By Luke Payne
With injuries to Warren O’Hora, Dean Lewington and Anthony Stewart, there’s been a lot of debate over how to solve what has become a crisis at the heart of the Dons defence. O’Hora is out for the season whilst the return date of Lewington and Stewart is unknown. This leaves Jack Tucker and Zak Jules as the only available centre-backs at the club. Both are capable players but an injury or suspension to one of them could spell a whole lot of trouble and a bit of competition never hurt anyone! Here are some potential solutions to the predicament at centre-back:
MK Dons In-house solutions:
The Dons have a huge squad. Surely one or two of them are capable of playing centre-back right?
Here are my thoughts on the players we have at our disposal already that could cover the position.
1 – Jack Davies:
Dons do have one more centre-back but he’s out getting experience on loan at Concord Rangers. The 20 year old came through the academy but is yet to have his breakthrough season and a run of games in the National League South probably isn’t enough for him to make the step up to League One. Recalling Davies would give us some emergency cover but it’s way too soon for him to compete for a spot against Tucker and Jules.
2 – Bradley Johnson:
Perhaps the most obvious choice for an in-house solution would be experienced central midfielder Bradley Johnson. He has a certain physical presence and has spent much of the season sat in front of the defence in a holding midfield role. There are plenty of midfielders in the squad to play that role with Ethan Robson due to return in the coming weeks as well. With this being said, his defensive style is very ‘all or nothing’. He’ll either fly into a challenge straight away which has earned him seven yellow cards this season (the joint highest in the squad) or he’ll hold off without really standing his ground. Oxford’s goal on Saturday is the latest example of this, with the goal-scorer Bate sending Johnson the wrong way two or three times before he found himself in a position to shoot. Therefore, Johnson could work as an option but he might not be reliable enough if we want to avoid relegation this season.
3 – Tennai Watson/Daniel Harvie:
I’ve grouped the two full-backs together as the idea for both is essentially the same. Move one of them into centre-back and let Henry Lawrence play full-back. Watson already has experience playing centre-back this season, albeit in a back three rather than a flat back four. Both Watson and Harvie have the defensive qualities to play in the middle. They’re not as big or strong as Tucker or Jules but both are capable of winning their aerial battles and both are strong in a tackle. However, by playing Watson, Harvie and Lawrence at the same time you would also create a shortage at full-back…so it probably wouldn’t work as a long-term solution.
As suggested above, there are short-term solutions to this problem within the squad already. With this being said, there’s still no confirmed date for Lewington and Stewart to return to the side so a longer term solution may be necessary. Upon first inspection of the free agent market, former Sunderland and Coventry man Jordan Willis seemed to be the obvious choice. Unfortunately, Wycombe snapped him up a few days ago. Here are some other potential options I found…
4 – Geoff Cameron:
This one is quite optimistic but at 37 years of age, perhaps American defender Geoff Cameron could be convinced to come back to England one last time. The former Stoke and QPR defender has six seasons of premier league experience and he spent a further three seasons in the championship before returning to the USA to play for FC Cincinnati. He stated that he wanted to continue playing in an interview after he was released by the MLS side but it would likely take a lot of convincing and enormous wages to bring the former American international into the depths of a League One relegation scrap.
5 – Paul Downing:
The free agent with the most League One experience under his belt is former Don Paul Downing. He knows the club already and went on to sign for Blackburn and Portsmouth following his departure from Stadium MK. However, he was disliked massively by the fanbase during his time at the club due to the mistakes he made on the pitch. Limited appearances for Blackburn and Portsmouth alongside unsuccessful loan spells at Doncaster and Rochdale would suggest that he might not offer the level of quality needed to stay in League One.
6 – Tyler Blackett:
Another former EFL player released by FC Cincinnati is Tyler Blackett. The former Reading man primarily plays as a left-back but is capable of playing centre-back as well. This would resolve the lack of depth across the entire defence and would give Harvie some proper competition for the first time since Matthew Sorinola left the club in 2021. Blackett spent a lot of his youth career at Manchester United and also boasts Celtic, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham and Blackpool on his list of former clubs. He was linked with Wigan in the January transfer window before manager Kolo Toure was sacked. He’s another one that would likely need some convincing to drop down to League One though.
7 – Ryan McLaughlin:
Ryan McLaughlin would be another indirect solution to the problem. He operates as a right-back but this would allow someone like Watson or Harvie to move into the middle without jeopardising the depth at full-back. McLaughlin has recent League One experience with Morecambe but was released in the summer. Questions have to be asked over whether he offers enough quality but he has been in this position before so he’ll understand the job description.
Other potential options include: Timm Klose, Tunjji Akinola, Luke Prosser, Andre Wisdom, Pape Souaré
The ideal solution would be Tyler Blackett but it’s likely that it’s too optimistic of a signing to make and we wouldn’t be able to fund someone of that standard coming to the club. Realistically, Paul Downing would be the solution. He’s not a world-beater but he knows the club and has experience at this level. At the very least he could cover for Tucker and Jules without breaking the bank.
However, it’s all speculation at the end of the day. We’ll have to wait and see how Jackson and the team approach this problem but if you were in Jackson’s shoes, how would you solve this conundrum?
Would you sign a player from my list or is there someone I’ve missed out entirely? Let us know your thoughts and I hope you enjoyed the read!