OPINION: Short-term victories must now be MK Dons' aim for the season
Lee Gregory's late penalty kick conversion didn't just end Dons' chances of a well-earned point at The Den on Saturday, it also put a realistic end to the fairly unrealistic ambition of a top six finish in League 1 this season.
After Saturday's sucker-punch 2-1 defeat at the hands of Millwall, the gap between Dons and the final play-off spot sits at 15 points. And with just 33 left on the board, Dons' ambitions of reaching the top six are all but over.
Outwardly, of course, Robbie Neilson can't be seen to give up on the remote chance of a miraculous late dash. He will still have to toe the line, give the casual fans an incentive to come to Stadium MK for a game that otherwise reads as a dead-rubber. But in reality, the remainder of the season now is about restoring pride.
Currently 14th in the table, finishing in the top half isn't an unrealistic ambition, and isn't one the fans would turn their nose up at this stage. Finishing above AFC Wimbledon and Charlton Athletic, managed by former boss Karl Robinson, would be a feather in the cap at the very least from the fans for Neilson, who has steadied the wayward ship since his arrival in December, seeing them edge away from trouble to their current midtable berth.
Neilson's driven history of success at Hearts means he will be less than happy to be giving up on the current campaign at this stage though, but the task he walked into was not one demanding success, instead simply survival - and that goal he will feel satisfied to have achieved at this stage. The gap to the drop zone may only be nine points, but short of catastrophe, Dons should be in League 1 next season.
Already with half an eye on next season though, Neilson said he has made contact with players to bring them in in the summer, and it looks set to be a big shake-up. With nine players out of contract - though the club holds options on Darren Potter and Chuks Aneke - it could be an entirely different looking MK Dons side in August, but given their problems this season, it should be welcomed from the terraces. And it's likely he has already made his mind up about the players out of contract, whether they will be be part of his plans for next season or not.
This season from here on though will be about short-term achievements - wins over rivals and those around them, private battles and bragging rights, perhaps now with little more than half an eye on the League 1 table.
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