Micciche's March recovery gives Dons a survival shout
What looked impossible a month ago is back to being a distinct possibility - MK Dons could yet stay in League 1 this season.
Dan Micciche headed into March still seeking his first win. With only a couple of draws to his managerial career, and six defeats, things didn't get off to a great start.
SEE THE LEAGUE 1 TABLE HEREThe 1-0 defeat at home to Bristol Rovers on March 3 threatened to send Dons spiralling into League 2 without so much as a whimper. Six points from safety became seven when the team travelled to Bradford City, only to get straight back on the bus home when the Valley Parade pitch was deemed unplayable and results elsewhere went against them.
The visit of high-flying Rotherham three days later threatened to be more of the same, but a Robbie Muirhead double either side of Peter Pawlett's strike saw them pick up what Micciche had been searching for so desperately - a win and three points.
More were to follow as Bury were beaten 2-1 courtesy of two Chuks Aneke penalties, while a 0-0 draw with Blackpool made it seven points from a possible nine. Suddenly, Dons were back in the hunt for survival.
Playing earlier than the rest last Thursday gave them the chance to escape the bottom four, but it would need Dons to win for the first time at Priestfield... which they duly delivered with George Williams' late goal securing all three points in the 2-1 win, which vitally moved them out of the drop zone for the first time since January 20. And despite the rest of the division playing on Good Friday, Dons in fact climbed a place on goal-difference come the end of play.
Spirited as their performance was against Blackburn Rovers on Easter Monday, they were beaten by the title-chasing side but probably deserved a point on reflection. They dropped back into the relegation zone after the 2-1 defeat, albeit on goal difference, but the confidence and indeed belief has changed. Micciche insisted the spirit has never changed in the dressing room, but the boos which rang out at full time against Rovers a month earlier weren't to be heard against Rovers.
Finally getting to grips with Dan's Plan, the squad looks like they know what they're doing, when they certainly did not in January and February. From relative obscurity, Muirhead has become a crowd-favourite with his lively performances; Pawlett has finally been fit enough for a consistent run in the side and has backed it up with goals; Chuks Aneke is finding the net and Callum Brittain has found a new home in the centre of midfield, having cut his teeth at right back for the last 12 months. Nigel Reo-Coker is yet to have a kick since signing for the club on a permanent basis, while Aidan Nesbitt is being kept off the bench by Micciche's growing number of options.
Defensively, Dons are still being taken advantage of on the left-hand side with both of Blackburn's goals coming from that flank, while Gillingham too equalised thanks to a cross from their right. With Scott Golbourne back after hip surgery, the left wing-back role may go to him, with Muirhead - inexperienced in that position - given a more attacking brief.
The change in the last month has been night-and-day. From dead and buried, Dons have played themselves into contention to stay up. Now into the final month of the season, six games stand between them and League 1 safety, but the run-in doesn't come much tougher. A trip to League 1 title contenders Wigan is on the cards this Saturday, while they'll have to negotiate a rearranged trip to Bradford on a Tuesday evening, as well as a trip to Shrewsbury on the final day as they too will look to secure automatic promotion to the Championship.
Theirs is still a precarious position, but what March has shown is how different the League 1 landscape can be in such a short period, and Dons will need a repeat performance if they are to keep their destiny in their hands.