TOBE’S VIEW: Dons take back my Saturdays

Dean Lewington.
Dean Lewington.

A lot of people keep asking me whether I’m excited about football being back, and for the first time in years, I actually am!

The start of a new season, for many journalists charged with covering a club, means the end of lazy Saturdays, long weekends and shopping trips until next May... OK, so it’s not all bad.

Dons go into this season standing on the brink of the unknown. Pre-season can only really tell us so much as to the true potential of Karl Robinson’s new squad, and it’s neigh-on impossible to compare teams separated by a division short of pitching them against each other in a match that actually means something.

I’ve heard a lot of contrasting opinions as to how Dons will fare this season. Some have predicted a relegation scrap, others a decent middle-order finish, while some offer a far more pessimistic view and expect them to finish rock bottom.

Before the club announced any signings, I’d have predicted a basement battle. Since the signings of seven new faces, I’m more optimistic, considerably more so in fact.

Far from harbouring aspirations of a play-off campaign, I reckon a comfortable finish, 15th onwards, is well on the cards for the boys from MK1,

I’m not sure anything can be taken from the opening few weeks of the season either. Rotherham are favourites with many bookies to be relegation fodder and we know how well matched Preston and Dons are having shared out many a draw in the past few seasons. But it’ll be like dipping your toe into the Championship swimming pool, rather than leaping in, knees tucked in a cannonball.

The real test will be from August 18 and the proceeding month as Dons face Bolton, Reading, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Burnley and Leeds. Splash. Welcome to the Championship indeed.

But that’s not to write off the first two games out-right. Snatching points in the opening stages could be vital in not only signalling their intent, but also give them a good cushion on which to build.

The last two games against Rotherham have been pretty tasty encounters. Patrick Bamford’s late winner at stadium:mk a couple of years ago was a great moment in an otherwise disappointing season, somewhat ironically summed up by the game at the New York Stadium towards the end of the season.

Racing into a two-goal lead, the patch-work Dons side then squandered it and ended up drawing, though to be fair, they were down to 10 men and had George Baldock knocked out cold in a really fiery game.

There’s not much love lost either between Karl Robinson and Millers boss Steve Evans, so keeping an eye on the touchline may be just as exciting as the action on the pitch.

What can we expect? Neither side are going to see this one as a game they’d like to lose, especially early on. The core of the Dons side will be, by and large, the same as we saw in the closing stages last season and the philosophy hasn’t strayed for years, so don’t expect a new long ball system to come into force.

Rotherham meanwhile will want to prove their doubters wrong, and with a good, vocal crowd behind them, will look to intimidate and bully Dons from the off.

The result acting as a reflect to how the next nine months will pan out is probably going to be a bit far-fetched, but three points on the board after their opening encounter will be exactly what both managers will be seeking. But I’d back Dons to edge it narrowly, 2-1.