What we learned about MK Dons over the festive period
After playing four games in 12 days, MK Dons have come out of the busy Christmas period with seven more points to their name and crucially outside of the relegation zone.
There have been plenty of talking points to mull over during those four games, and here are the main topics.
Rhys Healey's return
The returning striker scored three in three as MK Dons drew with Southend and beat Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers during the festive period. Though he might not have full-match fitness yet, he looks sharp, deadly in front of goal, and a real nuisance for opposition defenders. It would be too easy to point to his three-month absence as the cause of Dons' mid-season slump, but between the Blackpool game when he got injured and the Oxford game he returned in, Dons failed to win in the league.
But his return has coincided with the return of Sam Nombe too, whose physicality and tenacity has also been greatly missed in the Dons side.
The old football addage of winning your home games has never been truer than for MK Dons this season. Although wins have been few and far between, form at Stadium MK under Russell Martin has proven to be vital in their quest to escape the bottom three. On paper, the games against Oxford, Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers looked tougher prospects than their games on the road in the last few weeks, but it has proven to be the opposite, with three wins in a row in the league.
Difficult away days
Looking down the years, Dons have never fared well at GIllingham in particular. But when conditions take a turn, close and compact grounds get on top of them, they have struggled too. Roots Hall proved to be a sticking point for Dons on Boxing Day as struggling Southend were perhaps unlucky not to pick up their second win of the season (the first came against Dons as well). Russell Martin acknowledged Dons play better against sides at the sharp end who want to take Dons on, whereas scrapping teams tend to give them a few more problems. Home form may get them out of trouble, but form on the road will help them climb the table, should they get it right.
Martin's style is starting to pay dividends
It might still make fans squirm in their seats when Lee Nicholls makes that first pass to Jordan Houghton through the eye of a needle, but after nearly faultless games against Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers, fans are starting to see it all pay off. But there are still potholes. Away from Stadium MK, on bobbling pitches, it hasn't quite worked and it came crashing down around them at Priestfield.
The manager said his side need to find a way of playing in conditions which do not suit them, but after recent games, confidence in the system will grow.
Ins and outs expected in January
January is notoriously a tough month to do business in, but Dons will want to move swiftly to get in some vital pieces to their puzzle. After losing the experienced heads of Martin and now-coach Ryan Harley from the dressing room in a playing capacity, the manager says he wants to bring more knowhow into the squad, players who have been there, seen it and done it.
And when, just a month ago, fans would have been desperate for strikers to bolster the squad, they may now be looking further back in the pack to add, with the defence instead an area the manager may look to strengthen.
With ins though may come outs too. Do not be surprised if a few faces are shipped out in January to make way for new faces.