Dancers departed, but can Dons deal?

Benik Afobe and Dele Alli
Benik Afobe and Dele Alli

After 18 months of speculation, rumour and paper talk, Dele Alli has finally embarked on his Premier League adventure - but where does that leave MK Dons’ title chances?

Now officially a Tottenham Hotspur player on loan at stadium:mk, the 18-year-old remains very much a part of Karl Robinson’s squad which, for 24 hours anyway, called top spot their own at the weekend.

The January transfer window has been a mixed bag for Karl Robinson.

While Jonson Clarke-Harris has looked promising in spells, and Devante Cole opened his Dons goal-scoring account with a brace in the 5-0 away win at Crewe on Saturday, the Dons boss has seen his two leading goal-scorers sold on.

Yes, Alli is staying at stadium:mk for the remainder of the term.

No, Benik Afobe wasn’t his property to dictate the future of.

But the sentiment rings true. Now the top three scorers for the club this season are all loanees.

The decision to sell Alli at this juncture makes perfect sense, regardless of Afobe’s departure.

His stock has never been higher. If last season was his break-out year, this campaign has seen him grow from a boy into a man.

His stand-out display against Manchester United alone would have sky-rocketed interest in the teenager, but bids from the big boys didn’t come during the window which slammed shut at the end of August.

But 11 goals from the centre of midfield later, dominant performance after dominant performance, the top flight finally came knocking and this time, it was too big a carrot for both parties to ignore.

Dons held firm to get what they wanted and the deal crossed the line on deadline day, on the proviso that Alli be allowed to spend the rest of the season on loan at stadium:mk to ensure the promotion push loses none of its drive towards the line. And they got just that.

Fortunately, Alli’s immediate loan back means the disruption in the dressing room will barely be felt.

And being that he hasn’t had the chance to be part of the Tottenham fold yet means his life will change relatively little until May, when he sets up his new digs in north London.

The speculation surrounding his future has never been something the youngster has let affect him, nor has the departure of his close friends Afobe and Patrick Bamford - both of whom are playing in the Championship now.

And it bodes well for Dons’ title chances. Now knowing his time at stadium:mk is finite could drive Alli on to be the leading man in the push for the League 1 crown.

Alternatively, it could simply be a footnote in yet another outside influence he’ll ignore, while cruising through games with aplomb.

There is little doubt though that his departure next season will be felt.

In the case of Afobe, while he netted 19 goals in his 30 games with Dons, his departure early in the window hasn’t been felt as much as many will have feared.

In fact, Dons have scored 11 times in the five games since Afobe left, climbing into the automatic promotion spots in the process.

The steamroller performance against Crewe showed Dons flex their muscle in their biggest away win of the season, with a string of goal-scorers stepping up to the plate to stake their claim to lead the line.

And that will only breed confidence into players like Daniel Powell and Dean Bowditch, who have had sparse seasons by their own standards, but who popped up in the right place at the right time at the Alexandra Stadium to force home the issue.

While there was a lot of affection shown to Afobe, and indeed to Bamford before him, the fact remains that goal-scorers can be replaced.

What remains to be seen is whether the most gifted player Karl Robinson has ever worked with, his work-rate, determination, drive and arrogant swagger can be replaced.

Regardless, MK Dons will be a much quieter place next season without their dancing.