LOSING to Sunderland was never going to be the end of the world for MK Dons, but not securing promotion out of League 1 would be pretty close.
Despite having 10 men for most of the game, Craig Gardner and James McClean both netted for the Black Cats to see them safely through to the fourth round of the League Cup on Tuesday night, winning 2-0.
Dons have only ever been as far as the third round stage – on four occasions now – so victory over their Premier League opponents would have made it an historic night for the club.
But after Dons did nothing to disgrace themselves in front of some 10,500 pairs of eyes at stadium:mk, they can now fully concentrate on the main goal of this season – automatic promotion to the Championship.
Dean Bowditch’s hat-trick in Saturday’s 4-1 win over bottom of the league Bury at Gigg Lane was Dons’ first win on the road this season, and saw Karl Robinson’s men leap up to fourth in the table after a hit-and-miss opening.
Crewe are next up this coming Saturday, and Dons will be keen to maintain their impressive unbeaten home record against last season’s League 2 play-off winners.
It’s the first of three ‘must win’ games in the space of seven days for Dons, with exciting fixtures against strugglers Coventry and Portsmouth next on the agenda.
And there can’t be any excuses for not picking up nine points in those games. The strikers have to find the net, the midfield has to show the grit and determination of the early season exchanges, and the defence has to remain resolute and stingy.
It’s going to be a vital few months now, with nothing but league games to get on with, and a title bid to launch in earnest.
The club’s players know it, the management and backroom staff know it, and the supporters know it – this is Dons’ best chance of promotion and an opportunity they cannot afford to miss.