IF Sunday’s dramatic climax to the Premier League season has taught us anything, it’s that football has the potential to throw up the unexpected, and games can be turned on their head in a matter of seconds.
Stranger things have happened than Dons winning at Huddersfield by two goals or more, but if Karl Robinson’s men are to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in Football League play-off history on Tuesday night, then no-one could begrudge them their big day out at Wembley next weekend.
That seems unlikely at the moment, but so did Manchester City winning the league title for the first time in 44 years going into stoppage time against QPR at the Etihad Stadium.
Dons certainly have the ability to go to the Galpharm and win, and Robinson is adamant that they have the desire. Now they need to prove it, and a little bit of luck along the way wouldn’t go amiss.
The Dons boss was left scratching his head for answers as to why Saturday’s League 1 play-off semi final first leg at stadium:mk went so badly wrong.
He described the game as ‘weird’ and was clutching at straws slightly when he blamed the officials for the visitors’ second goal – coming from a throw-in deep in the Dons half after his side were caught out by Huddersfield’s Lee Novak returning to the pitch after receiving treatment off it.
The reality is that Huddersfield were the better team on the day. Dons lost their concentration twice and were ultimately punished for it. Firstly when Jordon Rhodes rose highest to head home a perfect Novak cross just after the half-hour mark, and secondly when Rhodes turned provider for Jack Hunt to beat David Martin from inside the penalty area after the aforementioned throw-in.
Huddersfield should have already been two up by that stage, but Novak dragged his shot just wide after being put through one-on-one against David Martin.
Dons had chances of their own, most notably when the ball landed at the feet of Dean Lewington barely six yards out after a free-kick was pumped into the box, but the skipper could only fire straight at Ian Bennett. And when Jabo Ibehre’s injury time header was brilliantly stopped by the veteran keeper.
However, Robinson believes he saw enough weaknesses in the Terriers to give him hope of pulling off a dramatic turnaround. To do that Dons will have to do what they have not done all season – win away at one of the top six.
He said: “They really got amongst us and made it difficult for us, especially in midfield. I just know that was not us at our best, and that’s one of their best performances I’ve seen.
“They’re a good team. The gulf in teams is night and day and they’ve got tremendous assets in different areas.
“We just didn’t perform. It wasn’t a lack of effort – we definitely tried, and tried to get in their faces – and we almost got the chances. We had enough, but didn’t turn them into goals.
“I’ve not got the resources that they have, but I’ve got heart and hunger, and great men. We can play better, that’s the best they’ve got,” he said.
Dons have scored two or more goals away from home in League 1 games on 10 occasions this season, but will need to create a lot more chances than they did on Saturday against a Huddersfield side that has conceded twice at home only five times. The danger for Dons will be that, as they push forward to try and find a way back into the game, Simon Grayson’s men could hit them on the break and put the tie to bed early on.
“You’ve got to have belief in yourself and belief in the person next to you,” said Robinson. “If you can exploit their complacency then the nerves will kick-in, but first you’ve got to get the complacency.
“I’ve seen weaknesses I know we can capitalise on. I just see something in this. I’ll find more weaknesses than what I know in my head already – I will find them.
“I just think the world of my players. Regardless of what happens I think the world of them. I really care for every single one of them – and I know they care for the staff as well.
“There’s a tremendous respect amongst us all. We know we’ve not done ourselves justice, and I think it’s stand up and be counted time. And I know they will. You ask questions of these people and they respond in the right manner.
“I said to them they had to have the heart, the hunger, the desire and the quality to go through. We had the first three components, but our quality was not quite there at the key moments.
“We know we can go there and turn this around.”
With more than 15,000 Huddersfield fans expected to turn out for the game, Dons supporters who make the trip north to West Yorkshire will do well to make themselves heard on the night.
On the face of it everything seems to be conspiring against Dons winning the tie, but that will only make their success all the more sweeter if they do pull off an incredible comeback.
Huddersfield have previous when it comes to throwing away first leg leads in the play-offs, most notably when they lost at home to Barnsley in 2006 having won 1-0 at Oakwell.
One thing is for sure though. If Dons do pull off the remarkable, the scenes of celebration will surpass even those in the wake of Sergio Aguero’s injury time winner.