Keep on climbing
Daniel Powell is determined to ensure that his season takes him from Darlington to the Championship.
Last Updated: 29/03/11 6:13pm
In October 2010, the MK Dons allowed Daniel Powell to join Blue Square Premier outfit Darlington on loan.
The youngster was used to taking in such spells, having previously spent time in the non-league ranks with Crawley Town and Forest Green Rovers.
It appeared as though the Dons had decided that his ongoing development would be better served away from Milton Keynes, as they were unable to guarantee him regular first-team opportunities.
Powell was happy to head out on another short-term deal, with it important for him to get competitive minutes under his belt.
By this stage he had already made a handful of appearances for the Dons, with his debut having arrived while he was still a raw 17-year-old.
He scored on his Football League bow and was among the goals again when returned to the first-team picture towards the end of the 2009/10 campaign.
His potential was there for all to see and it was widely acknowledged that it was only a matter of time before he became one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Few though, including Powell, expected such responsibility to be placed upon his young shoulders so soon.
Shortly after returning from Darlington he was able to force his way into the fold, allowing him to show just what he is capable of.
Fellow forwards Jermaine Easter and Aaron Wilbraham were then moved on during the January transfer window, to Crystal Palace and Norwich respectively, leaving the Dons with just two senior forwards.
Powell was among those asked to fill the void, and he has not disappointed.
He has played a key role in the club's surge into the League One play-off places and now hopes that a season which started with him scratching around for games in the non-league will end with him celebrating promotion to the Championship.
Powell told skysports.com's Chris Burton: "We've done well. It's just about taking one game at a time now and wrapping up a play-off position. The team is confident that can happen.
"Things have been going really well at the moment, with the unbeaten run. We now have to keep that going. If we can take points off Southampton and Huddersfield over the next few weeks, that will hopefully keep us in the play-off positions."
In fact, with the club currently unbeaten in eight and only five points adrift of second-placed Huddersfield, Powell admits a top-two finish may not be out of the question.
"I think it has to be the target," he said.
"If we can beat Southampton [on Saturday] that will pick us back up again after a disappointing draw against Walsall. From there anything can happen and we just have to push on. It's within our reach."
The Dons believe they are a second tier club in waiting, with an impressive stadium, an ambitious chairman and a highly-rated young manager suggesting they boast all the attributes required to compete at a higher level.
On that aim, Powell said: "Everything is geared towards promotion and we are pulling in the right direction. The chairman [Pete Winkelman] has been pushing for a long time to make this a Championship club. If we keep plugging away, we hope we can get there."
It could be a case of third time lucky for the Dons, with the club having clambered back into League One in 2008 as fourth tier champions.
Powell admits it would be a dream to take that next step, with his own personal progress this season having come as something of a surprise even to him.
He said: "I have to admit I didn't expect it to go this well. I got my chance just before Christmas and since then everything has gone right. Long may that continue."
Another perk for Powell this season arrived earlier this month when he was handed a new two-year contract.
On committing his future to the Dons until 2013, he said: "I was glad to get the contract because it means you can relax and there is less pressure on your back. That means that you can give your all on the field, the quality comes out and the performances follow."
Powell may have only recently been able to cement a first-team standing, but his association with the Dons stretches back some six years and he is delighted to see all of his hard work in the academy ranks 'paying off'.
He said: "I have come a long way, working with the likes of John Gorman [assistant manager] and the gaffer [Karl Robinson]. They have helped me to develop and all the loan spells have gone really well for me. It was just about getting up into the first-team and staying there. I have worked hard with John and the gaffer and it's paying off.
"I have been here since I was 14 years old and have come up through the youth team. I have been watching the boys for a number of years now and it's good to be involved and helping them out myself.
"I will keep working hard, doing my best in training and hopefully that will keep me in the team and allow me to keep ticking over. I want to get a few more goals and hopefully take my career as far as possible."
Powell, like any young professional, is keen to compete at the highest possible level and hopes it will not be too long before he is following in the footsteps of Wilbraham and Easter and turning out on a grander stage.
He said: "They moved on to Championship clubs and they are nice role models for us because they have shown that if you do well here, you can move up and play at a higher level."
For now, though, Powell is happy to continue writing an exciting new chapter in the short history of the MK Dons, with the club having only existed in their current guise since 2004.
He said: "It's a new club and the city is new in a way. Everything is part of a new history. It's a great club to be part of at the moment."
So, in an ambitious city, at an ambitious club, what does an ambitious Powell hope will happen before the curtain comes down on the 2010/11 campaign in May?
"Personally, I want to get a few more goals, a few more assists and a few more wins. Hopefully that will get us into the Championship," he said.
"As a club, we said at the start of the season that we wanted to get into the Championship, so that goal still stands."
Don't bet against them achieving that target, allowing Powell to add the finishing touches to what has already been a fairytale season.