Function over form and the art of winning ugly

Robbie Neilson
Robbie Neilson

MK Dons picked up their first points on the road on Saturday, beating ten-man Plymouth Argyle 1-0 at Home Park - and ultimately, that's the only fact that matters.

Taking a closer look at the game in Devon though, it raised a lot of concerns for the Dons fanbase. Second best for the majority despite their numerical advantage, not even registering an attempt on goal in the second half and unable to get the wingers and striker involved - it wasn't a pretty game to watch, saved only by Aidan Nesbitt's eighth minute goal, picking up all three points for Robbie Neilson's side.

Now, Neilson must teach his side how to, above all, win. Winning though is the aim of the game. There are no extra points awarded for style, finesse or dominance. Winning is the only thing that matters, but since 2015 and the promotion campaign, it is a trait Dons have forgotten, and one Neilson now has to drum into them.

Dons' current scenario is not new ground for the club though. When Martin Allen took over as manager in 2006, he took over a ramshackle and relegated group, down on confidence and winning mentality after two years at the bottom of League 1. Allen gutted the side, attracted free agents and built a team to play effective football. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't stylish, but it was direct and it worked - Dons finished in the play-offs.

Neilson's comments after the win over Plymouth echoed the same sentiment - a win is a win. In their former guise, Dons were known to play football with a certain style and at times it was fantastic to watch, but for the final 15 months of Karl Robinson's tenure, it wasn't effective. Dons were relegated from the Championship and battled at the bottom of League 1 until the manager paid the price.

While there are players in his side with the grace, flair and finesse to win games in the old way, winning at all costs is a trait far more important. Under pressure for the best part of an hour at Home Park, Lee Nicholls wasn't forced into a top-drawer save. Defensively, Dons' back four were excellent, limiting Plymouth to two decent efforts and a couple of set piece attempts. And when push came to shove, Plymouth didn't score, but Dons did and they won.

This season might not be about pretty football, whitewashes and thumpings, instead smash-and-grabs, grinding out results and digging in. But if that sees Dons climb the table, not many people will care.