Payne’s Player Ratings Cheltenham Town

After a tricky run of fixtures against play-off chasing teams, MK Dons would’ve been grateful to have a fixture against a team not too far away in the league standings. Cheltenham came to visit StadiumMK knowing that a win would see them clear of the relegation scrap entirely. The Dons also wanted to improve their chances of survival but both teams had to settle for a point in a 2-2 draw, including a dramatic last kick of the game equaliser for the visitors. Here’s how I rated the players after the draw with Cheltenham:

Formation: 5-2-3 (Switched to 5-3-2 in the 94th minute)

GK – Jamie Cumming – 6.5: A difficult one to give a rating to. He had a nightmare start when he passed the ball out directly into the path of Elliot Bonds who swiftly sat the keeper down with a sharp change of direction before firing into an empty net, making it 1-0 to Cheltenham after 12 minutes. His distribution was questionable throughout the match but he would redeem himself by heroically saving an Alfie May penalty after 70 minutes. Pulled out another big save in the final seconds to deny a Caleb Taylor header but Cumming was only able to direct the ball into the path of May, who was able to tap home the equaliser, making it 2-2 after 97 minutes.

RWB – Tennai Watson – 7.5: Likely would’ve been Top Don if he hadn’t lost his aerial battle to Taylor for Cheltenham’s second goal. With the exception of this mistake, Watson looked solid at the back. The wingback was heavily involved at the other end of the pitch as well, having a couple of shots on goal blocked. He made two bursting runs down the wing in the second half, the first of which led to a one-on-one opportunity for Mo Eisa. The second run led to the penalty when he was tripped up by Will Ferry as Watson dribbled into the box.

RCB – Anthony Stewart – 6: Looked shaky for large parts of the game, making simple mistakes frequently for an experienced player. More often than not he got his defensive duties done, but his decision-making on the ball left a lot to be desired. He did step up in the later stages of the game, when Cheltenham were pushing for an equaliser.

CB – Jack Tucker – 7.5: The stand-out centre-back for the majority of the game, Tucker won most of his battles and was a catalyst in The Don’s possession-based play. This showed most when he started the move leading to Mo Eisa’s first goal, dribbling forward into Cheltenham’s half before playing the ball in to Conor Grant who in turn found a gap between the lines of the opposition’s defensive unit. Unfortunately his good work was somewhat undone when he was outsmarted by Aidan Keena who was able to sneak his foot between Tucker and the ball as he looked to clear his lines in the box.

LCB – Dean Lewington (C) – 6.5: This wasn’t a stand-out game for the skipper, but he quietly went about doing his job in a typically composed manner. With that being said, he made the first noticeable mistake of the game, passing it directly to a Cheltenham player in his own half. Fortunately, the resulting attack led to nothing. Lewington did try a speculative shot on goal in the early stages but couldn’t quite find the target. His build-up play was good, albeit a little slow at times and he was strong defensively, cutting out a number of Cheltenham attacks.

LWB – Zak Jules – 4.5: Still showing very few signs of being able to play as a wingback. He regularly failed to track back, even if he was in Cheltenham’s box whilst they were launching attacks of their own. This lack of urgency ended up proving costly as he refused to help Will Grigg as the forward tried to prevent an onrushing Ryan Broom from reaching the box. Broom was allowed to cross the ball which resulted in Cheltenham’s equalising goal with Jules stood in no man’s land. He did try to make some contributions going forward, trying to dribble past his marker as though he’s a winger. Jules had limited success with this though.

CM – Josh McEachran – 6.5: Partially at fault for Cheltenham’s first goal, signalling for Cumming to play the ball to him but he got caught flat-footed by Bonds who intercepted it before rounding the keeper and opening the scoring. McEachran improved after that and his break-up play was reasonably good, though he did sometimes struggle to maintain possession once he won the ball. He set up a number of half-chances for Stewart from set pieces but had limited creative output otherwise. Having put a shift in, he came off for Bradley Johnson after 94 minutes.

CM – Paris Maghoma – 7: Probably the more successful of the central-midfield pairing but he did show some inconsistencies. His break-up play was effective and he carried the ball well in the middle third but sometimes hesitated once he reached the final third. He was constantly trying to increase the tempo The Dons were playing at, and his build-up play was crucial in breaking Cheltenham down. Maghoma played a lovely ball over-the-top for Watson in a move that won The Dons a penalty.

