TUESDAY night’s 2-1 defeat away to Sheffield United had Dons manager Karl Robinson laughing in the post-match press conference as he denied feeling more pressure in his job.
With just one win in 10 games and the club slipping out of the League 1 play-off places, the demand to return to winning ways as soon as possible must be beginning to play on Robinson’s mind.
Because when questioned about whether there was now more pressure to win Saturday’s game against Walsall, he laughed at the thought of losing his job.
He said: “If you think I’m under pressure then I need to sort it out, because I don’t want to be sacked in the morning. I should have maybe gone to one of the other clubs earlier in the season if you think I’m under pressure now!
“Maybe I need to go out and buy some players, if I’m under pressure in my job playing these young kids.
“It’s not too bad being in seventh. With the budget that we have, we should be in the bottom half, but the boys keep pulling rabbits out of the hat.
“I won’t change the way we play, we aren’t losing because of the way we play. They’ll find the form and hit back and maybe it will shut some people up.”
But while Dons’ ‘blip’ has now spanned 10 games in all competitions, Robinson is adamant that his side are as hungry to win matches as they were at the beginning of the season.
“This is a small part of the season – everyone goes through this. But the good thing is that I will sort this out,” he said.
“You can look at Oldham and maybe some small parts of the game against Scunthorpe on Saturday, but other than that, we have performed well.
And if the players haven’t given everything they’d got, we’d be sat here worried.”
“But it just doesn’t seem to drop for us, and the mistakes we make are capitalised on. The players are very strong-minded and someone is going to be on the end of a heavy defeat soon because these boys are itching and raring to go.”
And that enthusiasm to bounce back looked evident in the opening 20 minutes at Bramall Lane as Dons settled into their style quickly against one of the favourites to secure promotion.
With Darren Potter, Stephen Gleeson, Shaun Williams and Luke Chadwick occupying the tight central midfield area, it left Adam Smith with acres to run into on the right flank.
But Sheffield United quickly cottoned on to the advancing full back, sending influential midfielder Stephen Quinn to play on the left, and he enjoyed an equally open pasture to play in for the hosts.
Smith was perhaps fortunate to stay on the pitch when he appeared to wrestle Quinn to the ground after just 12 minutes when he raced through towards goal – referee Graham Salisbury giving the Dons man the benefit of the doubt and only a booking.
But just when it looked like the visitors were on top, United showed their killer instinct by scoring the opener. Central defence pairing Tom Flanagan and Mark Beevers were caught too narrow when Quinn made another break. And with Smith caught up the field, Richard Cresswell had plenty of time and space to easily slot in low past David Martin after 22 minutes.
The goal blew away any momentum Dons had and they remained on the back foot for the rest of the half.
Matt Phillips tested Martin just after the half hour with a fizzing effort just inside the area, and nearly picked up the rebound but the keeper held on at the second attempt.
When Harry Maguire headed narrowly wide just before the break, the Blades could well have felt hard done by not going in further ahead at half time.
Dons came out in the second half with their now customary renewed vigour, and equalised within seven minutes of the restart.
Pulling the defenders narrow, Jabo Ibehre brilliantly held the ball up before slipping it into the path of Gleeson in space on the right. And the Irish midfielder made no mistake with his shot, firing it low into the opposite corner past 17-year-old keeper George Long for 1-1.
And for a while after that Dons looked favourites to take the lead, dominating the play as the Blades misplaced passes and gave away possession easily.
But with the crowd growing restless, a moment of magic from Quinn 66 minutes in put United back into the lead.
Dinking it round Flanagan in the area, Quinn did brilliantly to get to the byline and play the ball across the face of goal. And with Martin beaten, Phillips had the simple task of finding the empty net to restore the lead.
Robinson made a triple substitution with 20 minutes remaining to try and change the complexion of the game, with Dean Bowditch, Williams and Ibehre making way for Angelo Balanta, Charlie MacDonald and Daniel Powell. And the visitors didn’t let their heads drop and kept the pressure up.
Balanta was seeing a lot of the ball and was his usual bag of tricks – a potential late thorn in United’s side as he forced Long into a good save from the edge of the area.
However, the Blades looked dangerous on the counter, with Quinn involved in everything for them.
And things got worse for Dons when Smith was given his marching orders with just six minutes to go after a needless foul on Ryan Flynn on half-way, picking up his second booking as time ebbed away from Dons’ potential fightback.
But still they continued to commit men forward and didn’t look like they were missing a man in the final stages, keeping the ball well in midfield, though the crosses from wide were often marginally too short, found a United defender, or were just out of reach of a Dons foot.
And despite five minutes of stoppage time – much of which was spent in the United half – Dons lacked that killer ball and had to settle for their third defeat of the season.
“This is a good club with an awful lot of tradition,” Robinson said afterwards. “We are very small and fragile and we want to be where they have been.
“Tonight are the first steps on a long road ahead for us. We have got nothing from the two Sheffield games this season, but we’ve come to big stadiums and put a show on. It’s just a lack of luck and silly errors.
“For the first goal, Jabo took a quick free-kick and caught Chadwick off guard and they capitalised.
“Some of their players have commented on how good we were here tonight, and that’s a pleasing thing for me.”
Gleeson’s goal, his third for the club, was another from the top draw, and his manager said he wants the Irish midfielder to test himself more in front of goal.
Robinson said: “He needs to do it more, he’s got great ability. People know how fond I am of him. He’s a tremendous talent and he showed that against two players who have played in the Premier League.
“He can play an awful lot higher than this. He will go from strength-to-strength and he’s fully committed to getting this club out of the league.”
Next up for Dons is Walsall, who also have one win in their last 10 and languish down in 17th position in League 1.
Dons’ previous trip to the Banks’ Stadium was on the opening day of last season when they enjoyed a 2-1 win.