MK Dons would be embarrassed if they weren’t in the top eight of the Championship if they’ve have kept hold of Benik Afobe and Dele Alli, according to manager Karl Robinson.
Now valued at well over £20 million, the pair helped fire the club into the Championship - Afobe netting 19 times before earning a move to Wolves in January, while Alli was also sold in January to Tottenham, but returned on loan to become the driving force in midfield as he chipped in with 16 goals. And yesterday, the 19-year-old was rewarded with his first senior England call-up.
That sort of fire power is distinctly missing at stadium:mk now though, and it is not something which is lost on Robinson.
“I asked Dean Lewington where he thought we’d be if we still have Dele and Benik. He said he’d be embarrassed if we weren’t in the top eight. But then one is an England international, and the other is valued at £15 million!
“There aren’t many teams I’ve ever seen to get promoted and lose their three most influential players and get asked to compete. We know this club inside out. We believe we can do it in a different way.
“There are two leagues in the Championship - the heavyweights and the middleweights.
“You cannot compare us to Preston and Bristol City because they’ve spent big. We’re the lesser of the three and they’re still in and around us. The gulf above them has increased too. All the ones who have spent are pulling away and we cannot concern ourselves with them.
“This is the hardest year ever to get out of the Championships. Ten clubs have gone for it. Next year in the Premier League is when even more cash takes precedence.”
When the fixtures were announced back in June, September always looked like it would be a tell-tale month for Dons. Games against Middlesbrough and Burnley away, with home games against Leeds and Derby sandwiching a League Cup game against Southampton had the odds stacked heavily against Robinson’s squad.
And with six defeats in a row blotting their copy book, it has seen Dons plummet to second from bottom, kept off the top by tomorrow’s opponents Bristol City.
But it isn’t something concerning Robinson just yet, as he believes once their luck turns, Dons will be in a position more reflective of their performances of late.
He said: “I always knew it would be tough, but it’s one of the most exciting months we’ve ever had. The stats show we’ve improved from the first four games, we just haven’t got any points to show for it. But we’ll turn that corner - whether it’s tomorrow, Blackburn or Huddersfield after that.
“If the referees got their decisions right, we’d be higher up the league too. We’ve been told by the PGMOL we should have had decisions go our way too.
“If you give us three points from refereeing problems, that would lift us into an amazing place and we’d be singing from the rooftops.
“It’s the best time I’m having in my life, and I’m loving every challenge the game is throwing our way.”