So far so good for Dons’ rookie boss

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IT’S still all to play for at stadium:mk as Dons enter the second half of what’s been an up-and-down season.

Saturday’s draw at Exeter City marked the half-way point in the 2010/11 League One season - and Karl Robinson’s first full season in football management.

Going purely on results - 10 victories, 10 defeats and three draws - Dons are about as middle of the road as they could get.

They sit eighth in the table, just a point off the final play-off place, and could still mount a good charge for the automatic spots as they start a busy new year period.

But looking deeper than results alone, Dons seem to be in far better shape than the league table dictates.

Twelve months ago the pressure was starting to mount on Paul Ince during his second tenure at the club - while the team enjoyed a better first half of the season compared to this, results were beginning to suffer and the style of football was unattractive.

Fast forward a year and stadium:mk is becoming a fortress for Robinson’s Dons, with just one defeat at home this season and a Premier League scalp in Blackpool after one of the best games ever played in the city.

But by the manager’s own admissions, away form is like ‘night and day’ with just two wins and a draw to show from Dons’ 12 league road trips.

The team Robinson inherited was largely similar to the one left to his predecessor, and the astute signings of David Martin, Lewis Guy and Angelo Balanta have bolstered his numbers and been the stand-out performers for Dons this term.

However, out the door have gone last season’s top scorer, Jermaine Easter, and the club’s second highest scorer in its history, Aaron Wilbraham. And Balanta’s ankle injury has ruled him out until April.

So numbers are now thin on the ground, but for the first time in many years there is competition for most places on the pitch, and the players look determined to keep their places in the starting line-up.

The standout results from the season so far have been both positive and negative. Dons’ re-arranged home clash with Southampton put to bed the ghosts of last season with a brilliant 2-0 win.

However, thumpings at lowly Tranmere and high-flyers Huddersfield Town put ends to any momentum Dons built up in games previous, making it all the more difficult to make a concerted effort to cement themselves in the play-offs.

Fortunately for Robinson and his team, few sides have been able to take advantage of their slip-ups when they have come, and it means the top six places are still well within reach, although teams as low as 18th could still claim to be just two wins from their own promotion dreams.

Managers are a commodity in football, and while Dons finally enjoyed a pre-season campaign already knowing who their manager would be, Robinson is still on a 12-month rolling contract and his position will no doubt be evaluated at the end of the season, whether Dons make the play-offs or not.

Top six rivals Charlton and Peterborough have both sacked their managers in recent weeks, but Robinson is likely to be given time to develop his squad, especially in light of the lack of funds made available to him.

Players like Daniel Powell coming through the ranks must give the manager confidence in his side’s ability to make a real go of things for the rest of the season, but he wouldn’t be human if he doesn’t feel the pressure to achieve what his chairman craves.

Saturday’s home game with Tranmere is another must-win one for the club, with Rovers struggling near the foot of the table.

The fixture list has been kind this January, and come the end of the month Dons could be in an even stronger position. That would add weight to Robinson’s argument that, even if it doesn’t happen this season, he would be worth another crack at it next.