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MK Dons: “This season offers plenty of encouragement.”

"We have again demonstrated what a great destination we are for some of the nation's most talented players." - Despite the agony of missing out on promotion, Joe from The MK1 Podcast remains optimistic for the Dons' future.

Matthew Crist

There would be no happy ending for MK Dons as their best season in seven years ended in disappointment rather than a fairytale finish after being beaten by Wycombe Wanderers in the League One play-off semi-finals.

The 2-1 aggregate defeat means it will be the Chair Boys who will lock horns with Sunderland at Wembley for a place in the Championship, while the Dons face a fourth season in League One.

Even so, a campaign that saw MK finish with a final points tally of 89 – just three off the title and one short of automatic promotion – will surely give supporters hope going into next season.

“It’s been a season of progress and one of learning for sure,” Joe Friess from MK1 Podcast tells FansBet.

“In January we had [Max] Watters, [Peter] Kioso, [Ethan] Robson, [Matt] O’Riley and [Andy] Fisher all move on and all of whom would have been considered starters, so it really was a difficult time.

MK Dons 2022

“But Sporting Director Liam Sweeting and boss Liam Manning did a stellar job in replacing them.

“For the club as well I think we have again demonstrated what a great destination we are for some of the nation’s most talented players.

“We give young players trust and a platform to perform – the rise and development of Troy Parrott has been sensational this year.

“Given the start to the season as well as the turnaround in players in January, it has been a rollercoaster at times but we chased down Rotherham to the final day.

“We never actually had it in our own hands but we gave ourselves a hell of a chance having been 14 points behind at one stage.”

It was a pretty turbulent start to the campaign for the Dons who lost their manager Russell Martin to Swansea on the eve of the League One season back in August along with three members of his coaching staff.

Martin signed a three-year contract with the Championship club, who were believed to have paid around £400,000 in compensation to secure his services.

Liam Manning MK Dons 2022

The man charged with taking over at Stadium MK was Liam Manning, who had spent a year in charge of Belgian side Lommel SK and arrived with an excellent reputation within the game for developing young players, as well as coaching an attractive and entertaining brand of football.

But surely even the most optimistic of supporters couldn’t have expected the club to have achieved what they have done under their new boss in his opening year in charge?

“What Liam Manning has done is nothing short of ridiculous,” explains Joe.

“Especially when it wasn’t just a manager that left but virtually all the backroom team too.

“I expected to merely compete for a top-six place this season with Russell Martin in charge, and I would have been happy with top 10.”

Also previously an academy coach at Ipswich, Head of the Under-23s at West Ham and not to mention Director of Coaching at New York Red Bulls, Manning has been keen to put his trust in youth with his faith rewarded throughout the season.

In fact, earlier in the campaign, he picked a team for a League One fixture with an average age of just 22.6 years.

MK Dons

He also has a clear philosophy for how he wants his teams will play with MK Dons ranking second for possession in League One and they like to press intensely high up the pitch.

As a result, his side won more points in 2022 than any other outfit in League One, eventually finishing a single point behind Rotherham, narrowly below the automatic promotion picture.

But it’s been a team effort and Joe is keen to give much of the credit to MK Dons’ Sporting Director.

“The season does offer plenty of encouragement, due to one man in particular – Liam Sweeting,” he explains.

“We lost one of the brightest English managers and replaced him with another. We lost a top-three player in the league in Scott Fraser and replaced him with the now best player in the league – Scott Twine.

“Time and time again we have sold and replaced with a good if not better replacement.

“Our succession planning has been exemplary and if anything this season will ensure we attract an even higher calibre of player than we have before.”

The problem the Dons now face is that their impressive season will not have gone unnoticed among Championship clubs and falling short of promotion opens the door for rival managers to pounce.

Among the players attracting attention is centre-back Harry Darling, with former MK Dons boss Russell Martin keen to reunite with him at Swansea City, if reports are to be believed with.

League One Player of the Season Scott Twine, scorer of 20 goals and provider of 13 assists, is also rumoured to have a number of clubs pining for his signature.

And with boss Liam Manning conceding that he may have to face the prospect of players leaving this summer, what might the future hold for one of the most entertaining sides in League One this season?

“Our team has been very much reliant on loans this season – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, it does mean that our team, come August, could look very different,” claims Joe.

“We have managed to cope with large player turnover in the last few windows and inevitably we are going to lose one or two key players, but the model seems to be: buy low, sell high and repeat.

“Nothing drastic needs to change, we have made progress over the last 24 months by just following this plan, keeping calm and making improvements over time, trust the process.

“As the MK Dons fans sing, ‘We’ve got super Liam Sweeting, he knows exactly what we need.’”

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