Its safe to say that in the future, few MK Dons fans will recall the 2017/18 season with much in the way of fondness.
Indeed, the two main highlights – beating AFC Wimbledon away in September, and the astonishing win over Peterborough after two red cards in 25 first half minutes, either side of Chuks Aneke’s winner – almost stand out in isolation. For the most part, its been a fairly miserable campaign for MK Dons supporters, and one that ends in the drop to League Two.
Ultimately, all sorts of things added up to leave the Dons going backwards on the EFL pyramid. Between two managerial appointments that didn’t work out, bad signings, injuries, individual errors, bad luck, suspect tactics, poor game management, failing to beat other struggling teams and others, there’s a lot of negative reasons for fans to choose from for this.
The Dons’ finish a long way from their pre-season aspirations. Back in the heady days of last summer, then-manager Robbie Neilson stated his ambition was for MK Dons to be challenging for promotion from League One to the Championship.
To try and fulfil this aspiration, Neilson went for a revamp. So to make way for 7 permanent and 4 loan arrivals in the summer, the likes of David Martin, Darren Potter, Ben Reeves, Dean Bowditch, Daniel Powell, George Baldock, Nicky Maynard and Paul Downing made an exit.
After an indifferent start that bought one league win in the opening month, it became apparent going from such a big revamp to mounting a promotion challenge would be a big ask.
Four wins in September hinted that the new look side were beginning to click, but the Dons soon began to repeat the earlier inconsistency. They would only pick up 2 more League One wins before Neilson was booted in January.
The first half of Neilson’s reign showed promise in getting the Dons out of trouble, but suspect transfer dealings produced an unbalanced squad that lead to another season of struggle.
The Scot had also wanted his players to show a good tactical flexibility, but that ultimately translated into several games where the Dons struggled to make many coherent attacks and came nowhere near scoring.
Sacking Neilson ultimately did not end up feeling like a surprise, but the next step did. To try to preserve their league status, the Dons opted for former academy coach and England U-16 manager Dan Micciche as Neilson’s replacement, with one-time Bristol City manager and Crystal Palace caretaker Keith Millen as his number two.
The experiment didn’t get off to an amazing start, as it took 8 League One games to get a first win, of just 3 in total. A run of 4 straight losses that left the Dons on the brink of the drop lead to Micciche then being dismissed before the end of the campaign. Millen took charge of the final 3, and although he got a final day win, the two defeats that preceded that confirmed a failure to beat the drop.
Curiously, all of the wins under Micciche came in one burst, and some of the performances did indicate that with a full season, the experiment might have worked. But it was still a big gamble to throw Micciche in at the deep end, and he ultimately wasn’t able to really solve the Dons’ consistent problems of scoring goals and keeping them out.
In isolation, that was bad enough, but during this initial period of adjusting to Micciche, the Dons duly added failures to beat Walsall, Oldham, Rochdale and Fleetwood in key six pointers to the one point from games against AFC and Northampton right before Neilson’s exit.
By the time the Dons began winning games under Micciche, they duly got onto a run-in that featured 4 of the eventual top 6, plus a Southend side that beat both of the top two.
While there’s all sorts of little things that caused problems, football at its core is a simple game, and teams that struggle to score goals or stop goals going in at the other end are just going to have problems.
These were running threads under all managers. The Dons were one of the league’s lowest scorers, and had too many games where they either failed to create chances, or needed several attempts only to run in one.
The midfield also felt like it lacked the presence of the departed Potter, or at least someone to fill in the defensively-minded role, while no manager could find a resolution to the problem of giving away cheap goals.
So, with League Two beckoning, what happens now?
A new manager will have to be bought in, with Pete Winkelman indicating an appointment should come soon enough.
Traditionally, the MK Dons style has been to give someone a first go as a manager, but regardless of whether they are bold enough to repeat this given the current situation, whomever comes in will also need to revamp a team that needs major changes to prepare for its new league status.
This certainly means recruitment has to be better, which means fixing an issue that has been consistent since the suspect attempts to replace Will Grigg and Dele Alli after promotion to the Championship in 2015.
League Two will certainly not be straight-forward. While Coventry still have the play-off final to go, none of the other relegated sides made it close to the promotion battle – indeed, Port Vale struggled while Chesterfield went straight through the floor.
Next season will in most certainty be a series of continual battles to make it back into the third tier, and what is likely going to be a new-look Dons side has to be ready to go in order to ensure as minimal a stay in fourth tier as possible.