Reality is beginning to bite at MK Dons

Robbie Neilson has been in charge for 11 months
Robbie Neilson has been in charge for 11 months

Patchy form, indifferent performances and error-riddled defeats - MK Dons are not even close to realising their promotion aspirations.

Another dour defeat on the road, this time to Bristol Rovers on Saturday, saw Robbie Neilson's side slump to 16th in the table, picking up just two points in the last month when there were 15 on offer.

It's a new look MK Dons this season

It's a new look MK Dons this season

Looking back at the last five seasons, the club has finished higher than eighth just once - the remarkable 2014-15 season which secured promotion to the Championship. And that season is becoming more and more of an anomaly.

But with both manager and players still toeing the line of how they're good enough to reach the play-offs this season, it's time for a reality check for everyone: MK Dons are a midtable side.

Inheriting a team at the end of it's cycle, Neilson had to undertake a massive summer rebuilding mission and unquestionably needs time to instil his ways and intentions. Even the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho needed a season before getting their respective teams to purr in a tone they like. But after a month like October, some Dons fans are already willing to cut and run after 11 months of the Scotsman's tenure.

Showing little bite in front of goal, Bristol Rovers were never in trouble as soon as the opening goal was handed to them on a plate after 65 minutes. The same could be said against Portsmouth and Bradford City too. Three points became one against Walsall after a daft penalty was given away, and the 4-4 draw with Oldham, while dramatic in it's comeback, papered over a lot of cracks.

Under Neilson, Dons have yet to really put a team to the sword for 90 minutes. Last season's 4-0 win over Peterborough was a second half blitz, while the 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon in September was almost rope-a-dope. Effective, but not the swashbuckling football fans are crying out for.

Like any relationship though, Dons are still learning about each other after just three months together. Of the team which played against Walsall at the end of last season, only five were involved at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Integration takes time, but there isn't much of that afforded in football, especially when people are calling for a beheading for going five without a win.

Dons won't get relegated this season. Like last season, their fits and spurts will be enough to see them safe. And it's unlikely Pete Winkelman will be considering his options after digging deep into his pockets to pluck Neilson from the sharp end of the Scottish Premier League less than a year ago just to write it off as a bad debt.

But just like last season, this one looks destined for another berth in the upper League 1 teens, a top half finish a just reward. Both sides of the rapidly forming divide now need to accept it.