Rollercoaster year leaves Dons poised

Dele Alli
Dele Alli

Not many teams in the Football League can boast such a topsy-turvy calendar year as MK Dons.

The 3-0 defeat to Walsall on Sunday drew a disappointing line under what had been an extremely promising run of form, which saw Dons go from play-off hopefuls to among the title favourites in the space of two months.

But rewind 12 months and few would have predicted the way 2014 would end.

The year couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for Karl Robinson’s side. News of leading scorer Patrick Bamford’s imminent departure left a gaping hole up front, not just in the short term, but for the remainder of the season.

It wasn’t for want of trying though - Izale McLeod, Chris Long and James Loveridge all tried to make up for the shortfall in goals, but none could help Dons as the wheels came off their season in dramatic fashion.

Shaun Williams’ transfer to Millwall also left Dons wanting at the back, while injuries obliterated the midfield, leaving an almost unrecognisable squad for Robinson to pick from in the final month.

There were few highlights to speak of for the rest of the season. Dons’ FA Cup campaign ended at the third round stage, and their form in League 1 was patchy at best.

Their demise saw them fall from the play-off spots to 10th with some pitiful performances along the way.

Stephen Gleeson was the biggest name to depart in the summer as Robinson cleaned up his shop and went about a dramatic recruitment drive to rescue a team tipped for the lower reaches of the division.

In came defenders Kyle McFadzean and Jordan Spence, wingers Danny Green and Samir Carruthers and strikers Will Grigg and Benik Afobe among others, putting together a formidable unit which had the capability of sneaking under the radar.

All that changed when Dons were handed the biggest tie in their history in the second round of the Capital One Cup.

Nearly 27,000 filled stadium:mk to watch Robinson’s men complete a remarkable turnaround, beating Manchester United 4-0.

It was a result which galvanised the team, and fired both Grigg and Afobe into Dons folklore. And they’ve continued to fire ever since.

The duo have netted 28 goals between them already this season, with Afobe scoring 19 of them, including a brilliant hat-trick against Colchester in what at the time was a record breaking 6-0 victory.

That record was later broken by a 7-0 win over Oldham as Dons rediscovered their scoring boots.

A 12-game undefeated streak in League 1 saw Dons not only climb the table, but form part of a breakaway quartet with Bristol City, Swindon Town and Preston North End.

Just four points separate the leading group, but Dons, who sit fourth, have a game in hand over their rivals.

While there have been ups and downs throughout the season, few can argue that the year belongs to one player - Dele Alli.

The 18-year-old started the year as a player touted by a few in the know, but ended it as one of the hottest properties in the Football League.

He had was a month shy of his 18th birthday when he scored a brilliant hat-trick against Notts County last March, but there was no doubting his second hat-trick against Crewe as he went from promising talent to the first name on Robinson’s team sheet.

January could be pivotal as Robinson fights to keep hold of his squad in the midst of a promotion battle.

Few would’ve thought that this time last year.