THERE are no hard feelings towards Queens Park Rangers, insists Karl Robinson, despite the controversy surrounding last year’s FA Cup third round game at stadium:mk.
Dons were denied a clear first half penalty when Clint Hill handled the ball inside the penalty area, before Dean Bowditch looked as though he’d booked the hosts a spot in the fourth round with a brilliant strike after the break.
However, in the dying moments, Heidar Helguson somehow evaded the offside flag to tuck home QPR’s late equaliser – sparing the Premier League side’s blushes. Replays later showed he was a good few yards offside.
The replay at Loftus Road saw Robinson pitted against a new foe in the opposing dugout, with Neil Warnock sacked after the original tie and replaced by Mark Hughes.
The game again was a close-run thing, although Danny Gabbidon’s second half header was enough to book Rangers a fourth round clash with rivals Chelsea. They went on to lose 1-0, and Chelsea went on to win the Cup.
Despite the injustice felt by the Dons fans and players alike at the time, Robinson says his side aren’t travelling to West London hell-bent on seeking revenge, but keen to go even further in the Cup after making club history by reaching the fourth round.
“I thought we were the better side in both games last season,” said the Dons boss. “But the difference when against a Premier League side is that you’ve got to take your chances when they come along.
“We had two or three gilt-edged chances at Loftus Road and we didn’t put them in the back of the net. They only had one chance from a Buszaky set-piece which David Martin made a wonderful save from, and a header from the following corner cost us the game.
“You have got to make sure you’re always concentrating against the best teams. We’re looking forward to the challenge.
“We felt hard done by at the time, but this is 12 months later and it’s an opportunity to get things right. It’s an historic occasion for us. We want to make history again and make it into the fifth round. But we’re massive underdogs.
“We understand the enormity of the challenge ahead of us, but it’s funny because we’ll have played QPR three times in 12 months and they’ve had three different managers! Neil Warnock to Mark Hughes and now Harry Redknapp.”
Dons are desperate to be in Sunday’s fifth round draw for the first time, but it won’t be an easy task, with the recent spate of injuries crippling Robinson’s side.
He said: “We’ll be down to the bare bones. We’re going to be without four or five key players, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“Bowditch could be a doubt, Powell could also be a doubt, Ryan Harley is a doubt, we’ve still got Stephen Gleeson and Luke Chadwick out obviously too, plus Izale McLeod is cup-tied. But we are getting used to it now!”
The FA Cup is perhaps a welcome break from League 1 action for Dons – even though, come Saturday, they will have played more FA Cup matches in 2013 than league games.
With the recent snowfall forcing Dons’ game with Crewe Alexandra off last Saturday, Dons are already three games and 13 points behind leaders Tranmere Rovers. And it’ll be four by Saturday night after Tranmere take on Swindon, while Dons look to make the national headlines at Loftus Road.
The old adage in football is that you’d rather have the points in the bag than the games in hand, but with two winter-related postponements in the last month – against Doncaster and Crewe – Dons’ fixtures are beginning to mount up.
That will make for a busy February and March for Robinson’s already thin squad, with a lot of midweek travelling involved and some very tough games in store.
Robinson said: “I can’t worry about things I can’t control – but I think we have got three games in hand over Coventry now. It’s important we don’t get frustrated.
“But it’s a long, long road. People think a season is straight forward, but it’s not. It’s ups and downs, the positives and negatives are all part of the Football League season.
“We’ve got a very difficult run-in from now until the end of the season. I need to build the squad up a bit, but we fell we have tremendous quality in the squad.
“We just need to keep everyone fit, and we’ve been unlucky in doing that. I said at the beginning of the season that if we kept everyone fit we’ll be a team that is contending.
“It’s one of the risks of having a smaller squad, but I’d rather have a small squad with higher quality than a big squad with lesser quality. I can always bring the kids through, because I know they’re good enough.”
Despite the weather and missing League 1 games due to FA Cup ties, Dons are still just 13 points adrift of top spot, and that’s with three games in hand.
With seemingly no-one wanting to take the bull by the horns and make a break at the top of the pile by putting a decent run together, the numbers in the running for promotion are getting greater.
There are just six points separating Bournemouth, who occupy the last play-off spot in sixth, and Stevenage in 14th, who have two games in hand over the Cherries.
Though there is still all to play for as the season enters the final three months, Robinson is concerned that, although no-one else has been able to break away at the top, his side haven’t mounted a serious enough challenge to win the title either.
Disappointing results against Walsall and Coventry halted Dons’ progress over Christmas, while the draw at home to Bury two weeks ago was also a spanner in the works, and epitomises Dons’ season as a whole.
And Robinson predicts a rollercoaster ride to the end of the campaign, and says his players will leave nothing behind as they target Championship football next season.
“I don’t think there have been any outstanding teams in the league this year,” said Robinson. “But the top 10 teams have really strengthened and are more competitive.
“If you look at the teams at the top of the league, they have been able to pick the same team week in, week out, and we’ve not been able to do that, and that’s the biggest worry for me.
“There’s a long way to go, with a lot more ups and downs, and we’re ready to face that. What will be will be.
“All we can worry about is our effort and application. There won’t be anything left in the tank by the end of April. We will certainly need that holiday when it comes along.”