Why Dons aren’t facing the apocalypse

Is this the end of the world as we know it? Pic: Jane Russell. PNL-150803-201220002
Is this the end of the world as we know it? Pic: Jane Russell. PNL-150803-201220002

Three defeats in a row, five out of the last seven - it doesn’t make for good reading. But fourth in the table, comfortably 12 points in the play-offs, is there really cause for panic? And are there really calls for the manager’s head?!

Losing to relegation strugglers Coventry two Saturday’s ago could be forgiven somewhat had Dons been able to pick up a point or three in the proceeding two games in the following seven days.

It’s a rut that has seen Karl Robinson’s side drop from second, and with their fate in their own hands, to fourth, now chasing the final automatic promotion spot and 14 points adrift of leaders Bristol City.

Going into February, Dons hit top spot with a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Crewe Alexandra, but February and the first two games in March haven’t been kind.

Defensively, Dons have been poor and there’s no escaping that. Errors have crept into the back four where before it was the most secure back line the club has seen in a long time. The single obvious change there is the man between the sticks.

Ian McLoughlin though can hardly be blamed for Antony Kay and Darren Potter being unable to pass among themselves at Coventry, for Jordan Spence gifting the ball to Gary Roberts against Chesterfield, or for being left in the lurch as Preston broke four-on-one to score the opener.

And he can’t really be at fault for the lack of chances created at the other end. Despite taking the lead against Chesterfield, Dons never really threatened the goal. And against Preston, Dons’ only real chance came from a 35 yard piledriver from Kyle McFadzean of all people, taking a pot shot from range.

Questions were asked on social media about Karl Robinson’s team selection, some even taking the extreme stance of wanting him out of the club as a result of abject performances over the last seven days.

Having admitted making mistakes against Chesterfield and Bradford when it came to his team selection, Robinson laid the blame at the door of his players after the wretched display against Preston - a timely reminder to the squad that they play the biggest role in Dons getting out of this slump.

As for Robinson’s team selections: his options have been left limited in recent weeks, but there have been mistakes though hindsight is crystal clear. Ben Reeves has been Dons’ best performer since his return against Gillingham last month, though was left on the bench against Preston in favour of an uncomfortable looking Devante Cole, who had a similarly torrid afternoon at the Ricoh Arena seven days earlier.

His first choice of defence was unavailable against Preston too, with skipper Dean Lewington suspended, while Lee Hodson was taken ill at the 11th hour and couldn’t make the squad. Joe Walsh however proved to be a more than capable replacement, and a promising signing for next season.

It’s easy to blame injuries, but they have obviously played a key role in the last month. David Martin’s absence has unnerved the back line, consciously or not. Dele Alli has been the club’s most influential player for 18 months and has missed the last four with an ankle injury. Reeves’ hamstrings have been troublesome all season and have seen him in and out of the side, George Williams needed a scan on a knee injury he picked up against Chesterfield and Lewington was suspended after his red card. These five could easily turn a game for Dons at both ends of the pitch.

Normally, players want to bounce back at the soonest given opportunity, and that is usually presented with a Tuesday night game. However, given the recent string of results, both players and staff might well be thankful of a week away from the pitch - a week to rethink their approach to the final 11 games.

And though Sunday’s early morning start may have been borne from a furious manager desperate to turn things around, it may give the squad a chance to have their cages rattled more than enough to realise just what is at stake.

Far from hitting the panic button though, it has just been a bad few weeks at the office. It’s easy to get swept up in the hype of a promotion battle, but there’s more than one way to get out of League 1. And if it means going up via the play-offs so be it. But none of that gets decided in the first week of March.