JOHN Gorman has conceded that Dons’ attention is now back on the chasing pack, rather than the teams above them in the League One table.
Dons’ defeat to Southampton on Saturday and the Saints’ following win over Charlton on Tuesday night now makes them the big favourites to catch Huddersfield Town in the second automatic promotion spot.
In fact Tuesday’s matches couldn’t have gone much worse for Dons as both Rochdale and Leyton Orient won to narrow the gap on the top six. And Gorman is wary that his side aren’t safe yet.
“I have to admit that maybe Southampton and Hudderdfield are in the driving seat for second position now,” said Gorman. “It’s all about other results now. It could have been in our hands, but we’ve got to rely on other teams now.”
Rochdale maintained their superb run of form - five wins in their last six - when they won 2-1 at Notts County in midweek, while Orient were 2-0 winners against Plymouth, leaving them four and five points adrift of the play-offs respectively.
And going into Saturday’s match against a Carlisle side oozing with confidence after their Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory on Sunday, Gorman admitted that Dons’ focus is now just on securing their position in the top six rather than trying to leapfrog their rivals above them.
“I’ve been in this sort of scenario before,” he said. “But if we can finish the season on a high, and when Saints or Huddersfield do not make the top two, they may be flat and we could take advantage in the play-offs.
“We would have liked to move into third spot, but if we make the play-offs then we will have had a good season. To finish in the play-offs will be a good achievement.
“During the season we’ve had to let some outstanding players go, but we’ve brought a lot of really good young players through the side too.”
All the talk going into the Southampton game was of closing in on the top two, and so Dons’ 3-2 defeat was an extremely hard one to take, ending the club’s run of eight away games unbeaten.
And after seeing the side capitulate in an 11-minute second half spell, Gorman insists that lessons will be learned. He said: “We’ve lost a match but it doesn’t really feel like we have lost it because we weren’t poor at all.
“We can take positives but lessons will be learned. If we lose a goal we can’t afford to switch off and do it again right away. If we go 2-0 up another time we might try and kill the game off a bit more and not let sides get any momentum like Saints did.
“But we don’t fear anyone away any more, ever since we took a point at Exeter and we picked up some confidence we’ve been going out there trying to win every game. We did not go to Southampton looking to draw, we wanted to win.”
Tuesday night’s results have seen Leyton Orient and Rochdale close in on the top six, although the one bit of good news for Dons was that Bournemouth’s slump continued when they crashed 1-0 at Bristol Rovers.
But there’s still plenty of time for things to change - indeed Peterborough could even go second if they win away at Huddersfield this weekend, and Southampton could also move into the automatic places if they take maximum points off Orient and that game ends in a draw or a Posh win.
Gorman admitted that he keeps an eye on how their rivals are getting on, but says he’s happy with Dons’ situation and their run-in.
“We’re happy with the run-in and we’ll be hoping that Orient and Rochdale slip up as well,” he said. “They’ve got a game in hand, and Rochdale have hardly lost a game since we played them. They also picked up a draw with Brighton so we’ve got to respect them.
“So we want them out of the picture and want to get ourselves home and dry. But if and when we play the big fish we know we can win.”
Dons take on Carlisle this Saturday, just six days after the Cumbrians lifted the JPT thanks to their hard-fought 1-0 win against Brentford at Wembley. And Gorman expects a tough ride against the side that he played almost 300 games for in the 70’s.
“They’re very professional and we cannot underestimate them - they don’t care about us making the play-offs. They want to finish as high as possible and it’ll be a very tough game.”