THE record-breaking FA Cup run is over – now the hard work has to start if Dons are to achieve their target of Championship football next season, writes Toby Lock.
The drama, the highs and highers of the Cup run – which saw Dons face and beat AFC Wimbledon for the first time, and reach the fourth and fifth rounds for the first time – can all be put to bed as they get back to the real nitty gritty, reversing the rot which has seen them slip to 12th in the League 1 standings.
Realistically, Dons were never going to win the FA Cup, and the longer the run went on, they risked the financial reward of cup progression for their ever degrading league form.
The romance of the cup wasn’t lost on boss Karl Robinson, but neither was the slide down the rankings and the ever growing gap between them and the play-off spots.
So when it finally came to an end on Saturday at the hands of Barnsley, Robinson admitted that he wasn’t too heartbroken about it.
“It’s a good thing I think,” he said. “The FA Cup game was a bit of glitz and glamour to that.
“I take solace from the whole FA Cup run. They are iconic moments in club’s histories, and this year, the FA Cup has put a lot of demons to bed.
“We went into the AFC Wimbledon game hated, and we came out of it with people thinking ‘they’re actually alright, aren’t they?’
“After the Sheffield Wednesday game, people thought ‘they’re having a good cup run’ and then after what we did to QPR, everyone was thinking ‘what a good club’ and at that time we were sixth in the league.
“Since then we’ve fallen away. We didn’t manage to balance ourselves between the league and cup in that period. But we are where we are.
“After we played Oldham, we drew a line under the league table and we looked at what we had done so far. We’ve produced some of our best football against the teams around us.
“In the lesser games, we’ve been a bit more inconsistent, maybe that’s a lack of thought process or maybe the attitude sometimes. But the attitude is normally quite good.
“Doncaster, for us, was the start of a new season. I can’t see a team at the top really pushing. Bournemouth are stuttering, Doncaster haven’t won in four or five, and I heard a stat that Brentford haven’t won in eight – and they’re spending millions. It has been really weird this season.
“Whatever happens for the rest of the season, it will make me a better manager, and it’ll make everyone who wants to be at this club better people.
“Should we be doing better? Yes. Have we underachieved so far? Yes, and we have to take the criticism for that. But this season is far from over.
“The sun’s starting the shine, I feel we’re in a good place, and it’s now time to kick start our season again and see where it takes us.”
The players will have next to no time to recover after Saturday’s huge clash at Carlisle as they travel the length of the country to play Portsmouth next Tuesday.
The club’s finances can’t quite stretch to flying the staff up to the Scottish borders and then down to the south coast in a matter of days. But as the games start to ebb away, they’ll need to put their travel-weary minds to the task and put in a shift as daunting as the 371 miles between the grounds to get back into contention for promotion.