The atmosphere around MK Dons at the moment is all too familiar. Robbie Neilson’s side are currently on a five-game winless streak in League One, with their last victory being a 2-0 away success over Bury in September.
The form over the last two years has been dire compared to that of seasons before, with only small glimpses of what the team is really capable of being shown since the club’s relegation from the Championship.
Robbie Neilson’s Time Should Not be Up
Many thought the introduction of Neilson as manager would be the catalyst for a swift turnaround. However with the first anniversary of his appointment slowly creeping up on him, many are beginning to question whether he is the right man to help fulfil the potential this club has.
Those People are Wrong
Those who are questioning Neilson are not without their reasons, and the reasons they have are perfectly valid. There is little attacking threat, the defence seems disjointed and there appears to be very little desire on the pitch.
What some people fail to realise however is how big of a mess the club was in when Karl Robinson was relieved of his duties. A 3-0 home loss to Southend was the final straw in Robinson’s tenure, which left the club in 19th place. They went one place lower after a 2-1 loss to Sheffield United in which Richie Barker took charge, which left them dangerously close to potentially suffering back-to-back relegations.
Robinson also left the club with a huge amount of dead weight players. Dean Bowditch, Nicky Maynard and Daniel Powell, as well as a number of others, should all have left the club the previous summer to free up funding for more capable players.
Essentially, Robinson left a side that was under-achieving in every aspect, had no direction and had had their confidence torn to pieces.
Robbie Neilson Appointed
It was hardly an easy start to life for the current boss in his new job. His first game was the first ever league meeting between the Dons and AFC Wimbledon, which he was successful in, before two consecutive 1-0 losses, one of which was against Robinson and his new side Charlton.
Considering where he took over though, it would be harsh to describe Neilson’s part of that season as a failure. It was not what the fans wanted, but that was not helped by the shambolic start under Robinson. The Dons were guided to a 12th place finish, just about in the top half.
While Neilson could not afford to be ruthless in his first transfer window, he brought in players that made a vast improvement to the team. The loan signings of Stuart O’Keefe and Harvey Barnes were excellent picks, with Barnes now playing in the Championship for Barnsley, on loan from Leicester.
He did, though, make dramatic changes once the summer window came about. Both David Martin and Darren Potter were allowed to leave, George Baldock was sold to now Championship side Sheffield United, and Ben Reeves was eventually allowed to join up with his old boss Robinson at Charlton after declining a new contract at Milton Keynes.
Midfield saw the biggest recruitment, with Peter Pawlett, Conor McGrandles, Ousseynou Cisse and Alex Gilbey all being signed, as well as the loan addition of Aaron Tshibola from Aston Villa. Osman Sow was brought in to be the club’s new number nine, with Aidan Nesbitt and Wieger Sietsma also signed to provide cover.
Neilson did all he could with the funds available to him. It was now about getting those players to perform together.
Back to the Present
It still has not been the season fans wanted. However, if you compare the league tables between now and one year ago, there is a difference. One year ago on Saturday was the 2-1 loss to Sheffield United, the first game which Richie Barker took caretaker charge of after Robinson’s sacking. That loss left the Dons 20th with 16 points, while they currently sit 16th with 19 points.
While it is not a dramatic improvement, it is clearly better than where Robinson left the club, and it has all been done on a shoestring transfer budget whilst trying to gel together a completely new squad.
The makings of a play-off contending side are there within this team, and there is still enough time to do it. The manager may need the backing of the chairman in the upcoming January transfer window, but more importantly and more urgently, he needs the backing of the fans.
Karl Robinson was given six years as boss and all he could do was leave the Dons further down than when he started. For fans to be getting on Neilson’s back after less than a third of that time is massively unfair. Give Neilson the time and patience, and things will slowly begin to improve.
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