KARL Robinson says he has identified at least two players he wants to bring to MK Dons in the January transfer window.
Speaking after a comfortable 3-1 victory over Rochdale on Saturday, the Dons manager declared that he is constantly on the lookout for players he feels would add quality to his squad.
He also admitted that a few players may have to go out on loan to get valuable first team action under their belts before the business end of the season.
He said: “There is so much growth and development in this team and it’s making it hard for people to walk away from it right now.
“I want to get some players out on loan – they need to get out and play. But I also want to bring in and strengthen. I know where I want to strengthen, and I’ve got my eye on one or two players I want to bring in.”
Robinson’s comments come after he named arguably his strongest bench of the season, boasting Angelo Balanta, Dean Bowditch, Shaun Williams and Gary MacKenzie, who was called up to the Scottish national squad on Sunday.
Robinson added: “Gary MacKenzie, arguably our best defender, didn’t get in the team today because Tom Flanagan and Mark Beevers are doing so well.
“Angelo Balanta, Dean Bowditch and Shaun Williams have all been in the team for long periods this season and are now fighting to get back in. Jabo Ibehre has taken his chance, Charlie MacDonald is back, and we seem to have strength in depth.”
Despite going a goal behind, Dons were a different class and dominated proceedings against Rochdale. First half strikes from Adam Smith, Charlie MacDonald and Mark Beevers were enough to see off the League 1 strugglers. And it could have been more had Dons taken their second half chances.
“It was convincing, professional,” said Robinson. “We played good football and stretched the game. We took our chances in the first half, but didn’t in the second which was disappointing.
“It could have been four, five or six, and on any other day it could’ve been. Angelo Balanta hit the post, Charlie MacDonald went just wide, Powell’s one-on-one – they were all gilt edged chances.
“We had a point to prove in the first half, and the way they responded to a freak goal was excellent.”
Whether he meant it or not, Brian Barry-Murphy’s incredible free-kick eight minutes in handed Dale the lead against the run of play. Stood just off the touch line, Barry-Murphy brilliantly bent a free-kick into the packed box, but the curling set-piece caught David Martin unawares as it sailed over the keeper into the top corner to put the visitors 1-0 up.
Not put off by going a goal behind though, it took another incredible strike, this time from Smith, to tie things up after 16 minutes. Receiving the ball nearly 40 yards from goal, the on-loan Spurs man took the ball forward, spotted an opportunity and let fly, leaving keeper David Lucas absolutely no chance as the ball flew into the net – one of the strikes of the season so far.
With the bit between their teeth, it took Dons just five minutes to take the lead from an excellent flowing move down the right. Smith, with chants of ‘shoot’ from the crowd ringing in his ear, found Daniel Powell racing down the flank.
He easily out-muscled Stephen Jordan and cut into the area before squaring to MacDonald who had the simple task of putting Dons 2-1 ahead after a breathless 21 minutes.
Dons weren’t willing to let Dale settle though as they continued to dominate, playing much of the game in their opponent’s final third as they sensed blood.
And their reward came after 31 minutes when some excellent work on the left flank from MacDonald allowed space for Luke Chadwick to square across the box for Beevers to bundle over the line, doubling the lead at 3-1.
With some breathing room, Dons let off the gas a little going in towards half time. This allowed Rochdale to build up some momentum in the midfield, where they had been thoroughly out-classed before.
This spell though was cut short as Dons countered brilliantly with Chadwick and Ibehre, and Gleeson fired narrowly past the upright with the home side settling for a 3-1 advantage at the break.
Seconds after the restart and MacDonald could have added his second when he brilliantly turned Marcus Holness, but with Lucas wrong footed, his effort dropped just wide of the post. And when the keeper had to tip Chadwick’s effort around the post, it showed that Dons were not willing to rely on their three first half goals.
After a fairly anonymous first half, Ibehre came into his own in the second. Proving to all that he’s not just a powerful runner, the front-man showed off his box of tricks with a series of step-overs and twists to hold on to possession, as well as his usual reliable hold-up play in the centre of the park. And his efforts were rewarded by a standing ovation from the Dons fans when he left the field late in the game.
Unlike in previous weeks, Dons were able to exploit their opponent’s using the wings. Powell was enjoying plenty of freedom on the Dons right, while Chadwick made use of similar space on the opposite flank as they regularly got in behind Dale.
But for all their possession and territory, Dons failed to make a meaningful impression on keeper Lucas as the half wore on, though Martin was hardly troubled at the other end either – a Gary Jones shot from range straight at him the only time he was really called into action as the points looked to be in the bag for the home side.
Dons really should have extended their lead seven minutes from time following a calamitous error at the other end. Two Dale players collided with each other on the edge of the box as they both shaped to hit the same ball and it broke to Ibehre.
Spotting Powell’s run, he played him through and the young winger burst over the halfway line and into the box unchallenged. But he should have looked up and squared to substitute Bowditch who was in acres of space, but instead Powell’s shot was well saved by Lucas’ feet and the ball bounced to safety.
Substitute Balanta then hit the outside of the post with a terrific effort from the edge of the box late in the game, but the three first half strikes were enough to hand Dons all three points.
After the defeat against Sheffield United last month, Robinson said a side would be on the end of a ‘heavy defeat’ some time soon. But while the scoreline doesn’t suggest Rochdale took a hammering, Dons were firmly in control throughout.
“John (Gorman) said that the performance felt like when he was at Swindon in the Premier League,” said Robinson.
“They passed the ball, were neat and tidy for 15 minutes, and the Liverpools, Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals just went goal, goal, goal with some cut-throat finishing and pure quality. That’s what it felt like.
“We were a team with direction, hungry for success. We didn’t start right but we rolled our sleeves up and got themselves out of trouble.
“It was comfortable, but I felt comfortable last week against Walsall. What a good result that was too, they’ve gone to Huddersfield and got a point. It shows this league is so unpredictable.”
And no one would have predicted the strike to level things up. Smith’s first goal for the club since joining on loan from Tottenham in August will be one of the goals of the season, and one of the best seen at stadium:mk for a long time.
And Robinson believes that Smith is more than capable of playing regularly for his parent club, and he admitted that Dons would need to secure promotion to the Championship to keep the full-back next season.
“Smith’s was a wonder-goal. I had a bet with him that he wouldn’t score all season,” said Robinson.
“To keep people like Smithy we need to be in the Championship. He works hard every day to develop his game. We cannot compete with the money side, we can try and keep these sorts of players. He’s only going to get better as the season goes on.
“He could play at the highest level. I watched Spurs’ game against Rubin Kazan last week, and I bet he was sitting at home thinking ‘I could be playing in that’ but didn’t mope or sulk, came in and scored a worldie for us. He goes away for England now, that’s three since he’s been with us.”
MacDonald’s first goal since returning from injury also put a huge smile on his manager’s face on a day when his predecessor Sam Baldock scored once again for West Ham.
Robinson said: “I paid money for Charlie for a reason. He’s the only one I’ve put money towards since I’ve been here. A lot of hard work went into getting him. And he’s proving us right.
“He’s a class act, his hold-up play is excellent. Having him back in the squad is only good news.”