RAM – Conor Grant – 7: Seemed quiet at times but was pulling a lot of strings whenever Dons looked to attack with numbers. He played a major part in Eisa’s first goal, cleverly flicking the ball on from Tucker’s pass to pick out Nathan Holland who unknowingly directed the ball towards Eisa. This was one of a number of flicks that Grant played to cut open Cheltenham’s defence. He didn’t neglect his defensive duties either, jockeying and putting another body between the Cheltenham attackers and the goal. However, he had two or three chances to shoot from inside the box but he was too reluctant to pull the trigger. Due to a change in formation, Grant was subbed off after 94 minutes with Ethan Robson taking his place.

LAM – Nathan Holland – 6.5: Had mixed success with his attacking efforts and wasn’t always the easiest on the eye to watch, but he did have some vital moments in the game. He was involved in a lot of build-up play and tried to set up his teammates for a number of chances, including sending Jules through on goal with a reverse pass, but Taylor was able to cut out the chance before Jules could get his shot away. Holland also played a part in Eisa’s first goal, mis-controlling a flick-on from Grant that luckily ended up in the path of Eisa who finished the move. The winger did have a shot on goal in the first half that was denied comfortably by Luke Southwood. Holland was later subbed off for Leko after 64 minutes.

ST – Mo Eisa – 8 (TOP DON): Had three major chances and took two of them. The first chance he got was just before half-time and he was quick on his feet to react to Holland’s loose touch, striking the ball first time from the edge of the box into the bottom corner, making it 1-1 after 45 minutes and 2 minutes of added time. His second chance was a bit less impressive. Having been set up by Watson, Eisa found himself in a one-on-one scenario but his shot was saved and smothered comfortably by Southwood. Fortunately, Watson won a penalty shortly afterwards and Eisa capitalised, hitting the top corner with a very well-taken penalty. This gave Dons a 2-1 lead after 59 minutes. He continued to press the Cheltenham defence until he was subbed off for Grigg after 78 minutes.

SUB – Jonathan Leko – 6.5: Ran at the Cheltenham defence a few times and forced them into a retreat, but got a little bit stuck upon reaching the box. Some half chances were created as a result. He did make one mistake in the final minute where he booted the ball directly to a Cheltenham player instead of finding a space to make the Cheltenham defenders have to go and collect it. This would’ve given The Dons more of a chance to push up instead of sitting deep and waiting for the ball to come back, which it eventually did in devastating fashion.

SUB – Will Grigg – 6: Involved in a bit of nice build-up play but most of his duties were defensive. He put in a lot of effort to put pressure on the Cheltenham player’s including when he sprinted half the pitch trying to stop Broom advancing into a dangerous position. Arguably he should’ve made a tactical foul before the Cheltenham man advanced too far but this would’ve given them a free cross into the box regardless.

SUB – Bradley Johnson – 6: A late change in an effort to kill some time but the change in formation caused confusion in the ranks, through no fault of Johnson and Robson who were sent onto the pitch.

SUB – Ethan Robson – 5.5: Suffered the same fate as Johnson, forced to morph the team into a 5-3-2 late on. Perhaps he should’ve pressed properly when Grigg charged forwards to try and dispossess Southwood. His attempt at a press was a bit half-hearted which allowed Cheltenham to play around Grigg who then had to sprint half the pitch to prevent the chance.

TEAM PERFORMANCE – 6: This was a disappointing game, not just because of the result, but because of the mind-set of the players. There were too many instances where Dons players did the bare minimum instead of committing to doing their job properly. Even at half-time it was noticeable. All the Cheltenham players jogged off the pitch with purpose, knowing that there was a job to be done. Dons on the other hand, walked leisurely towards the tunnel. That sums up the game perfectly.

The frustrating thing is that there were lots of quality moments throughout the match, clear indicators that this team has the ability to be taking three points from mid-table sides. Some of the passages of play were delightful to watch. There’s been a huge growth in confidence levels, with Tucker and Grant being prime examples of this. Both were making plays they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a few weeks ago. However, it’s no good being confident if you’re not prepared to commit to doing your job properly, and that was the case with some of the players in this fixture.

It’s safe to say it’s two points dropped. A win would’ve left Cheltenham just one point above The Dons but now instead of looking up, it’s a cautious look down at Cambridge who took three points from their rivals Peterborough and are only three points away from catching Mark Jackson’s men, as are Liam Manning’s Oxford. The good news is that the unbeaten run extends to seven games, and there’s an opportunity to get back those lost points with a Tuesday fixture at home to Charlton.

If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game in the comments below and I hope you enjoyed the read!

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