It’s time for Dons to start all over again

Dons team. Pic: Tom Blackman
Dons team. Pic: Tom Blackman
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It’s hardly the world’s best kept secret, but it is worth saying again: Dons need a huge overhaul in the summer if they’re to fight for promotion next season.

The fans know it, the manager Karl Robinson knows it and chairman Pete Winkelman knows it - and fortunately for everyone, all three agree.

Dons looked tired during Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Leyton Orient in the final game of the season, as though the players themselves were keen to write the 2013/14 season off as a bad debt and look to next term.

With the squad at his disposal, finishing 10th is not good enough for Dons. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story, even though using the injury list as an excuse is tiresome.

Looking down the list of 18 names Robinson named in his team on Saturday, as many as nine have question marks hanging over their heads - and that includes Dele Alli, as rumours surrounding his future refuse to go away.

More than anything else though, it felt like the end of an era: the first team Robinson had built had come to an end.

The first signs that it was time for a change came as early as the opening month of the season.

Players like Ben Reeves, George Baldock, Samir Carruthers, Dele Alli and Patrick Bamford were stealing the headlines - all of them under 22-years-old, and all of them making the senior players look on in awe.

What used to be the mainstay of the team - Luke Chadwick, Dean Bowditch, Daniel Powell, Stephen Gleeson, Darren Potter, Shaun Williams - were undoubtedly outshone by the new generation. Robinson’s automatic choices suddenly weren’t so automatic.

“It has run its course,” said Robinson. “We’ve had four exciting, up and down years.

“We’ve been in the top 10, we’ve not bought anyone, we’ve sold players and we’ve developed our own.

“But it has run its course. It happens to the best teams.

“You get to a stage when some of the players have run their race here. The club has to move on now.”

And he’s right. He has left the ball firmly in Stephen Gleeson’s court as to whether he wants to stay at stadium:mk next season, while those whose contracts run out at the end of the season - Izale McLeod, Antony Kay, Alan Smith, Mark Randall and Ryan Hall - have all been told where their future lies. It’s now down to the club to reveal it.

Robinson reckons less than 20 per cent of the team that started on Saturday will be in the starting line-up come August 9 when Dons walk back out into League 1 action.

There certainly aren’t many doubts over Robinson’s preferred starting 11 at the start of this season, but he was made to think again with some of his players. And that wasa good thing. And all was heading in the right direction until Patrick Bamford left in January and the wheels fell off.

After that, Robinson was playing catch-up in a race he was never going to win.

One positive he can take though is that he’s been staring at the problem for five months, day-in, day-out, and knows what the club needs.

He said: “It’s evident where we need to improve. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

“I’m really proud of my four years but I’d agree we’ve taken a step backwards in some areas of the club.

“This isn’t about Karl Robinson. This is about MK Dons.

“Everyone knows we want to be in the Championship, but what you want and what you get is often very different.

“Of course we all want to be in the Premier League, but we don’t deserve to be there.

“We don’t deserve to be in the Championship yet.”