Matchday 46. Two clubs with 76 points. One match to decide who is promoted to League One and who will have to fight their way through the playoffs. Mansfield Town had the upper hand, needing a draw or better to earn automatic promotion. The Milton Keynes Dons, on the other hand, needed to win, otherwise it was the playoffs.
Luckily for the Dons, they were the home club, playing in front of 20,000+ boisterous supporters at Stadium MK. The home crowd saw an early goal – David Wheeler scored on a header from a corner kick in the second minute – and the Dons held on to win 1-0, sending Mansfield Town to the playoffs (they lost in the semifinals to Newport County), while the Dons returned to League One after a lone season in the fourth tier.
Here’s a quick look at how the Dons ended up in this position:
What Went Right
The Dons were hoping for a short stay in League Two after a 23rd-place finish in League One last season led to their relegation. It was slow going at first, but eventually the club got going, entering the promotion zone for good (mostly) in October. They did so with a two-month stretch that saw them go unbeaten from 25 September to 24 November, winning seven of 10 matches. They entered the weekend of Thanksgiving in first place, and ended the first half on Boxing Day in second.
Another, shorter winning streak into March (5-0-0 from 12 February to 9 March) helped them recover from a slight dip out of the promotion zone, and they were in second place (behind Lincoln City) at the end of March. They struggled to find consistency the rest of the season (more on this in the next section), but managed to be in position to play a match that mattered on the last day of the season.
Kieren Agard led the club in scoring, logging 20 goals over 43 appearances, and the club was stingy on defense, yielding only 49 goals on the season (1.07 goals per match) due to the stellar play in goal by Lee Nicholls.
What Went Wrong
The club’s first half was much better than their second. Through their first 23 matches, they were 12-7-4; while they won nearly as many down the back stretch (11 wins) more draws became losses and they ended the season on an 11-3-9 stretch, which helped to account for their fall from the top of the table to competing for a spot in the playoffs.
They started 2019 in a rough stretch, losing five of the first seven in the New Year, which dropped them out of the promotion zone for the first time since October. They quickly returned, but they struggled to find consistency down the stretch, losing three of five (1-1-3) prior to their all important season-ending match against Mansfield Town. Things ended up working out for them in the end.
Recent English Football League History
The Milton Keynes Dons have only been around for 15 seasons; they are a sort of “phoenix” club, renamed and a new club from the ashes of Wimbledon F.C. (AFC Wimbledon also resulted from that messy affair). As such, they do not have an illustrious career as a lot of the other clubs that they play against. Eleven of those seasons were spent in League One, where their best season was a second place finish after the 2014-15 season. In their lone season in the Championship the following season, however, they finished 23rd, and within three seasons, they were in League Two.
A return to League One will also reunite the Dons with some heated rivals. Besides AFC Wimbledon – “I wonder why those two clubs are rivals?” he asks facetiously – League One clubs Wycombe Wanderers and Peterborough United will be pleased to see the Dons on their schedules next season. The rivalry with Peterborough extends to the hockey rink, while the Wycombe Wanderers are the only other professional club to play in Buckinghamshire and the clubs therefore play in the “Bucks derby.”
Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?
Expect a lot of turnover from the Dons in the offseason, as no fewer than 13 players have reached the end of their current contracts, and three loaned players will be heading back to their home clubs shortly. Among the big names on that list is leading scorers Kieran Agard and Chuks Aneke, who have already been offered new deals, and captain Dean Lewington, who has been with the club since it’s Wimbledon FC days. Most notable among the remaining players are Ouss Cisse, who appeared in 26 matches, and Robbie Simpson, who appeared in 21.
Chances of a One-and-Done?