Primal insticts must kick in soon as Dons enter battle for survival

MK Dons players arrive at the stadium before the EFL Sky Bet League 1 match between AFC Wimbledon and Milton Keynes Dons at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, Kingston, England on 14 March 2017. PSI-3497-0008
MK Dons players arrive at the stadium before the EFL Sky Bet League 1 match between AFC Wimbledon and Milton Keynes Dons at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, Kingston, England on 14 March 2017. PSI-3497-0008

Around Stadium MK, ambitious talk of a late charge for League 1’s top six has been quashed, replaced with talk of survival.

One win in the last seven and just six points from a possible 24 has seen Dons’ somewhat pie-in-the-sky dream of an immediate return to the Championship unfold unceremoniously into a fight for safety.

Under Robbie Neilson’s guidance, home form has dramatically improved, with just one defeat at Stadium MK since the turn of the year, but the away form has been stuttering at best, the most recent defeat at AFC Wimbledon just desserts for the, at times, unimaginative approach to games on the road.

But now just six points above the relegation zone and key games against fellow strugglers Coventry City and Port Vale on the horizon, Dons must address their lethargic slide back towards the bottom four.

The battle to beat the drop though, rather than a race for a play-off spot, has always been the primary objective, according to the manager.

“We are where we are - we knew that when we came, the key was to stay up, build and try and push,” said Neilson after Tuesday night’s defeat to AFC.

“Now we have a massive game on Saturday against Coventry.

“We’re going through a difficult time, but we have to win on Saturday. We wanted to win today, but we haven’t and now we move on.

“I think we have to get to 50 points, and from there we can move on.

“The sooner we get there, the better. It has been a difficult season for everyone.

“But the key is to stick together and making sure we remain positive - get to the end of the season and rebuild.

“Every game is a must win for us. It’s a huge game (on Saturday), but it’s one we expect to win and get a performance.

“We have to come into work tomorrow and be positive to be ready for it.”

With more and more pressure mounting on the existing squad, and plenty of contracts up at the end of the season, Neilson faces a huge rebuilding project in the summer if Dons are to approach the next campaign with any real ambition of a top half finish, let alone in the top six.

Still largely operating with the fragments of Karl Robinson’s relegated Championship side, fundamental changes must be afoot to stop the rot and mount something of a recovery after two dire seasons on the pitch.