Neilson fought the fire but set one of his own

Robbie Neilson
Robbie Neilson
Share this article

Robbie Neilson's tenure at MK Dons has come to an end.

With a record of 25 wins, 24 defeats and 18 draws from his 13 months in charge, the Scot leaves with Dons in the relegation zone of League 1 - exactly where they were when he took over in December 2016.

Fights broke out during Neilson's final game against Northampton

Fights broke out during Neilson's final game against Northampton

Neilson's reign has very much been a game of two halves. His first mission when he arrived was to stop a sinking ship. Karl Robinson's departure after a similarly torrid final few months saw the club in free fall, without a league win at Stadium MK in nine months after coming down from their single season in the Championship.

While many held Robinson in high regard long after his departure, the stern character of Neilson didn't rub well. Fewer smiles, a less jovial character and harder to read from the outside, Neilson wasn't what MK Dons fans had come to expect after six-and-a-half-years of exactly the opposite.

But that mattered little as he dragged Dons to a 12th place finish last season. Ultimately, his first mission was accomplished. After that though, he was expected to build on his squad and fight. That, though, hasn't happened.

Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Northampton saw Dons drop into the bottom four for the first time this season, but more depressingly, Dons have won just two league games in 17. The League 1 table is tight, but it's growing ever further apart, and Dons simply aren't at the races.

Robbie Neilson walks off for the final time as Dons manager

Robbie Neilson walks off for the final time as Dons manager

Neilson gutted out the old side, leaving few familiar faces in the squad, while a fallout with Dean Lewington only added to the bitter taste in the mouth of some fans. Drafting in 14 new faces since the summer, the team barely resembled that of the Robinson-era. The likes of Dean Bowditch, David Martin and Darren Potter were gone, and while Lewington would be seldom seen, down the pecking order before packing his bags to train with Robinson at Charlton Athletic. Those with wafer-thin tolerance of Neilson were already sharpening the blades.

But while for some, Neilson would never have been fit enough to replaced Robinson, others simply lost patience with him. The football wasn't attractive, it wasn't flowing, it wasn't even consistent. Goals were few and far between, wins were hard to come by - seven all season.

After a drab 0-0 draw at home to bitter rivals AFC Wimbledon and on a cold night in Northampton, 2-1 defeat at Sixfields to drop into the bottom four was the straw that broke Winkelman's back, while the fans chanted for his dismissal.

It's believed a replacement has not already been lined up to step into the breach ahead of Dons' FA Cup fourth round game with Coventry City next Saturday, but while the chairman took his time in seeking out Neilson last time, he cannot afford to let the search take too long with the transfer window to close in less than two weeks.

The new man in charge though will come in with a similar mission to the one handed down to Neilson a little over a year ago: rescue the team from League 2.