Are MK Dons finally over Karl Robinson's departure?
Almost two years ago to the day, Karl Robinson left the pitch at Stadium MK for the last time as MK Dons manager. His side were thumped 3-0 by Southend, marking the end his six year tenure. Fast forward to 2018. and Dons appear to have finally recovered from that day.
Saturday's 1-0 win over Northampton was not the biggest win Stadium MK has seen since Robinson's departure, nor was it the most dramatic. It probably won't go down in folklore and it won't be widely remembered for much aside from the scoreline in later years, but it should be noted as the game which sparked the Paul Tisdale era at MK Dons.
Performances at Stadium MK this season have been sporadic. Largely consistent so far, Dons had not wowed the home crowds under the new management. Big wins over Charlton (Carabao Cup), Cheltenham (League 2), and a 3-0 lead against Peterborough (Checkatrade Trophy) were arguably bigger feats than beating a team never to have won in Milton Keynes, but against Northampton, everything came together.
Dons fans have been disillusioned since the departure of Robinson. While some were heartbroken to see him go, others were delighted - the divide had been drawn. The same divide either cast Robbie Neilson in a positive or negative light, and while most will be eager not to speak of the Dan Micciche era at all, the Tisdale rule began with a 'prove it to me' attitude from the fans rather than a 'we're behind you' mentality.
A story of late goals and 1-1 draws marred September, and though they only lost one league game, sitting in 13th spot was not what the fans had come to expect from their new boss. That defeat to Lincoln on September 22 would prove to be a turning point for all the right reason though. Since then, they have conceded one goal in five games, picked up 13 points, climbed 10 places into the automatic promotion spots, and most importantly, the 1-0 win over Northampton won the fans over.
Despite the narrowest of winning margins, even the fiercest of naysayers and loudest negative voices would have found precious little to go home moaning about. While Cobblers had a few chances, Dons beat them from pillar to post. Alex Gilbey and Jordan Houghton ran the midfield show with ease; the back three of Joe Walsh, Jordan Moore-Taylor and Baily Cargill looked impenetrable; Rhys Healey looked a constant threat. Picking a man of the match was a neigh-on impossible task - even Paul Tisdale himself struggled with who to bring off in such a well-oiled performance.
From a club perspective, the most important thing about the performance was that it came at home. For two years, and indeed nine months before it (when Dons had gone on a barren run without a win at home), Stadium MK had become an unhappy place. From the heady days of their promotion party, Stadium MK has since been the venue for two relegations, torrid football, miserable defeats and often joyless afternoons.
What Dons showed on Saturday though was a reawakening. The football was back to the fast, free-flowing, dominant style which had been synonymous with Dons at home. Chances came and went, but most importantly they came with abundance. Secure enough at the back to let Northampton come onto them for spells, Dons were comfortable enough in their own skin to allow it to happen.
Tisdale said it was the most complete performance from his side since he has arrived at Stadium MK, and it was certainly the loudest the Cowshed has been in recent memory. Robinson case a big shadow for those to follow to step out of, and neither Neilson nor Micciche were able to do that. There has been precious little to cheer about in the last few years, and Saturday's game, should it be backed up with a similar performance against Notts County on Tuesday night, could be the beginning of a new era at MK Dons and a new reason to cheer.