Final push for play-off hopes

Tuesday 19th February 2013 9:49

Karl Robinson: Cannot rely only on one style of football

Karl Robinson: Cannot rely only on one style of football

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MK Dons' FanZoner Dominic Damesick highlights five areas his side must improve on if they are to make a late push for the League One play-offs.

The MK Dons' superb cup run came to an end on Saturday, following a 3-1 defeat to the Championship's in-form side, Barnsley.

The Tykes fortunes have been transformed in recent weeks, since the appointment of David Flitcroft, with seven wins in his nine games in charge. Yet, the Dons can take heart from their cup run as a whole, which included a memorable giant-killing against QPR, and from Saturday's performance itself, most notably the second-half, in which the Dons had Barnsley on the ropes for long periods and were unfortunate to have found the net only once.

With the Dons' participation in all three cup competitions now at an end, their focus can be solely reserved for the league, or what's left of it.

There are sixteen games left and the Dons face a real struggle to finish in the top six, currently languishing in twelfth place, some eleven points off the play-off places.

Still, sixteen games is a lot of football so the Dons should not be ready to throw in the towel just yet. There are five factors which will eventually decide whether or not Karl Robinson's side could be playing Championship football come August:

The presence of a goalscorer - Ryan Lowe and/or Izale McLeod need to hit a run of form - goalscoring form.

Lowe has so far netted eight times for the Dons this season, while McLeod bagged eleven goals for Portsmouth in the first half of the season, but has yet to register since returning to Milton Keynes. One of these two - ideally, both, but we must try and stay realistic - needs to hit a rich vein of form between now and the end of the season if the Dons are to take their place in the top six.

The Dons have only scored five times in six league games in 2013, and need to reverse that trend if they are to climb the table.

Sides who have been promoted from League One have, almost without exception, featured a rampant goalscorer: Huddersfield and Jordan Rhodes; Southampton and Rickie Lambert; Peterborough and Craig Mackail-Smith - the list goes on.

By contrast, the Dons have not, to date, seen one of their own exceed twenty goals in a season since Izale McLeod in the 2006/07 campaign - it would be very helpful if McLeod could recapture that golden touch.

Cut out the mistakes - The Dons have been the creators of many of their own problems in recent weeks.

Gifting Oldham three of the softest goals imaginable in a disappointing 3-1 defeat; Dons' right-back Jon Otsemobor playing the perfectly weighted through-ball for Bournemouth striker Lewis Grabban to open the scoring at Stadium:MK; Ryan Lowe seeing red for a tackle that bordered on GBH in the same game; and not winning games despite having the better of the chances - Bury and Doncaster draws spring to mind.

The Dons will need every advantage between now and the end of the season, and cannot afford to continue making the criminal errors of recent weeks.

Tactical flexibility - I admire and endorse Karl Robinson's brand of patient, technical and probing football. It has a dash of the continental about it, an air of snobbery almost - this is the beautiful way to play the beautiful game.

Yet, looks alone can only go so far, and the Dons must add some grit and graft into their system.

The Dons management team must devise a Plan B and be willing to mix things up for different opponents, or when the game is not going in their side's favour.

Can the Dons play at an increased tempo if the opposition are seeking to close down quickly? Might it be worth going with two up-front if the Dons want to pin opponents back into their own-half? Can the Dons seize the initiative, especially at home, with a positive tactical set-up, rather than endlessly waiting for the breakthrough to materialise? Fortune favours the brave, or so they say.

Strength in depth - The MK Dons face an extremely packed fixture schedule over the next ten weeks, and this will require the squad to be rotated.

If the Dons are to stand any realistic shot at promotion, then it will not be enough to rely on the usual suspects - the likes of Luke Chadwick, Dean Bowditch and Shaun Williams can only do so much - but will require contributions from all The time is coming for the likes of Adam Chicksen, Mathias Doumbe, Daniel Powell, Ryan Harley, Chris Lines, Alan Smith and Patrick Bamford (if he ever gets fit) to prove themselves.

Lady luck - For all the talk of tactics, form and personnel, Robinson's men will undoubtedly require some luck if they are to make the improbable climb into the top six.

Key players will need to avoid injuries; a few refereeing decisions will need to favour the Dons; a handful of opposition strikers might have to miss a few sitters.

The Dons do not seem to have enjoyed much luck this season, so perhaps it has all been saved for the final run-in.

Sixteen games to go men - time for a final push.

By Dominic Damesick, FanZone's MK Dons blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @DominicDamesick - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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