They will never admit it, but the MK Dons squad travel to Craven Cottage on Saturday knowing defeat would almost certainly spell the end of their Championship stay.
Dons currently sit a point behind the Cottagers in the first of the relegation spots. With Rotherham a point further up the road, Dons could find themselves cut as many as four points adrift by 5pm on Saturday night with seven games remaining.
Psychologically, chucking away a six point advantage in favour of a four point deficit in a little over a month without a particularly poor performance of which to speak will be a huge obstacle to get over.
The next three games, coming in the space of seven days, will probably spell out their fate, one way or another.
Saturday’s opponents Fulham boast two of the best strikers in the division in the form of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele, with their defensive woes far more prominent than their front line deserves, culminating in their 21st position as things stand.
But Dons have come up against plenty of fierce strikers this season, tried and tested at this level, and have come away fairly unscathed, truth be told. Jordan Rhodes was ineffective for Blackburn, but managed to bundle one in in stoppage time for new club Middlesbrough - hardly setting the world alight in either of his appearances against Karl Robinson’s side. Similarly, Dons kept Abel Hernandez quiet at Hull and Derby’s Chris Martin was almost anonymous in both games. McCormack and Dembele could need to do something special to break Dons down.
Following Fulham, Dons play host to Wolves on Tuesday night before fellow relegation candidates Rotherham arrive the following Saturday, in what should be yet another six pointer.
Realistically, Dons need two wins from these three games but that will be easier said than done. Teams at the bottom have to scrap for their lives, and while Rotherham have done extremely well to get out of the mire they found themselves in six weeks ago, they’re certainly not out of the woods.
This will be a week to test their mettle though. Throughout the season, Dons have fought to be part of the accepted Championship fraternity and a season-long cameo won’t aid that much.
But while the negatives are there for everyone to see, winning on Saturday could see Dons move a couple of points clear of the drop zone and sitting as high as 20th place, breathing a deep sigh of relief ahead of two winnable home matches. By this time next week, the landscape could look considerably different, considerably less ominous and considerably brighter.
It’ll all depend on who wants it more on Saturday.