Paul Downing admitted he ‘hasn’t been good enough’ in recent weeks, but feels his partnership with fellow centre back Joe Walsh is beginning to bear fruit.
The 24-year-old moved to MK Dons from Walsall in the summer as manager Karl Robinson looked to rebuild an aging defence relegated from the Championship.
With fellow defender Scott Wootton ruled out for the remainder of the season with a cruciate knee ligament injury, Downing and Walsh look set to be the mainstay of the defence this year, with Wigan loanee Jack Hendry drafted in as cover for Robinson’s first choice.
But the new-look defence has been leaky so far, conceding 10 goals already and trailing in five of their opening seven matches - something which Downing admits isn’t up to par.
“I know from a personal perspective it hasn’t been good enough in the last few weeks because we’ve conceded a lot of goals,” he said. “I’ve had to take that on the chin, work hard on the training ground and talk with the manager.
“We need consistency. We know there are goals in the team so we just need to keep them out at the other end.”
The partnership with Walsh, naturally, will take time to bed in properly but time isn’t something Dons will want to waste, given their uninspiring start to life back in League 1.
Downing though believes a few weeks on the training ground will only help the partnership between him and Walsh as they get to know each other.
He said: “I feel me and Joe Walsh get on well together, on and off the pitch, we compliment each other well. Working together on the training pitch helps build it up, but we’re seven games in now and we have to start showing it. We have to grow and begin to get some consistency.
“We’re the experienced pair, we’ve got the shirts at the moment so we have to put in the performances. The expectation of the club is to be at towards top of the table but we’re conceding too many goals. We both know, and we take responsibility for that.
“If you make a mistake, it usually leads to a goal. It’s the bedrock of the team. Goals win you games, but the back four win championships. It’s an important union, along with the keeper.
“We’re still a new partnership, but we’ve got to be strong and lead the team.”
Despite conceding yet another early opener from a set piece on Saturday to league leaders Bolton, also relegated from the Championship last season, Downing feels their performance at the Macron Stadium, as Dons fought back to snatch a point in a 1-1 draw, is a good platform to build on.
He added: “Me and Joe will look to this performance and do more of the same every week.
“If you look at where the teams are in the league, we knew coming here off the back of a couple of defeats and poor performances, we’d have to do the basics right. I felt we did that. We’ll take the point and build on it, but I felt we did enough to win it.”
Speaking about conceding early, he said: “We are working on it and talking about it a lot but for some reason we aren’t doing it on the pitch. We have to go back to the drawing board again because it’s another set piece. We can’t have the ball bouncing around in the box. We showed good character to come back again though.”