Work off the field could be just as important as the action on it for MK Dons this month as Karl Robinson looks to rebuild for the rest of the season.
Top scorer Patrick Bamford, defender Jordan Spence and wingers Jason Banton and Dale Jennings all returned to their parent clubs last weekend after their loan deals expired.
Dons’ is already a threadbare squad at the best of times, and to lose three key players from the side which won four out of five in December, has come as a real blow to the manager, who had been confident of keeping at least two of the four.
Now though, the hunt begins to find a new jigsaw piece, or three, that will fill the void and keep up Dons’ return to form.
“We will be delving into the loan market,” Robinson said. “We won’t be able to buy anybody, but we always knew where we’d be doing our shopping, so it won’t come as a surprise to anyone.
“I’d like to bring in another striker, and a wide player to replace Dale Jennings.
“Everyone knows I’d have loved to keep hold of Jordan, Dale and Patrick, but the problem is that rather than going out to improve, I have to replace what I’ve lost.”
And he’s hoping that he won’t lose any more stars from his squad, after Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was spotted at the DW Stadium on Saturday, apparently casting his eye over returning midfield ace Dele Alli.
And the 17-year-old certainly raised an eyebrow or two on his return to the side, dominating the midfield against the FA Cup holders in a magnificent 3-3 draw.
Robinson said: “For Dele to return like that, after the string of injuries he has had, was remarkable.
“I know Brendan well and we speak regularly, but I don’t know who he was there watching.
“Liverpool is right on the doorstep so maybe he was just there watching the game.”
Another positive sign for Robinson to come from the Wigan game was the return to the starting line-up for defender Antony Kay, after a hip operation ruled him out for the last two months.
Robinson said: “I was so impressed with Antony Kay - but he can’t claim his scuffed shot was an assist for Patrick’s goal!
“To be out for so long and to come into that game as your first start in a while was exactly what I’ve come to expect from him.
“I could have played Jordan in the defence, because he still had a game on his loan left, but it was important to give Antony some match fitness and he didn’t let me down.”
The 3-3 draw with Wigan on Saturday means Dons now face the unenviable task of playing six games in 17 days
“I don’t know what people realistically can expect from us in January.
“We’ve got Shrewsbury, Wigan, Bristol City away, Crewe away, Preston and Carlisle away - six games in three weeks.
“We’ve given the players a couple of days off to recover from the Christmas period, but there’s little time to do that now.
“It’s a ridiculous situation.”
And should they make it past Wigan in the third round replay, Dons would add yet another fixture to their ever-growing list - that of Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fourth round.
Robinson though isn’t thinking about that just yet,
He said: “It’s another Premier League time, and it’s at home so it should bring in a big crowd.
“Tony Pulis has turned things around there since he took over, but we need to get past Wigan first before we can really look forward to it.”