Drawing a line under a year MK Dons would quickly like to forget

MK Dons celebrate the opening goal against CrawleyMK Dons celebrate the opening goal against Crawley
MK Dons celebrate the opening goal against Crawley | Jane Russell
We take a look back at one of the worst calendar years on record for MK Dons

As the curtain drops on 2023, MK Dons look in decent shape. Sixth in the league, chasing promotion, on a good run heading into the New Year. The year, though, has been one of the worst in the club's history.

Heading into '23, Mark Jackson's Dons were set to take on high-flying Plymouth Argyle at Home Park, but were sent home with their tail firmly between their legs. Barely a couple of weeks into his tenure, the mountain task in front of the former Leeds United coach already looked insurmountable. And so it would prove.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The side picked up a few points here or there, but four significant defeats in February and early March felt like a new low - the defeat at Port Vale especially was one which resigned most to relegation from League One. It was a far cry from where the club were at the same point in 2022, chasing a way out of the third tier in the right direction rather than out the trap door.

A minor revival came about against there relegation rivals, but eight games at the end of the season without a win meant a win at Burton Albion was needed to stay afloat and draw a line under one of the worst campaigns the club has ever endured. Despite 33 attempts on goal, Jackson's run would come to an end with a 0-0 draw at the Pirelli Stadium, Dons returning to League Two again.

Moving swiftly to pick up Graham Alexander as the new head coach, and landing popular midfielder Alex Gilbey prior to the summer break, moods were raised heading into pre-season. Lurking around the corner was an opening day game against Wrexham - the much-fancied Welsh powerhouses with Hollywood backing. Dons though would stun everyone, not least themselves, with a thumping 5-3 win at the Racecourse Ground. People sat up and paid attention, Dons might just have turned a corner.

Though they were not especially convincing, Dons climbed to the top of the league through August, winning four of five matches, earning Alexander the Manager of the Month award. Some strong-looking signings and points on the board aside though, something still was not right. The players looked worn down, flat, always exhausted. The culmination of several months of brutal training programmes came home to roost in September.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Four draws and four defeats saw Dons tumble down the order. Unconvincing performances and a lack of structure was irking the supporters, never fully on-board with Alexander or his football. Heading into stoppage time with a 2-0 lead over Barrow though, few would have predicted the fireworks that were to follow. In stunning, and yet not all unsurprising manner, Dons would throw away their lead to draw 2-2, before a dramatic press conference afterwards from Alexander where he heavily criticised his players for allowing it to happen.

Be it a hangover from last season, be it a lack of motivation or fragile confidence, Dons barely looked capable of preventing a drop even further down the footballing pyramid. It was as low as they had ever been in the table, and it was as low as the club has been off-the-field too. Alexander was sacked a couple of days later.

It was with an air of caution Dons appointed the relatively unknown quantity of Gateshead boss Mike Williamson that same week, heading into a congested period of fixtures which heavily limited the former Newcastle United defender's time on the training ground. Known for his style of play which had plenty of similarities to bygone bosses at Stadium MK, Williamson was tasked with rescuing the club in it's hour of need.

And that, he appears to have done. A little over two months into his time, Dons are 13 positions better off, are sat in the League Two play-off spots, have only lost one game in the division - Williamson's first in charge away at Accrington - are playing the sort of football Dons fans have become accustomed to, and crucially, have the fans onside again.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The calendar year has been an ugly one. Three head coaches, relegation, and precious little to chirp enthusiastically about until November, the price of complacency has never been harder felt at MK1 than it has in 2023. That sense can never be felt again and the realities of it threatened to create civil war at the club.

On the dawn of 2024 though, things are finally looking up again. They may not be where they want to be - far from it in fact - but the road to recovery begins in Doncaster on New Year's Day.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.