need six wins and that might get us in. But we need to win on Tuesday. If we lose, it’ll be more or less over.

“We know we haven’t got much pressure on us at the moment so we can go out and play our game.

“It is our last chance on Tuesday. Whatever 11 goes out onto that pitch, they know they’ve got to give it 100 per cent. There’s a chance we can still do it. There’s always a team the team sneaks in and hopefully this year it can be us.”

His shock inclusion in the squad which beat Doncaster less than two weeks ago was met with a huge ovation by the Dons supporters, not expecting to see Gleeson return from his broken foot for at least another month.

But after getting 10 minutes and a goal against Doncaster, a further 30 minutes against Sheffield United and an hour against Shrewsbury, Gleeson started against Tranmere and added a second strike on his return.

Gleeson said: “It has been a great recovery. The manager told me I was starting on Thursday so it was all about recovery after getting 60 minutes on Tuesday. I’ve been working hard with the fitness team, so I’ll be working on Sunday and Monday to be fit for Crewe. If you asked me now though, I’d have to say no.

“My metatarsal is fine, it’s actually my ankles and my right foot now. It’s just down to not playing and then coming back and pounding it, training on it and playing two games a week.

“I want to play but I feel about 50 years old!”

The 26-year-old also admitted he wasn’t the best person to be around when he was injured and couldn’t bring himself to watch Dons while he was sidelined.

He said: “Words can’t explain how frustrating it was (to be injured). I cannot watch a team I’m involved in so it was so frustrating. While I was out, we only won one game in the league, and all I wanted to go was be out there and affect it. Being up in the stands, I couldn’t do that.

“But now I’m really enjoying training, really enjoying playing all the minutes I get. When it’s taken away, it’s the worst feeling you’re ever going to feel. In that sense, it has helped me cherish every moment. It’s not a long career, so anytime I play I’m going to play with a smile on my face.”

But his return to first team action was met with a huge ovation from the Dons fans, and their constant support is something that the Irishman will carry with him for a long time to come.

“It has been amazing and it’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” he said. “We’ve not always got on, me and the fans. I remember getting some stick after I was sent off against Yeovil last year.

“But it’s something I’ve worked on, I’ve settled down and I’ve done well this year. Two years ago, if I had this injury, I’d have been an even bigger nightmare. It means so much for the fans to cheer me like they have.”