League 1 heroes may have to fall on the sword

David Martin, Karl Robinson and Dean Lewington
David Martin, Karl Robinson and Dean Lewington

There is room for sentiment in a lot of elements in life, but it is quickly becoming apparent that there isn’t a place for it in football.

Ten of the starting line-up in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest ended last season triumphantly, getting automatic promotion from League 1 at the very death.

MK Dons vs Leeds

MK Dons vs Leeds

Clearly a class above last season, it has hardly been a walk in the park in the second tier. The jump in standards all over the pitch has taken the club by surprise and that is painfully evident in both boxes.

Both of Nottingham Forest’s goals in the opening 16 minutes came after defensive howlers allowed first Nelson Oliveira and then Ryan Mendes to give the home side a comfortable advantage. It could have been even worse had Oliveira angled his shot two inches the other way to make it 3-0 barely had the dust settled on the second goal.

Allowed back into things as Forest sat back, Dons eventually looked the better side in the second half, but in chasing the game from so early on, they negated any chance of taking anything other than a point home with them. As it turned out, they took nothing.

Taking three points from three games in seven days, despite ‘dominating’ for large parts in all, three isn’t going to be enough for Karl Robinson’s side this season. Playing well and getting nothing isn’t going to help either.

MK Dons vs Cardiff

MK Dons vs Cardiff

So it leads to a question many have been thinking but probably haven’t dared utter yet: is it time for a changing of the old guard?

The back four has been a source of discomfort all season long. From Antony Kay giving a goal away at Bristol City, Kyle McFadzean doing the same at Huddersfield, David Martin’s indecisiveness and Dean Lewington’s inability to track back quickly enough at Nottingham Forest, the gifting of goals long before the Christmas period, while generous, is hardly a way of ensuring Dons a place among the Championship establishment.

The likes of Darren Potter will never set the world alight when it comes to snatching headlines, but as the lynchpin, he has dealt with the step up, while Samir Carruthers took a while to find his feet but in recent weeks has dislodged the more than capable Diego Poyet and has been a positive force in Dons’ forward motions.

Scoring goals, like keeping them out at the other end, has been a key issue too for Dons. Though Carl Baker is Dons’ top scorer, he hasn’t hit the heights which earned him Player of the Year last season. Dean Bowditch has been hit and miss despite his three goals and Ben Reeves has shone in patches but has struggled with injury and intermittent form. Rob Hall was perhaps over-confident in his approach and lost his way but looks a threat again, while Josh Murphy and Daniel Powell can look both dangerous and lost in equal measure at times.

The centre forwards have barely had the same service the likes of Grigg and Afobe enjoyed last year, so judging them with the same yard-stick would be extremely critical. But when Dons cry out for someone up top to do something special, volunteers are sadly lacking.

Of course, changing the entire squad is totally out of the question. In fact, almost all of the 28 players could do a job on a day. But Dons need a spark, need a new talisman, need something... else.

This isn’t anything Robinson doesn’t already know and he has openly admitted he will need to chop in order to change. It may mean sending back ineffective loan players, luxury summer signings or projects for the future in order to get the ball rolling.

But just as likely it might take one of the familiar heroes to suffer the axe before things can get better. And Robinson has to be brave enough to put that into motion, should the time come.