Expectations of Tisdale's Dons must be given a reality check to avoid second season syndrome
“We can’t do it over night, but we’ll be asking the players to do it! But we all know the ultimate target and my brief is to get MK Dons promoted, and then promoted again!”
They were the words of Paul Tisdale this time 12 months ago, setting out his stall as the new manager of MK Dons.
Chairman Pete Winkelman, who sat alongside his third manager in 18 months, felt he had finally made the right call, but there was still a nervous look in his eye. He couldn't afford to make another wrong choice.
Neither Winkelman, nor Tisdale, would put their heads on the chopping board that day when asked about the desire for promotion - no bold quotes to tie them up with should the season go sour. Tisdale, though, said it has to be the mentality in his dressing room, even if they were to come up short. A year on, we know they did not come up short.
The dramatic circumstances which saw Dons promoted on the final day of the season were the culmination of Tisdale's work over the course of an up-and-down season. Eleven new players were brought in, five would depart, the dressing room's mentality completely changed over the course of a year from a fragmented gathering to a group pulling in one direction.
If you are to measure his achievement by the end result, there is no question his first year in charge has been a huge success. It doesn't matter how they did it, all that matters is that they did.
The job though is by no means done, Tisdale admitted it himself in that first interview. His job was not just to get Dons promoted back to League One, but to the Championship. Irrespective of whether Dons have been third tier regulars since their inception in 2004, they come back into the division from below, almost as underdogs, currently 10th favourites for promotion and a 25/1 shot for the title. That alone means Dons will need a reality check next season, from both the fans and indeed first team.
Expectations for Tisdale's second year in charge will naturally be to battle in the upper echelons of the table - no club is going to say anything otherwise - but a realistic ambition has to be had too. The club, after years of dross, is finding it's feet again. There were plenty of signs last year that it was still a work in progress, but promotion was won all the same. League One has never been a simple division to escape - Dons' record of one promotion from 11 attempts is testament to that - so simply carrying momentum and success from League Two will not be guaranteed, despite Luton Town's remarkable bounce last time out. Let's not rule it out though.
Though his words in the introduction to this article were initially said about a club just relegated and set for their first League Two campaign in 11 years, Tisdale's words about MK Dons in his first press conference remain true next season: it won't be an overnight success, but a promotion mentality will be the driving force.