IF Dons are parading around stadium:mk with some silverware in May 2013, Karl Robinson will know that his pre-season campaign has been a success.
Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat to Fulham was nothing more than a speed bump for Robinson and his side as they prepare for the real action which kicks-off in less than two weeks at home to Oldham.
Two games against Premier League opposition in the form of Norwich and Fulham have provided Dons with a stern test against teams who face their own important seasons to come, while games against amateur sides in Ireland provided the strike force with a chance to whet their appetites in front of goal ahead of the long League One season to come.
“It has been a good pre-season, but you never know do you?” said Robinson. “I’ll tell you in nine months and we see how we’ve finished! We feel it has been good.
“Damien and his staff have been magnificent over the last five weeks. The boys feel fresh, they feel sharp. We can only go on that and I think it has been excellent. Let’s hope we can walk some silverware around this pitch in May.
“People will look at the fact that we haven’t scored in three games but we’ve created a lot of chances.”
And Dons arguably had the better of the game against Fulham, certainly the better chances, but were disappointed to concede their first goal in such a way. Switching off at a short corner allowed Hugo Rodallega to pounce from point-blank range with 10 minutes to go to edge the friendly in the direction of the team from Craven Cottage.
“Collectively, we switched off at a set-piece. We’re disappointed to concede from something so simple,” said Robinson.
“But they’re Premier League players. Man for man, I didn’t think Fulham looked that much better than us – and they finish in the top 10 in the Premier League consistently. I’m happy with our performance over the last two games.
“We looked lively and we had a lot of people who weren’t available to play too. Powell was ill, Jabo and Mathias both had injuries carried over from that disgusting Kettering pitch coming back to haunt us.
“They’re nursing little niggles, and Jon Otsemobor will be back on Saturday too. He’ll play some part in the game. It’s the best way to start the season with a fit squad.”
After Rodallega’s opener, Dean Bowditch came close to equalising when he got on the end of Ryan Lowe’s cross only to see his shot clip the top of the bar. But Dons’ best chance came from the penalty spot, with the scores level at 0-0.
Robinson said: “You’d bet on Shauny to score the penalty! But he got injured at one end, and ran the length of the pitch to take it.
“He apologised straight away but he’s got nothing to apologise for. I don’t mind people missing penalties when he scores them so often. I’m sure he’ll score the next one!
“I felt we were better today than we were against Norwich. We covered more ground after 70 minutes than we did on Friday so our fitness programme is working.
“We’re trying to overload the players at the moment, so you’ll see a fatigued team on Saturday against Cheltenham before we give them time to recover for the important game against Oldham.”
Saturday’s League Cup first round game will act almost as a final pre-season outing for Robinson and his side. As you’d expect, they’ll travel to the Abbey Business Stadium looking to reach the second round by seeing off Cheltenham, but the manager is treating the Oldham game a week later as the most important fixture in the near future.
Unlike in previous years, the first round of the Cup has not been sandwiched between League One games, and Robinson is delighted to see it moved to act as a prelude.
“I think it’s the perfect way to start,” he said. “Managers always look to get a game as close to competitive as possible to prepare them for the season.
“We always find it hard, the first round, because it’s in the middle of a group of league games. It’s the perfect last game before you start the proper season.
“It’s vital to get off to a winning start, but I think there will probably be more defeats in the season because the teams are so much more even.
“I liken it to the Grand National. Everyone is really fresh at the beginning; each fence brings a new challenge and difficulties to deal with. Each horse has to have the guts and determination to jump them all and keep going.
“Football is no different. Everyone attacks the first game with the same pace and power and it’s one of the more difficult games of the season. We’re going into it full of confidence.
“We may concede silly goals, make mistakes, put crosses and shots over the bar, but you can’t question the attitudes of the players. They show pride and work hard.
“We’ve got more quality this year, there’s a sense of togetherness, and I think we’re already a better team than we were before even before you consider the new players – a goal machine in Ryan Lowe, Smithy’s experience in a number of positions and Otsemobor who is regarded as one of the best right-backs at this level.
“And hopefully we can make another signing before the start of the season, maybe even two more, which will give us even more strength in depth.”