From Leeds to Hull, the last two months have been a tale of 1-1 draws for Dons defender Antony Kay.
His return to the MK Dons starting 11 is not the sole reason Dons have picked up five points from nine in the last week, but the fact remains they’ve conceded just once since - from a set piece away at Hull on Saturday.
The journey home from Elland Road will have been a long and painful one for the Yorkshireman back in January. An unfortunate victim of a misplaced header in an otherwise pristine performance against Leeds saw him something of a scapegoat among Dons fans. Dons didn’t lose that day, but the point felt like a defeat after an 87th minute own goal equalise for Leeds.
Others pointed to a mistake against Bristol City as he dallied, seemingly, in No man’s land, conceding possession to allow Jonathan Kodjia to score the opener at Ashton Gate in October. Only another late equaliser, this time courtesy of Daniel Powell’s stoppage time strike, kept Dons off the foot of the table that day.
The rise and rise of Joe Walsh was something that was supposed to happen last summer. Struggling during his loan spell to get his fitness in check, the Welshman made his move from Crawley Town official in June, and he was earmarked to play alongside Kyle McFadzean as part of Karl Robinson’s new-look back four.
Walsh’s eventual return to fitness though came at a time when Kay’s doubters were at their loudest, and his subsequent spell on the sidelines has seen Dons continue to keep their noses outside, just, the Championship relegation zone.
Making changes at the back are not something managers take lightly. While the Dons front line rotates like a rotisserie chicken, Robinson has tried to keep his back five a consistent unit. The introduction of Walsh and the reintroduction of George Baldock breathed new life into a defensive line what was beginning to show cracks and it restored the faith in the terraces. And Kay’s removal from the side was the first thing people pointed to.
Kay’s a wise head. He has been around long enough to know that being dropped isn’t the end of the world, and that survival is far greater a goal than being played every week. It didn’t stop a feeling of frustration creeping in though as he watched on from the substitutes bench week after week. He’s had to bide his time, but it’s no different to the frustration Walsh, Jordan Spence and indeed forgotten man Matt Upson have had to endure watching the regular back four on the pitch.
Another injury blow for Walsh a couple of weeks ago offered Kay another chance to remind Dons fans of the man who played every game for them last season - the most successful season in the club’s history.
His return to the starting 11 has been fairly, well, ordinary. Faultless against both QPR and Charlton, nay-sayers and doubters were rejoicing his presence five minutes into the second half at the KC Stadium as he rose highest to meet Rob Hall’s corner, heading Dons into an unlikely head against Hull. There was nothing he could do to prevent Sam Clucas’ equaliser either, not giving away the foul or donning the gloves to keep it out - and not even keeper David Martin could do that.
With Walsh’s absence expected to be a lengthy one, Kay’s performances in the last week have gone a long way to quashing fears of the end of Championship life as we know it, in fact highlighting how the defence isn’t the source of Dons problems after all.
What Kay’s future holds beyond the end of the season is still in the balance though. Robinson has already hinted that it could be away from stadium:mk, with his current deal set to end in June.
And whether he’s in the squad on the opening day of next season will remain to be seen, but his part in the most recent 1-1 draw should dispel the anger aimed in his direction following the same result at Leeds.