The 2016/17 League One season is nearing its end. The season has flown by with some breathtaking goals and magical moments. Fans of MK Dons would have expected to be part of this, but the side have failed to live up to expectations. The Dons, now managed by Robbie Neilson, lie 15th in the table, following their relegation from the Championship last season. With seven games remaining, there are a number of approaches they could take in seeing out the season.
The Play-Off Approach
While it is unlikely to happen, MK Dons can mathematically still obtain a play-off spot. The Dons haven’t looked like a play-off side all season, despite their expectation to be fighting there. They have been languishing around the bottom half of the table for most of the season. In fact, it took them four months to register a home win in this campaign, coming against AFC Wimbledon in December.
With some fans adamant that this team should be fighting for promotion of any sort, a play-off approach may well take form. Their next three games are all against teams below them in the table (Gillingham, Charlton and Swindon) so they will be hoping to take maximum points from each. This could put the Dons ninth dependant on other results, which would be a much more acceptable finishing position.
They then face difficult test in the visits of Scunthorpe and Sheffield United, either side of a trip to this year’s surprise package, Southend. Five points here could, again depending on other results, move them into a play-off position. The season is then rounded off with a trip to Walsall.
It is unlikely that Robbie Neilson would adopt this approach to the final stretch of the season. The sheer depth of the task would likely take any steam out of the players for the play-offs is they were to make it, and they would fall once again, like they have at this stage in previous years.
Planning For Next Season
A more likely approach for Robbie Neilson and MK Dons would be to start planning for next season. The Dons have lacked firepower up front, with Kieran Agard the only forward to register over 10 goals in the league. Nicky Maynard has struggled all season, scoring just twice, and Dean Bowditch, despite nine goals, often finds himself amongst the substitutes.
The arrival of Robbie Muirhead in January has had little effect on the squad. He is yet to score for his new club, so could also find himself struggling for a place next season.
Neilson has already acquired Peter Pawlett from Aberdeen on a free-transfer, the first sign that he is forgetting the play-offs for this year and is planning for the future.
It would also be wise for him to bolster his defence for the coming campaign. The Dons have conceded 49 goals this season in the league, five more than their last League One season. George Williams looks an assured signing, with his versatility across the back line. Paul Downing, however, has failed to convince the fans of his ability, making constant mistakes.
It seems as though Robbie Neilson has already made his choice. Planning for next season will likely have been his verdict a while ago. The signing of Peter Pawlett suggests that he knows roughly what he wants to do to improve next year, and it is good to see that happening at an early stage. Panic buys and loans have been the downfall of the Dons in the last couple of years, so maybe next season could be different.