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This time, Dons columnist Dominic Damesick wonders why more teams aren’t put to the sword at stadium:mk.
Saturday’s game was frustrating – very frustrating. It was an outcome, though, that did not particularly surprise me. Dons can have trouble putting struggling sides to the sword, especially if they set up to play defensively, and when you only manage to net once, as was the case on Saturday, there is of course always the chance that the three points can be snatched away: it could quite easily have also been the outcome of the Hartlepool game last month.
Stadium:mk had been something of a fortress for the Dons this season before Christmas, but the Dons are without a win in the three home games since good old Saint Nick made his annual flying visit to Milton Keynes.
Those three home games have all been against sides below the Dons in the league, but have only brought a return of one point, with eight goals conceded in the process – such stats do not make pleasant reading. Conversely, the Dons are still unbeaten in 2013, still occupy a play-off spot, and are still in the FA Cup, so it need not all be doom and gloom.
So, why could promotion chasing MK Dons not overcome small, struggling Bury? Robinson’s system of patient, possession football can be laborious against sides that play with ten men behind the ball, who are quite happy to just contain the Dons.
Against such sides Robinson may be better to play with two men up front, or to push one of his central midfielders further forward, and really take the game to the opposition. The Dons also require more urgency and vitality to their play, if they are to trouble their opponents, rather than the predictable, walking pace, left-to-right that reigned for long periods on Saturday afternoon.
Of course, the absences of Stephen Gleeson and Luke Chadwick have not helped Robinson’s cause. Ryan Harley, however, looks an able replacement for Gleeson, and has made the Irishman’s broken foot a slightly easier pill for Dons fans to swallow. Thus, perhaps it is the loss of Chadwick that has been more sorely felt.
Yet, injuries are part and parcel of football – Chadwick in particular has had his fair share of injury problems in the past – and so to be so reliant upon one player for providing a consistent outlet of creativity could be seen as dangerous, although perhaps not easily avoided.
A club the size of MK Dons could not possibly afford to have two such high quality options for each position, and so it is inevitable that injuries will have a greater impact on their fortunes, and on those of other lower league teams, than might be the case for the Premiership titans.
Ultimately, then, Robinson will require some squad players to step up to the plate, to at least partially fill the sizeable voids in the squad. The likes of Zeli Ismail and Daniel Powell need to put together the run of consistent performances that have so far eluded them, and although physical condition might limit his role to some extent, if Alan Smith could churn out more performances like the one he delivered against Sheffield Wednesday last weekend it would go some way to compensating for the loss of the Dons other ex-Manchester United starlet.
The next two games should provide a different, and welcome, challenge to the Dons. An FA Cup replay against Championship opposition, followed by an away trip to Crewe Alexandra, one of the surprise packages in League One this season.
I do not expect either of these sides to sit back and hope for the draw, and so perhaps the Dons will be able to better express themselves and avoid a repeat of the frustrating exploits of Saturday’s game.
Plus, if any more motivation was required by Karl Robinson and his men, it’s my birthday on Thursday. I don’t expect a card or a cake, although I wouldn’t say no to a chocolate sponge if Gleeson and Chadwick have the time to rustle something up, but two wins would certainly be a gratefully received gift!