Forget the past, under Karl Robinson the MK Dons that beat QPR are a club of principle
Queens Park Rangers 2 MK Dons 4
Sunday 27 January 2013
The fundamentalists who loathe everything Milton Keynes Dons represent may be unable to cope with the irony. Karl Robinson, manager of the club they revile as Franchise FC, embodies the values they seek, in a football world defined by shallow opportunism and casual disregard for tradition.
Robinson is young, principled and loyal. He believes in the game's finer qualities. His players protect and recycle possession. They have potential beyond League One, and were far too good for a Queen's Park Rangers team which consisted of malcontents and mediocrities. The FA Cup is an important avenue for acceptance.
On the morning after the night before, MK Dons' 4-2 win at Loftus Road had the feel of a watershed occasion. Their longer-term potential, as a new club in a new city, was highlighted by a record away following of 3,155. These weren't plastic fans, agents of undesirable change. They were noisy, irreverent. No different from any other set of supporters celebrating an upset.
It is time to judge Milton Keynes on their merits, rather than their history. Robinson holds the key to that process. He rejected a chance to manage Blackpool in the Championship because of the emotional and professional debt he owes to the club, and its idiosyncratic chairman Pete Winkelman.
The passage into the fifth round, for the first time, had a deeply personal back story. Like most football men, Robinson was introduced to the game, and its life lessons, by his father. Last week, when his son was wrestling with his conscience and his career strategy, following an approach by Blackpool, Kevin Robinson suffered a heart attack. "He's out now, he's come through the worst of it," said Karl who, at 32, remains the Football League's youngest manager. "Dad is up in Liverpool. He'll be watching the results come in. I'm sure it will go some way to getting him on the mend. My family mean a lot to me. It means so much to me to be around strong people."
Memories of his father were triggered by the generous reception afforded by the few Rangers fans who remained at the final whistle. It reminded him of being forced to stay on at Anfield to clap Arsenal off the pitch, after they won the League title there in 1989. "Yeah, I hated Dad that day," Robinson recalled. "I was crying my eyes out and wanted to go home. I was a young boy and he made me stay and clap them. That stays with you. That's loyalty for the team but also respect for the team you're playing against. I think the QPR fans deserve a tremendous amount of respect for the applause today.
"Listen, I've made many mistakes in my life through lack of loyalty to different things but I've learned from them. I think loyalty's a gift and I love the club that I work for and the group of players I work with. Turning down Blackpool is just a decision I made. I'm in a good place personally."
His management style is collegiate. He brought in Mick Harford as his assistant "because I didn't frighten the dressing-room any more" and is encouraging the coaching ambitions of Alan Smith. The former Leeds, Manchester United and Newcastle midfield player, whose experience balances the promise of such outstanding young players as Adam Chicksen, is looking after the reserves.
"You always know you're on a tightrope with Smithy" said Robinson. "You're always one tackle away from him doing somebody and I'm always fearful of that tackle coming along. He gets criticism, but as a person he's as good a man you're going to meet. We're very lucky to have him. I choose people on being good people and having a strong personality. He is somebody in life that I respect immensely."
That respect is reciprocated. "Karl can go as far as he wants in the game," said Smith. "He plays a style of football that is very attractive to watch. People say we overplay for our division but we have still got the structure and defensive qualities you need. The team is evolving all the time. That is where Karl's coaching is first-class.
"It is difficult to keep a manager of that age and that quality. Karl has been very loyal to MK Dons and the players he has brought here. He is an honest person who told us that he wanted to stay and see it out. He is not one to let the lads down. Now we need to get promotion this season."
That means winning at places like Yeovil, tomorrow night, when QPR have the little matter of a visit from Manchester City. Harry Redknapp promises to be typically hyperactive before the transfer window closes on Thursday evening, but insists prospects of Premier League survival should not be judged by FA Cup disappointment.
"People who saw the Liverpool game thought that was the end of QPR but we came back at Chelsea, came back against Tottenham, went to West Ham and drew," he said. "We will pick a different team on Tuesday, don't worry about that."
QPR: GREEN 5/10, FABIO 6, FERDINAND 4, BEN HAIM 4, TRAORE 5, MACKIE 6, GRANERO 4, FAURLIN 5, PARK 4, BOTHROYD 5, CAMPBELL 5
MK Dons: MARTIN 6, LEWINGTON 7, KAY 7, MacKENZIE 6, OTSEMOBOR 7, CHICKSEN 8, POTTER 7, SMITH 7, WILLIAMS 7, LOWE 7, BOWDITCH 7
Goals: QPR Bothroyd 83, Fabio 90. MK Dons Traore og 4, Lowe 40, Harley 50, Potter 56. Substitutions: QPR Zamora 6 (Park, 67). MK Dons Harley 7 (MacKenzie, 20), Lines (Smith, 75), Alli (Bowditch, 90). Booked: QPR Fabio, Faurlin. Man of the match Chicksen. Match rating 6/10. Possession: QPR 53%. MK Dons 47%. Attempts on target: QPR 12. MK Dons 6. Referee M Dean (Wirral). Attendance 17,081.
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