Slick performances no longer enough to save Karl Robinson from coming under pressure at MK Dons

Michael Holden
Karl Robinson1 300x225 Slick performances no longer enough to save Karl Robinson from coming under pressure at MK Dons

MK Dons manager Karl Robinson

One goal was enough for MK Dons to beat Crewe on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to please Karl Robinson. The 32-year-old Liverpudlian was irritated by his team’s inability to put the match to bed after watching them take an eighth-minute lead. It was a dream start, followed by a long afternoon on tenterhooks.

Such irritation in the face of a positive end-result should come as no surprise. The stakes are high for Robinson in his third year at the helm and he’s under no illusions about the fact, so he’s not going to let anyone in the dressing room rest on their laurels.

For the past two years, Robinson has been talked-up as an emerging talent, a bright mind and eloquent talker who’s surely destined for bigger things, but the early hype hasn’t yet materialised into something better and he remains in League One by virtue of his inability to deliver promotion for Dons owner Pete Winkelman.

That’s not to say promotion should have been expected. The Buckinghamshire club were rubbing shoulders with comparative heavyweights in 2010/11 and 2011/12, but showed great consistency to rack up points at a rate of 2.13 per game against the teams who finished below them.

It’s an impressive level of flat-track efficiency that has kept them in contention for 18 months continuously but the Dons seldom seem to deliver in big matches, which perhaps explains why they’ve twice finished fifth in a five-horse race, and why they’ve also lost successive play-off semi-finals.

The problem, perhaps, has been the emphasis on process. MK have become synonymous with a free-flowing passing game and it’s performances rather than outcomes that have propelled Robinson into the wider public consciousness. Quite often, when you get the process right, you dispatch the weaker teams but the better teams find a way to stop you.

Until this season, it was a shortcoming that had only mild consequences because it was unreasonable of Winkelman to demand anything more than what he was getting. However, the big clubs are notable by their absence now and the former music mogul hasn’t missed his cue to hedge his bets and up the ante.

Winkelman has shown himself to be quite a patient and understanding chairman with managers down the years, so when he decides it’s time to get serious, you know it’s time to get serious. In the summer, the playing budget was boosted significantly and Robinson was told in no uncertain terms that only automatic promotion will do.

The early signs are subtle, but the shifting landscape is clearly having an impact on Robinson’s behaviour. Recently, when he served as a studio guest for Sky Sports’ live coverage of the Crawley v Portsmouth match, he was asked for his thoughts on a couple of key refereeing decisions. He responded by saying they were the sort of mistakes that cost people their jobs. Evidently, the idea of unemployment isn’t far from his mind.

So Robinson is a man under pressure, but that doesn’t mean he will buckle under the weight of it. Indeed, the opposite could be true. High standards are now being demanded and with two years of process-orientated development already in the bank, MK Dons are becoming an end-goal orientated club, creating an environment where a certain amount of friction can be considered healthy.

The great irony about the Crewe result is the fact that only five of Milton Keynes’ 22 victories last season arrived by the odd goal. When a game was in the balance, like it was for 82 minutes on Saturday, the outcome invariably went one way or the other, seldom did the Dons hold on to what they had. Charlton, on the way to the title, by contrast, edged home by the odd goal 17 times.

When good enough is never good enough, it becomes a self-perpetuating process. And when Robinson is getting upset about his team grinding out a 1-0, he might just be harbouring the mentality required to finally secure that automatic promotion spot this time around.

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