There are often times when a performance warrants more than the result that follows but at some stage, the result actually have to come through. And that time is now for MK Dons.
The difference between Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at home to Ipswich and the 2-0 loss to Brentford seven days earlier was like night and day, but ultimately, Dons walked away with no points from either game.
If points were picked up for spirited, gutsy showings then Dons would be around the play-off spots at the very least. But after 20 games - just three away from half way - Dons sit in the relegation zone with 16 points and 12 defeats to their name.
Karl Robinson, Dean Bowditch and Samir Carruthers have all come out this week and said Dons have to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk, and never has that been truer than now.
The lack of goals this season has gone from a mild concern to a serious issue in the side. Three goals in nine games is hardly the turnaround of a side that should be winning so many of the games Robinson claims. A lot can be said for the loss of Benik Afobe, Will Grigg and Dele Alli from the side which fired Dons to 101 goals and promotion last season, but their removal from the side hardly caught Dons by surprise coming into a pre-season filled with so much hope and expectation.
Whatever the money picked up from Alli’s transfer has been used for, it hasn’t been spent on the squad. Robinson has had to work within extraordinarily strict financial restraints, and it has prevented Dons from taking the steps they needed to to be a team capable stepping up and being a valid force at this level. Whether that is because the powers that be underestimated how much the Championship or whether money is genuinely tight at stadium:mk, the reason is irrelevant.
Ipswich offered fairly little on Saturday other than their goal in the 10th minute but in finding the net, they ensured they’d be in with a shout of victory, and it proved to be enough for the victory. For all Dean Gerken in the Tractor Boys’ net made some top stops to keep out Ben Reeves and Rob Hall, the lack of goal-scoring prowess will make sure Dons are there or thereabouts at the end of the table they’d sooner be distancing themselves from. Ipswich didn’t need to do any more than they did.
It heaps importance in huge capacity onto Dons’ recruitment process in January. Now isn’t the time for an experimental loan deal of a promising youngster hidden in a Premier League youth system somewhere. Now is the time for proven Championship quality - a player or three capable of getting Dons out of the mire they find themselves in.
Money will be the name of the game, but how much will be made available to Robinson is another matter. But even if the war chest is significantly lighter than everyone would like, the existing players - or at least those who remain on February 1 - will have to ensure they’re capable of stepping up to the plate.
Goals are the name of the game, and that is the only currency Dons should be concerned with at this stage. While Nicky Maynard looks like he has goals in him, they aren’t forthcoming yet. Simon Church too hasn’t set the world alight since signing for Dons in the summer. Sam Gallagher has been out of the picture for several months and has only been reintroduced to the fray recently, but the numbers speak for themselves.
It isn’t a pretty picture, but it is a scenario which Dons must establish a solution: whether that’s splashing what limited cash they have stashed in the pillows of the hotel, or turning what they have into a team worthy of winning more games than they are at the moment, not many in the stands will be too fussed.
But continuing to play well with no reward will just lead Dons down a road they’ve already been down - a road back to League 1.