Milton Keynes Dons collected 18 points from their opening nine games en route to a play-off finish last season as they missed out on automatic promotion by one point.
However, by the same stage this term, it’s just 10 points to their name.
Liam Manning’s side have been lifted by last week’s 2-1 win at Oxford, but it’s no secret that there has been a drop-off for the Dons.
The losses of magic talisman Scott Twine and Rolls-Royce defender Harry Darling in the summer – who followed midfield all-rounder Matt O’Riley from the previous transfer window – have reverberated around Stadium MK.
The team amassed 89 points last season, which would have been enough for an automatic spot in three of the previous five full League One campaigns.
With 15 players added to that group this summer, many hoped that the extra depth would counter-balance or outweigh the losses of star individuals, while one or two EFL pundits even predicted dominance!
The early evidence, though, suggests that things have gone demonstrably the other way, as Ross Duffy from the MK1 Podcast discusses.
“It’s been an underwhelming start but in hindsight, us fans understand why.
“The turnover of players, the volume of incomings and losing two of League One’s best talents in Darling and Twine didn’t help at all.
“In the opening nine games, we have been trying to find our feet with a young squad.
“Promising performances at Watford and Morecambe have given us glimpses of what this side can be all about, but inconsistency is halting our progress.”
The 2-0 EFL Cup victory at Watford, and the 4-0 league romp at Morecambe, inspired hope that the Dons had turned a corner, but they were followed by defeats to Exeter and Bolton.
“We knew the departures of Twine and Darling were pretty much inevitable if we didn’t go up.
“We knew that every window wouldn’t be plain sailing like previous ones, and we had to recruit differently this time around.
“Then, in came all these high potential signings, like Dawson Devoy and Darragh Burns from League of Ireland. This club is all about giving young players a chance and I feel like that will come to fruition long-term.”
Five of the club’s nine permanent additions in the summer window are under 23, so perhaps Sporting Director Liam Sweeting would argue – amid questions over this summer’s recruitment – that the success or otherwise of the newcomers should be judged on a longer period than nine games.
There is a level of expectation that comes with last season’s results and although Ross is disappointed with the start, he reaffirms his belief in head coach Liam Manning.
“I’ve never questioned Manning’s ability to take this team forward.
“Every manager has plenty of poor runs it’s just how you manage it in those low points. I’m confident he will turn us around but at the same time, he’s owed patience after last season.”
Ross also feels the club is making progress off the pitch, in the fan engagement aspect.
“In terms of the match-day experience, the club admitted to one or two mistakes in the recent Fans Forum, so it’s a case of moving forward.
“Having Dons Action and the MKDSA (Supporters Association) as a voice for the fans is vital. Here’s hoping that the offer of £12 for a place in Block 11 against Plymouth Argyle is a successful one.”
On the pitch, the Buckinghamshire outfit must use the victory at the Kassam Stadium as a springboard to put a run together.
Six players who started that game were part of the team that finished 3rd last season, and the good news for Manning’s side is that, despite below-par performances, they are still only seven points off the play-offs with a game in hand.
In two of the previous three League One seasons, there has been a team who has collected 10 points or fewer by this stage and still made the play-offs.
Oxford United achieved that feat in 2019-20 and so too did Blackpool in 2020-21, with the former ultimately losing the final and the latter winning it – not all is lost for Manning’s outfit at this early stage.
“The Oxford win will be a big morale boost ahead of the two-week break but, regarding the ‘play-off push’, I feel it’s a case of taking it game by game.
“The more time this team play together, and the younger players develop the better we will get.”
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