After a third-placed finish last season, Head Coach Liam Manning says the focus for his MK Dons side is, once again, to finish as high as they can.
Despite not having the resources to compete with some of their rivals, Manning’s Dons impressed last term and just missed out on automatic promotion to Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United.
With a high turnover of players expected this summer, the challenge is on for the Dons to better last season’s performance but the Head Coach hopes they can, once again, punch above their weight by being smart and creative in their recruitment and processes.
“We’ll set targets internally but it’s not as easy to see to say ‘this is the target’ right now, especially when you are transitioning a team like we will be doing,” Manning said in his first press conference of the new season.
“You just have to look at some of the resources in this division – there are some big teams and we have to be honest and have self awareness of that and realise what we are up against.
“But then it’s about how can we still be successful and that’s with smart recruitment and by creating a culture that allows us to develop players. It’s a new season and a fresh start and we’ll be working with intensity and focus to finish as high as we can.”
Already the Dons have seen 12 players depart Stadium MK from last season either through their contracts expiring, their loans ending or, in the case of Harry Darling, a transfer away from the Football Club, while coming through the door have been the likes of Matt Dennis and Jack Tucker, as well as the returning Ethan Robson, who spent the first half of last season on loan with the Dons.
Speaking on the departure of Darling and the signing of Tucker, Manning said: “Harry goes with our best wishes and I'm sure he'll continue to go on an upward trajectory.
“He had a tremendous season with us and I cannot speak highly enough of him firstly as a person and as a player. As everyone knows, this is what this club is about and we showed we can manage it last summer with Twiney coming in for Scott Fraser, and then we showed it again in January.
“Jack is a really good addition and one we really wanted to get over the line in January. When the season ended and we knew where we were at and the likelihood of Harry leaving, it made it a no-brainer for us.
“He's got terrific qualities, his age, his profile and the number of games he's played but he's also a terrific character, which is important to us when we recruit.”
One player who remains an MK Dons player is Player of the Season, Scott Twine, despite speculation linking the midfielder with a move away from Stadium MK.
Speaking on the future of the MK Dons number nine, Manning said: “Naturally we'll get interest and, as we have always said, if someone's journey goes quicker than the club's, and the deal is good for us and the player then it's something you look at.
“But, we've not had any bids that meet our valuation for him. There is interest but we're in a good, strong position where we can be firm in the valuation we hold and what we can expect for him.
“He's here (training) with everyone else and he’s got a smile on his face – which sums him up as a person. He's a terrific character, Twiney, and I wouldn't expect anything different from him.”
Manning also provided an update on the future of David Kasumu, who has been offered a new deal to remain at Stadium MK with his current contract set to expire at the end of the month.
“The offer is with him and he's thinking about it but we're getting to the point where he has to make a decision or we have to make a decision because we are building a team and a squad ready to compete next season.
“I’m sure that will pan out in the next week or so but I can't give a definitive time on it. The dialogue is there and the communication is open so we'll see in a week or two.”