MK Dons in 2021: A Year in Review

We take look back at the last 12 month at Stadium MK

By The Newsroom
Friday, 31st December 2021, 6:00 am
<p>MK Dons</p>

MK Dons

The calendar year of 2021 probably won't go down as the most memorable for MK Dons fans, but it will certainly rank higher than a lot of others in recent memory.

From a club reaching the dizzying heights - yes at the time they were dizzying - of 14th place in League One heading into the year, Dons have played themselves into being worthily named amongst those who should be fighting for a play-off spot come May 2022, with the good work of 2021 laying that foundation for what could be an exciting end to the season.

Creating an understandable style and 'identity' for the club - reinventing 'the MK Way' again - has been paramount in helping Dons do this. Russell Martin's early versions of the style were difficult to see the merits of at times. 'Passing for the sake of passing' was how it felt often enough, but January 2021 saw things begin to fall into place more regularly, and the fruits of the labour started to taste that bit sweeter. That first trip to Plough Lane, anyone?

Matt O’Riley in action against AFC Wimbledon

Of course there were still bumps along the way, and not all of the bumps have been ironed out yet. The style of play, while great when it works, can fail spectacularly when it doesn't, and it was plain to see on away trips such as Wigan and Lincoln last season - when Dons were thoroughly thumped 3-0 and 4-0 respectively - that the rigid 'we won't change' philosophy was only going to get them so far.

That 'so far' was 13th in League One come the end of play. But they were in with a shout of an unlikely play-off spot with two games remaining. Dons were one of the form teams from January too, the third best in the division if results from 2021 were the only ones which counted before the season ended.

With the world around them beginning to rediscover a shade of normality, Dons' performances did not go unnoticed. Notably, the club now looked an alluring project to be a part of, after all, which footballer doesn't want to play with the ball at their feet?

Even the departures made sense. Those who weren't likely to get a kick were released into the wild, some of those with options went higher and anyone tied down commanded a favourable fee.

Russell Martin’s departure left a bitter taste in the mouth at MK Dons

The futureproofing fell into place too. Reshuffling behind the scenes gave Dons a sturdy undercarriage, and it meant, if the worst would happen, there would be plans to help ease the blow. And on the eve of the new season, the worst did happen. Russell Martin's departure saga to Swansea City was unnecessarily long-winded and bizarre in equal measure, but it immediately put into action the safeguarding measures.

Liam Manning was sought, won over and signed within a couple of weeks, and in the dugout for Dons' second game of the season. He inherited a team with all the pieces already in place, and with the shackles off under Dean Lewington's sole game in charge, looked ready to play with a bit more pace and gumption.

A little bit more tinkering, a different approach when things got tough, and a long ball from time-to-time meant Dons are are a more rounded operation this season and the first half of the season has been a rollercoaster with a lot more ups than downs.

Dons are very much in the play-off conversation heading into 2022. January's transfer window will likely test their resolve and contingency plans with players like Scott Twine, Matt O'Riley and Andrew Fisher all being linked with moves higher.

And though 2021 did not bring about anything in the way of promotions, silverware or even a top-half finish, perhaps it will be looked at upon as a key building block for years to come.