SPEAKING to Karl Robinson this week, you’d never have guessed his side had just lost two games in a row, and also lost two starters through suspension, writes Toby Lock.
Despite the Arctic winds blasting across the club’s Woughton on the Green training pitch, the Dons boss commented on the sunshine and the joy of seeing his players – almost all of his players – turn up early for a double session.
Only Stephen Gleeson, watching on from the pavilion, was absent from the session, which saw Luke Chadwick, Daniel Powell and Gary MacKenzie make their returns to the fold after recent injuries.
Buoyed by their returns, Robinson was upbeat, despite things not going to plan on the pitch lately, including Ryan Lowe and Anthony Kay being sent off in their last two defeats.
Those back-to-back defeats against Yeovil and Bournemouth have brought Dons back down to terra firma after the 4-2 victory over QPR, but Robinson can see brighter times on the horizon to cheer him up.
“I think it’s seeing Luke Chadwick being back, Gary MacKenzie being back, and Daniel Powell being back,” Robinson said. “It takes it out of you. It’s tremendous to have them back. They’re strong characters. But they’re all still a few weeks from full fitness.
“MacKenzie has had a hip problem and missed two thirds of the season and Gleeson has missed two thirds of the season.
“Don’t think this is an excuse, but MacKenzie was tipped to be the best centre half in the league, and Gleeson was in team of the year last year rated at over £2 million. He was probably our player of the year.
“And Chadwick is arguably the catalyst in this team, and he’s been out. Powell has missed a third of the season too.
“I’ve been really motivated by the fans in the last few days too. I have never been stopped so many times in my life, to say ‘well done’ and it means so much. People ask me why I haven’t moved on to other clubs. That’s why.”
With the exception of Gleeson, Dons could be back to full strength in a matter of weeks – just in time as the fixture list begins to show its teeth with 13 games, eight away from home, to be played by the end of March.
But Robinson is sure that his side will make the best of what’s in front of them, making a bold statement along the way too.
“We’re the best team in the league – bar none. I don’t care what anybody says,” Robinson declared.
“I know my strongest team, and I back this team to get us out of the league. I saw the league would be a bit easier to an extent, and I expected us to keep our best players fit.
“Eight teams in this league have spent £1 million plus. But I’m not disheartened. I’m in a really good place at the moment, and I’m really excited about the rest of the season.”
Usually, when a team faces four away league games on the bounce, the players would be keen to get back home. But at stadium:mk of late, Dons have been far from their best.
Their last league success came on December 15 with a lackluster 1-0 win over a poor Hartlepool side, with their only point since coming against Bury in a 1-1 draw.
Back-to-back defeats at Christmas added to their woes before Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Bournemouth saw Dons slip to 11th place in League 1. And Robinson isn’t sure that playing at home is suiting his side at the moment.
“Our home form has been ridiculous so I’d say probably not!” Robinson joked. “We’ve not really played that badly, except for maybe the Walsall game.
“We’ve had two bad games in a row and everyone’s down. Our league form at home hasn’t been the best in the last month, and it has made things more difficult for us.
“But I’ve got a team that fights and puts everything in. It’s about bouncing back now and giving it a right good go.
“Our league schedule at the moment is the worst in the country. And our injury list is the worst in the country. We’ve had the most sendings off – it really has been backs against the wall.”
Dons’ next home league game isn’t until March 2 when Preston visit stadium:mk. By that time, Robinson’s men could be looking forward to an FA Cup quarter final, and their League 1 destiny will also look a little clearer.