League 1 could be the hardest it has ever been next season, according to MK Dons manager Karl Robinson.
The club, who celebrated their 10th birthday on Tuesday, have spent the last six seasons in the third tier of English football, and have touted their chances of going up each year.
This time though, there’s a more reserved feeling about the squad, not least because it’s not quite complete yet.
The signing of Tom Hitchcock on Tuesday was Robinson’s third of the summer, after Danny Green and Kyle McFadzean put pen to paper at stadium:mk, but the manager admitted he needs at least two more strikers before he can feel happy about his line-up.
But Robinson isn’t ready to declare his side will win promotionthis season.
Even without a notable ‘big fish in the small pond’ like Wolves, Leicester, Leeds or Southampton League 1 has homed in previous years, the manager believes it will be as tough as ever.
And he admits to being ‘disrespectful’ to League 1 in previous years.
“It’s going to be harder this year than last,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you we’re definitely going to go up.
“We have been quite disrespectful to how hard this league is. Only three can go up. It’s a long drag, but we’re looking forward to it.
“I’ve lost a lot of players in the last 12 months, some of the best in the league, so we’re going into the season a little bit unpredictable.
“We’re not sure how the dice are going to roll. But I can assure you there will be a lot of hunger.
“This league is just as difficult as it has ever been.”
And that doesn’t just come on the field. Robinson said he missed out on a few transfer targets simply being out-priced by some League 1 rivals, who have been able to splash the cash in the summer months.
“Some teams are spending ridiculous money,” Robinson said, after quashing rumours he spent £400,000 on Kyle McFadzean from Crawley.
“There are players who we went after but simply couldn’t afford. They went to teams that won’t even be in the top three.”
His coy approach to the aims and ambitions for the season ahead though shouldn’t be mistaken for nervousness. Robinson is far from that.
In fact, he is very optimistic about the squad he is building, despite losing some key hitters in the last 12 months.
And while the likes of Stephen Gleeson, Gary MacKenzie, Ryan Lowe and Shaun Williams have left stadium:mk, the squad is shaping up nicely, according to the manager.
He said: “We lost our style at the back end of the season, our bounce, our swagger.
“We need to find that again because we want to be the entertainers.
“Our back four looks strong, our midfield looks really strong, our front three look exciting, and I want two more strikers.
“But there’s some unpredictability in there for the first time. I don’t know how to judge them yet.”
He’ll have a lot to cast his eyes over before the start of the season too.
While the first team were being put through their paces at Woughton on the Green, 36 trialists were keen to make an impression in front of the Dons recruictment team of Bobby Winkelman and Andy King.
Robinson said: “We’ve recruited players from all over the world. South America, Spain, Portugal, Prague, Greece, Liverpool, Manchester, from all corners. Even one from MK.
“We might get a diamond, we might get nothing.”