Marathon season ends with a sprint

Dele Alli, Kyle McFadzean, Dean Lewington and Lee Hodson
Dele Alli, Kyle McFadzean, Dean Lewington and Lee Hodson

On Sunday, the League 1 marathon finally came to an end and Dons found themselves heading towards the podium marked ‘Championship.’

The thousands who poured onto the pitch at the full time whistle roared ‘we are going up’ for the second time in the club’s history, though this time it was laced with the element of surprise.

Colchester’s shock 1-0 victory over Preston North End meant promotion dropped into Dons’ lap at the very death.

Karl Robinson’s men did their part with a comprehensive 5-1 win victory over relegated Yeovil, and were in pole position for 83 of the 90 minutes on Sunday.

And despite trailing Preston for nearly two months in the league standings, the final table is the only one that matters.

Few could have predicted the remarkable 12 months ahead when Dons trudged off the field at the end of last season, well beaten by Leyton Orient - themselves embroiled in what would ultimately be a failed play-off campaign.

The team that day dropped to their knees in an altogether different manner. There was no pitch invasion, there were barely any fans left in the stadium by the time they returned for a ‘lap of honour.’

Dons was a club in desperate need of an overhaul. Robinson admitted the core of his side had had their time, and the team he’d built to get the club out of League 1 was over.

He started all over again in the summer. Astute signings met with key loan acquisitions got the ball rolling.

Dons started well with one defeat in their opening six, crowning Benik Afobe as their leading man as he found the net with ease, game after game.

Record victories came against Crewe and then Oldham as Dons’ free-scoring continued through the season as they ended their historic campaign with 101 goals to their name.

It all left them firmly in the hunt, but such was the nature of League 1 this season, so was every one else.

The loss of Afobe in January threatened to throw the season dramatically off course. But his departure to Wolves proved ultimately to be just a bump in the road.

Step forward Will Grigg, who had already netted his fair share of goals in the opening half of the campaign, to become Dons’ leading man.

And there was no more fitting a man to net the 100th goal of the season than Grigg, finishing his loan spell with 23 to his name, and raucous chants of ‘sign him up’ from the MK faithful.

During the course of the season, there were plenty of results which went against the grain, none more so than Preston’s final day defeat.

At one stage, Simon Grayson’s side held a six point advantage over Karl Robinson’s men, and it looked as though Dons would need to scale a mountain to get to where they felt they deserved to be.

A finishing run of 11 games, nine wins and two draws - not to mention the 33 goals - would ultimately surpass Preston’s 17 game unbeaten streak. Ironically, their last defeat came on the day Dons went top of the league. Even more ironically, Dons’ last defeat was against Preston.

The old footballing cliché says the season is a marathon, not a sprint. But in the last two months, League 1 has witnessed a mighty sprint between two clubs desperate to escape to the Championship. Preston may yet find the trap door via the play-offs, but Dons have already crossed the finish line.