The hard work pays off for MK Dons
It only took one season for MK Dons to return to League 1.
Saturday's 1-0 win over Mansfield at Stadium MK meant Paul Tisdale's side snatched an automatic promotion spot, sparking wild scenes of celebration on the final day of the season.
It has not been the easiest of campaigns for Tisdale and his side. Arriving at the club last summer, the former Exeter boss walked into a club down on morale, confidence and spirit. Two relegations in three seasons had seen Dons drop from the Championship to League 2, and in desperate need of a reboot.
Ten summer signings saw plenty of new blood around the squad, and though fewer players left the club than the manager anticipated, it would later on turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
They made a comfortable, if not mindblowing start to the season, and only tasted league defeat for the first time in late September even though they were sitting in the bottom half of the table.
Kicking on from there though, Dons mounted a comeback which saw them take top spot from Lincoln in December.
Things started to come unstuck though. Jordan Moore-Taylor – arguably Dons' best defender until that point - limped out of the 2-0 win over Morecambe and has barely been seen since, and it was the first of what became an injury crisis in the back line. George Williams, Baily Cargill, Mathieu Baudry and Joe Walsh would all miss key games while in the treatment room.
Form dramatically fell away after Christmas, and losing at home to Swindon saw Dons drop out of the top eight. But wholesale changes at a rearranged game at Newport County would spark a comeback into contention for automatic promotion.
While Lincoln kept their foot to the floor to secure the League 2 title, Bury, Dons, Mansfield and Tranmere all battled it out for the final two automatic spots – each tripping up along the way, leaving the door wide open for the others to take advantage. But it would all come down to the final day.
Knowing a play-off spot was already secured whatever the result, Dons needed a win over the Stags to jump them in the final standings... and that they did.
For Tisdale, promotion comes after back-to-back play-off final defeats with his former club. For Dons, it means a return to the familiar surroundings of League 1 after just one year away.