The team coach coming back from the Crawley game on Tuesday night must have been a quiet one. The Dons continued to slide down the league following back-to-back defeats, three games without a goal and five games without a win. It almost feels like rock-bottom. Yet, from such depths of despair can flower optimism. MK Dons lie tenth in the table, only four points off the play-off places and a not too distant ten points off the top.
It can be so hard to see the potential for improvement when a team hits a slump like the one the Dons are currently enduring: right now the prospect of a goal seems a long way off. The goals will surely come, though, and with them the confidence will return. For the fans, management and players of the club to be so disappointed and despondent at being in ‘lowly’ tenth place in October indicates just how far this football club has come in the last few seasons, and suggests, to me anyway, that there is still a collective belief that things can improve.
Tuesday night must have seemed like a deeply unfunny joke to Karl Robinson. Once again, the Dons created chances – against a high-flying Crawley side – which if converted would have almost certainly changed the outcome of the game, and resulted in the Dons travelling back up north with a point, or more, to show for their efforts.
Yet, once again, the chances were missed and lady luck did not shine on the Dons. If Daniel Powell’s shot had been just inches lower, or if Charlie MacDonald had made proper contact with the ball rather than skewing it into the turf, Robinson might not have been facing the same old questions from the media at ten o’clock on Tuesday evening. Credit should go to the Dons’ manager though. He faced the press bravely; he repeated that he still believed in the side, he reiterated that the performance was not a bad one. To some, it might seem like Robinson is avoiding the issue, by trotting out the same lines game after game. However, he is only telling the truth. The Dons have failed to win in the last five games for one consistent reason, an inability to take their chances. Who can look at the last five games and honestly say the Dons never looked capable of winning any of them?
If Charlie MacDonald had fired into a near-empty net against Coventry, or if Alan Smith had found the bottom corner rather than the boot of Thorsten Stuckmann away at Preston, then the table would have a different complexion, and Robinson would not have to repeat the same tired mantra to the media.
The fans must try and regain a bit of perspective though. The Dons’ position – at this point in time – is far from dire, and the season is far from unsalvageable. Yet, there are still fans in some quarters questioning how much longer Robinson has got. Such questioning seems rash. Robinson has proven, in the past two years, that he has considerable credentials as a manager and tactician, and possesses the potential to go far in the game.
He is also, possibly, the first manager since the club moved to Milton Keynes to truly understand the town and football club. He is sensitive to the issues surrounding the club’s move from Wimbledon, prioritises the academy and the future of the club, and actively seeks to engage with supporters and the local community. Robinson is not just a football mercenary, who should be disposed of if he is not quite hitting on-field targets, but is a true clubman, who takes pride in his role and works tirelessly for the betterment of the football club. He deserves better than to face questions over his future, given what he has done for the MK Dons on and off the pitch in the past two and a bit seasons.
Robinson must be given his dues; he is not hiding from his responsibility, nor is he hiding from the fans. He took accountability for the defeat on Tuesday night, and will meet with season ticket holders of the club next Monday and Tuesday. Those who have questioned Robinson anonymously, from the safe confines of internet forums and social networks, should step forward and ask him those same questions in person. That is not to say Robinson should come in for a barrage of vitriolic criticism at next week’s Q&A sessions! The questions should be challenging, rather than loaded. I hope the tone of the evening will be a respectful one, and there will be recognition that, whatever shortcomings there have been on the pitch, Robinson cares about the club and its fans. Regardless of differences of opinion, those who attend the sessions next week should all share one crucial thing in common with Robinson – the unerring desire to see this football club succeed.