JUST a month has passed since MK Dons kicked off their 2012/13 season with an extra time victory over Cheltenham, but so much has happened since.
Wins, draws and losses, plus victory over a Championship side, defeat to League 2 opposition, and four red cards – all that in only eight games.
But while there’s not too much to shout about from the first month of the season, boss Karl Robinson, by equal measure, doesn’t think there’s been too many negatives either.
“It feels like it has been a long season already,” he said. “It has not been too bad a start, but the biggest blot on the book so far is probably Saturday. That and Northampton – they come together.
“And along with the sendings off, it has made it seem even longer. Fatigue is beginning to creep in too, but that’s not why we lost on Saturday. We just didn’t take our chances. We just need to keep creating, and keep believing that what we’re doing is right.”
One-sided affairs don’t come much better than the second half at Sixfields last week as Dons threw everything at the Northampton goal. But the likes of Charlie MacDonald, Dean Bowditch and the rest of the attacking players found they had left their accurate finishing boots 20 miles down the road in the changing rooms at stadium:mk.
And going a goal down against Walsall on Saturday led to an almost carbon-copy of the Sixfields scenario with Dons desperately carving out chance after chance – only for lady luck to once again turn her back on Robinson’s men when they needed her the most.
He said: “We’ve had just under 50 chances in the last two games and haven’t scored a goal. But I’d be more worried if we got beaten 1-0 and had not created any chances along the way – and I was asking where our next goal was going to come from.
“Finishing is something we work on every day, we practise, Ian Wright speaks to them every day. But the keeper keeps making saves, it hits people on the back of the head, hits the post, hits the bar, deflections go up and over the bar.
“But then Northampton hit a shot from 40 yards and it drops into the bottom corner, and then Walsall get a chance, it hits Luke Chadwick on the chest, hits the post and goes in! They were both extraordinary goals from two different ends of the spectrum. It’s just unfortunate.”
The season started, of course, in controversial fashion. Stephen Gleeson was shown a straight red card in the game against Cheltenham for a challenge many expected to get turned over. When it wasn’t, and his three-match ban stood, the same old feelings of ‘us against the world’ began to brew up inside. Then Antony Kay was given a red card after the final whistle against Oldham.
The media joked about the potential for three-in-a-row at Bournemouth before the game kicked off, but few were laughing when Alan Smith was sent off for his first half challenge. And the coincidental snorts were compounded when Dean Lewington saw red four days later at Swindon – prompting an angry post-match press conference, led by chairman Pete Winkelman.
So with the disruption of having up to three players suspended and the media spotlight now shining brightly on the club for all the wrong reasons, did Robinson believe the streak had a negative effect on the team?
He said: “It possibly did, but let’s not go pointing fingers. It would have helped in the Bournemouth game and the Swindon game – we would probably have got more out of the games if they hadn’t been sent off.
“Maybe there’s some tiredness in there too. People like Darren Potter who has played with 10 men for four games!
“But then the best performance came off the back of the red cards against Carlisle. But you’ll hear no excuses from me.”
After the teary-eyed scenes at the end of the play-off campaign in May, few could question the commitment of some of the players that night in Yorkshire.
But with the mixed bag of results Dons have had so far this season – highlighted by the stuttering form away from the home comforts of stadium:mk – some have began to query whether some of the players have lost their passion to get Dons to the Championship.
However, Robinson is adamant that the players and staff are concerned even less about personal accolades, achievements and their pay packets than ever before, putting the club’s position ahead of everything else.
“Defeats hurt us,” Robinson said. “I understand it hurts the fans too – financially as well as having to watch us lose on the pitch, but it still hurts us and it’s not something we like doing.
“It means an awful lot to someone like Stephen Gleeson. This season, he has come on leaps and bounds in the way he conducts himself.
“You’ll see him walk to every corner of the ground clapping the fans now, and that wasn’t a strength of his in previous years. This club means so much to him.
“This year, it’s all about the club and helping the fans to achieve their goals. That’s why it hurts us so much. We take defeats like a fan. We aren’t then laughing and joking on the coach home. We’re very dour driving home. It matters so much to us.
“We want to put it right immediately. We wanted a game this week but the fixtures computer, for once, didn’t put a game in there!”
What the first eight games has provided for Robinson though is the chance to run his eyes over his summer acquisitions. Ryan Lowe, Jon Otsemobor, Kay, Jimmy Bullard and Smith added their names to Dons’ roster before the transfer window came to a gentle close and all have featured in one way or another since.
Fans are still yet to see much of Kay and Bullard though – Bullard signing a little over two weeks ago, while Kay made a positive start to his Dons career before he ruled himself out for three games courtesy of the red card against Oldham.
But the rest are getting to grips with life at stadium:mk, and the manager is keen to see them steadily improve over the coming weeks and months.
He said: “Lowe has had a number of chances, and he should have scored more than he has, but he knows that. In the first half against Walsall, he had three or four good chances but never took them.
“And we’ve got Charlie MacDonald on the bench as well. The competition is healthy between them.
“I thought Jon Otsemobor had his worst performance in an MK Dons shirt on Saturday, but we knew he was going to hit a fatigue period because he wasn’t supposed to play so many games so soon.
“But he’s only going to get better and better. He’s beginning to cement himself in the side and he’s looked very strong in the other games.
“Antony Kay can play anywhere, and has been tremendous to have in the dressing room.
“Jimmy Bullard has come in and made an immediate impact on the dressing room, and we all know what grit and steely determination Alan Smith brings.”
And while the high-profile signings of Smith and Bullard were something Winkelman could only have dreamed of but a couple of years ago, Robinson insists they’re just two more excellent additions to his existing squad, and nothing more.
“They’re not the only big personalities in that dressing room,” he said. “We’ve got plenty from last season, and we’ve got Mick Harford and Ian Wright too. We’re not afraid of having them in there.
“They’re just human beings like the rest of us. That’s what baffles me to a certain extent – we’ve all got lives, just like the fans!
“Just because they’ve played at a higher level, it doesn’t make them different. They’re very grounded human beings and are very lucky to be in this job. They just love playing football. People come here for the football, not the money.”
And if their desire to play football is the only reason they’re here, then getting Dons’ season underway properly – after a somewhat subdued start – won’t be far from their minds.