Time for Dons to prove their mettle

MK Dons defender Dean Lewington heads clear an Albion cross during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Milton Keynes Dons at the American Express Community Stadium, Brighton and Hove, England on 7 November 2015. Photo by Bennett Dean. PSI-1119-0008
MK Dons defender Dean Lewington heads clear an Albion cross during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Milton Keynes Dons at the American Express Community Stadium, Brighton and Hove, England on 7 November 2015. Photo by Bennett Dean. PSI-1119-0008

They say nice guys finish last and by and large that statement is right, but no place is that more evident than in sport.

For Dons, finishing last or indeed anywhere in the bottom three would be nothing short of disastrous this season.

So coming off the back of a cruel defeat, with the sour taste of poor refereeing decisions beginning to dissipate and with an international break behind them, it’s time for Karl Robinson’s side to grit their teeth and prove they want to remain at this level.

They’re making all the right noises. In front of a microphone or notepad, players and staff ‘are doing everything we can’ to ensure things are right behind-the-scenes, but for whatever reason, things aren’t going on when the main show begins.

It was never going to be an easy season. There’s no getting around the fact that this squad isn’t as talent-ridden as the one which celebrated promotion against Yeovil, and it is showing when Dons chase a game against sides with that little extra in reserve.

Robinson wasn’t been given the war chest of funds many expected when Dons finally reached the second tier. So while those around them can boast multi-million pound signings, Robinson has had to work with scraps.

But sitting one place and one point above the relegation zone is still a success, according to the manager. If the curtain were to drop now, Dons would still be in the Championship next season. And ultimately that is all that matters at this stage.

But there is no hiding place in this division, and if Dons are going to make it here, they’ll have to step up to the plate now.

That though comes ahead of one of the toughest run of fixtures they’ll have this season. While September was a very tough month for a club still enamoured by the bright lights and stadiums of the Championship, it’s games against the likes of Fulham, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday where Dons will have to make hay if they’re to edge away from danger.

Unfortunately for Dons though, the ‘middle-of-the-road’ Championship clubs have just as much fire-power as the sides in the upper echelons, and Dons are fast becoming one of the teams most will look at for three points, both home and away.

It can all change though. Arguably one of the most unpredictable leagues in the country and indeed all of football, the Championship is known to throw up surprises.

Stringing two or three results together - assuming those results aren’t losses - can spell the difference between trouble and comfort. Even going three games without a defeat can cause a shift in momentum and force teams to look at Dons in a different light.

But it will mean Dons have to grit their teeth and show a meaner, hardier side to their game. While they had to grind out a few results last season, this season they’ve tended to suffer defeats - Burnley and Huddersfield spring to mind.

In difficult circumstances, fancy defensive football has to go out the window, tackles have to be daring but precise, passes have to be pin-point and chances have to be taken.

They cannot afford to maintain the ‘isn’t it nice to be in the Championship’ mentality that perhaps is more accepted in the stands, because if they approach these next run of fixtures feeling like a League 1 side out of their depth, they’ll be treated like one, and will be sent bed with a smacked bottom and no pudding.

A nastier side may indeed be what is required at this stage to ensure they taste something sweeter in May.