DONS columnist Dominic Damesick isn’t too concerned that the club’s unbeaten run came to an end on Saturday.
On Saturday the Dons’ impressive unbeaten run came to an end with a late winner for Brentford at Griffin Park. It was a reversal of roles for the Dons, and a reversion to seasons gone by, to be the victims of a goal in the dying stages.
Over the course of their nine-match unbeaten run Karl Robinson’s side had netted key goals in the last five minutes against Sheffield United, Tranmere, Shrewsbury and AFC Wimbledon – earning the club an extra five points and a place in the FA Cup Third Round in the process.
I was slightly disappointed with the FA Cup draw, which pitted the Dons against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, as in the cups I tend to hope for one of two things – a home draw, or an away game at a ground I have never visited. However, on reflection, I do enjoy going to Hillsborough, a place unsurprisingly imbued with a strong sense of history and status. The atmosphere on previous excursions to the home of the Owls has been good too, and with this being the one chance this season for Dons’ fans to visit the famous Wednesday, following their promotion last season, the draw could certainly have been less kind.
Back to Saturday, and I must admit to feeling somewhat resigned when Clayton Donaldson bundled the ball over the line in the 89th minute. It was no less than Brentford deserved for their performance, and it was surprising in many ways that the Bees had taken so long to secure the three points.
The fact that David Martin let in three goals and yet was still a strong contender for man of the match says it all. Nobody played particularly poorly for the Dons, but Brentford just looked sharper and stronger. They worked the ball forward quickly, were not afraid to run at the Dons’ defence or get shots off, and were tireless in pressing the Dons and cramping them for space. The Dons were forced to play more long balls than is customary, to relieve the build-up of pressure, but Ryan Lowe, Luke Chadwick and Angelo Balanta all struggled to retain possession against a physical, intelligent Brentford back-line.
While for the fan it is perhaps easier to stomach a defeat when the opposition have clearly been the better side, it is surely better, when viewed from a manager’s perspective, to lose a game despite being dominant, rather than from simply being outclassed. This is not to say that I believe Brentford are a superior side to the Dons in general, or completely outperformed the men from Milton Keynes– but they certainly deserved the three points the men on Saturday afternoon, and Robinson must move quickly to identify why that might have been the case and rectify it. A shake-up in personnel would perhaps not go amiss, and hopefully Dean Bowditch and Patrick Bamford, who both missed the Brentford trip through injury, will be available come the Hartlepool game.
While the Dons’ forthcoming home matches all look eminently winnable (although, of course, nothing is a given in football) the Dons’ next three away matches look particularly testing, with trips to Doncaster and Notts County in the league, two of the leading contenders for promotion this season, before the afore mentioned trip to Championship strugglers Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup. To win any of these three games would be no mean feat for Robinson to mastermind, with the two league matches being of obvious priority.
So, as we approach the New Year – and the half way point of the season – the Dons have put themselves within touching distance of the leading pack, and (Saturday aside) have looked like a team who can match the very best that League One has to offer this season. My fear remains, though, that come May the Dons will find themselves in the play-offs once again. Still, to be successful maybe one has to overcome their fears – if the Dons are to go up this season that may prove to be a necessity.