Season is summed up in second half slump

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scores the opener. Pic: Tom Blackman
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scores the opener. Pic: Tom Blackman

They say things don’t go your way when you’re at the bottom, and it’s something MK Dons are quickly becoming accustomed to.

As if the mislaid passes at Huddersfield Town last week weren’t enough for Karl Robinson to mull over, the capitulation he witnessed at Loftus Road, conceding three unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes against QPR won’t have buoyed his mood much.

Despite trying to put a positive spin on things when speaking to the media, there’s an inner frustration in Robinson which is growing by the day as he watches his side struggle to do what came so naturally last season.

Usually so assured in attack and defence, it was an odd performance in west London in that Dons looked like they were playing for a draw, rather than launching themselves at their former Premier League opponents.

The phrase ‘chances came at a premium’ is rapidly becoming an old record for Dons, but there were little to none to speak of in the opening 45 minutes for either side - a similar story to the games at Huddersfield, Burnley, Middlesbrough, Reading... the list could go on.

But while Dons couldn’t capitalise on their first opening, QPR did, and that was the difference. That has been the difference all season long.

Matt Phillips scores Rangers' second. Pic: Tom Blackman.

Matt Phillips scores Rangers' second. Pic: Tom Blackman.

Simon Church has hit the upright three times this season with games finely poised, and though he didn’t hit the frame on Saturday, he forced Rob Green into a fine stop in the 62nd minute when he really should have scored.

Played in by Samir Carruthers, hit well-timed turn gave him some space but his finish left a lot to be desired, giving the keeper half a chance.

So when Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ moment of individual brilliance put QPR one up eight minutes later, the 1,000 plus Dons fans would’ve felt little but resignation.

Caught on the counter for the second goal 12 minutes from time, and then lapsing in the 88th minute at a corner, Dons were left staring at a scoreboard reading ‘QPR 3-0 MK Dons’ and while it didn’t seem just for containment job they’d achieved in the opening 69 minutes, it was what they deserved.

Dean Lewington tries to cut out the cross. Pic: Tom Blackman

Dean Lewington tries to cut out the cross. Pic: Tom Blackman

“We’re not miracle workers,” said boss Robinson. “You can’t lose what we lost and expect us to still score goals.

“Looking at the team the other day, there was only Ben Reeves in the front six who have been here more than six months. And that’s the reality.

“We’re missing some influential players through injury or they’ve moved on.

“That’s the cold hearted truth. The results haven’t been as good as we’d have wanted. Our performances are wonderful for 70 minutes, but we’ve conceded 17 goals in the games we’ve lost or drawn. And 12 of those are from 55 to 90 minutes.

“That final third is vitally important to us. You can work on it, but you can’t stop the likes of Leroy Fer or Junior Hoillet coming on. These teams are bringing on Premier League players as substitutes, and that’s the difference. It’s a tremendous learning curve, but I’m not overly worried.”

The result at QPR, a team relegated from the Premier League last season, is probably not as bad as it seems. The desperation to bounce back after the disappointing defeat to Huddersfield heightened the need to get back to winning ways, and given Dons’ history at Loftus Road, some may have expected something more substantial travelling down to the capital.

But not the manager.

Robinson said: “We knew how good they were. There had so many Premier League players in that team. We were under no illusions.

“We knew it was going to be the most difficult time to play them. And I don’t think we were outplayed.

“We had the best chance at 0-0, and a great chance just after their first goal.”

But Dons aren’t fighting the likes of QPR this season, or indeed this weekend’s opponents Hull City, who also found the Premier League basement hatch last season.

At this stage, a quarter of the way through the campaign, teams are beginning to find their level and the somewhat harrowing truth for Dons is the current league position of 21st.

Robinson is resigned to the fact that his side will be in and around this battle for the remainder of the season (see back page), but is also clinging to hope: hope that the unrewarded performances come back later to give them a much-needed boost.

Six points separating 10 places above Dons at this stage, and by simply eliminating defensive errors, Dons would have had a minimum of three of those back in their pockets, sitting 15th and the mornings would seem a bit brighter.

But points aren’t given out for playing, Dons need to start picking them up in spite of who is in front of them. The sooner they do that, the further away the trap door will look.