By Luke Payne by kind permission of MK Dons Worldwide on Facebook.
Payne’s Player Ratings vs Barnsley (Home):
The Dons have a horrendous record against top six sides this season and with the relegation scrap in full swing, a win against all odds was required. After going 1-0 down to confirmed play-off side Barnsley, it looked like all was lost. What followed was indescribable, with Dons firing their way to a 4-1 lead before throwing it all away again. The game would eventually rest at 4-4 so it’s a point on the board, but another opportunity wasted. Here’s how I rated the players after the madness at Stadium MK:
Formation: 5-2-3 (Switched to 5-3-2 after 77 minutes)
GK – Jamie Cumming – 7.5: Made a number of vital stops particularly in the second half, with particular reference to a spectacular diving save to deny Nicky Cadden’s shot from outside from the box. There was very little Cumming could’ve done about the first three goals. The fourth goal is open to debate as he made a good save from point blank to deny former Don Max Watter’s but Cumming spilt it and Watters was able to poke in the equaliser at the second opportunity.
RWB – Sulley Kaikai – 7: Looked like Dons brightest attacking spark in the first half despite playing a deeper role than he’s used to. He was able to play a number of balls into the box both from set pieces and open play. The best example of this was for The Don’s second goal, where he got on the end of Paris Maghoma’s through ball to play a low ball across the box for Jonathan Leko to bundle into the net, putting Dons 2-1 up after 52 minutes.
However, Kaikai was the weak link for Barnsley’s first goal, reacting way too slow to a rebounded shot, allowing Herbie Kane to shoot from outside the box, an effort that would deflect off James Norwood and into the goal. This put Barnsley 1-0 up after 30 minutes. Kaikai started to struggle later in the second half with Barnsley pushing for a comeback and he came off after 85 minutes with Zak Jules taking his place.
RCB – Warren O’Hora – 5: The Irishman had a busy day at both ends of the pitch. He very nearly scored following a corner in the first half, with his headed effort getting cleared off the line. Fortunately, he was handed another opportunity in the second half, getting on the end of Josh McEachran’s corner to head home Dons’ fourth goal of the game, making it 4-1 after 69 minutes. O’Hora did fall at the final hurdle though, as he lost track of Max Watters for Barnsley’s fourth goal. Watters was able to run in behind O’Hora and eventually finish the chance, making it 4-4 after 86 minutes. There’s an argument to say that he should’ve been tracking Watter’s for Barnsley’s second goal as well but he probably should’ve had cover from McEachran.
CB – Jack Tucker – 5: He won countless aerial battles as well as a number of blocks but he was caught in no man’s land for three of Barnsley’s goals. It would be harsh to blame him entirely for the second and third goals but he played Watter’s onside for Barnsley’s fourth and just lacked the composure to hold the line. In possession he looked comfortable but insisted on playing at a snail’s pace, making it difficult to push out of defence in the first half.
LCB – Dean Lewington (C) – 5: Looked comfortable enough on the ball and did put in some crunching tackles but lost concentration at a key moment for Barnsley’s third goal. Lewington decided to focus on calling for offside in dispute of Oli Shaw’s positioning instead of getting his body in the way of Watters who was able to volley the ball into the bottom corner.
LWB – Tennai Watson – 6: Showed good attacking intent at times and nearly had a good sight at goal in the first half. Played the ball around nicely though he did look a little uncomfortable playing an inverted role. He did leave Lewington exposed a couple of times but was usually back quickly to make up for it. On one of his bursts forward in the second half, he was able to force a decent save out of Harry Isted. When Kaikai came off, Watson reverted to his usual right wingback position.
CM – Paris Maghoma – 8 (TOP DON): Having been heavily compared to David Kasumu throughout his loan spell, his performance against Barnsley had shades of Matt O’Riley at times with his forward-thinking and vision. He didn’t always get it right but Barnsley seemed to tense up whenever he was on the ball. Maghoma played a crucial role in The Dons’ second and third goals. For the second, he was able to split Barnsley’s defence with a through ball for Kaikai who would go on to assist Leko. His involvement in the third goal was outstanding, breaking into Barnsley’s half on his own and evading three defenders before setting up Mo Eisa who went on to score.
CM – Josh McEachran – 5: Didn’t look quite as settled as Maghoma beside him and seemed to be chasing the game rather than controlling it. His break-up play was okay but inconsistent and he did pick up a yellow card in unnecessary fashion early on. McEachran did leave the defence a little exposed at times, with particular reference to Barnsley’s second goal but he did also put in a couple of vital challenges. He was one of the first players to tire, and came off after 77 minutes for Bradley Johnson.
RAM – Jonathan Leko – 6.5: Had a couple of minor chances in the first half and looked lively on the ball. He finally got himself on the scoresheet in the second half, turning home Kaikai’s cross. Leko looked much more confident on the ball once Dons took the lead, and was nearly able to fashion even more opportunities. He spent a short time up front when Mark Jackson switched to a 5-3-2 formation but Leko would eventually make way for Max Dean, coming off after 85 minutes.
LAM – Conor Grant – 6.5: Didn’t bring as much flair as the likes of Leko or Maghoma, but he did make an impact going forward with his clever passes that sent his teammates on their way. It was Grant who played the ball in to Eisa before the Sudanese striker was fouled in the box. Grant carried the ball well and was usually quick to support the defence as well. He made way for a formation change in the 77th minute, with Dawson Devoy taking his place.
ST – Mo Eisa – 7.5: Had a miserable first half, letting too much go and often too slow reacting to make a nuisance of himself. With this being said he came alive in the second half. He won a penalty with some good footwork early in the half and went on to calmly score his spot kick, placing it into the bottom corner and sending Isted the wrong way. This made it 1-1 after 48 minutes. From this point on he started playing with more purpose and following a solo break from Maghoma, Eisa was able to find the net again with a wonderful curling effort from outside the box, making it 3-1 to The Dons after 61 minutes. Shortly afterwards, his work rate started to drop from fatigue and he made way for Will Grigg after 85 minutes.
SUB – Dawson Devoy – 5: Came on at 4-3 with Dons conceding two goals in three minutes just two minutes before Devoy and Johnson were introduced. He struggled to get into the game and was mostly chasing shadows.
SUB – Bradley Johnson – 5: Similarly to Devoy, he spent most of his time trying to chase down the Barnsley players. He did try to use his physicality to his advantage but had little success with this.
SUB – Max Dean – 5.5: Did a lot of running and had a few touches but his passing was inaccurate and his impact on the game was limited.
SUB – Will Grigg – 5.5: Like Dean he tried to put pressure on Barnsley’s defence but he saw little of the ball and didn’t really make much of a difference.
SUB – Zak Jules – 6: Saw more of the ball than Dean and Grigg and looked comfortable enough. He added more physicality to the defensive line and was able to prevent any major chances coming down the left. Unfortunately the right side of defence wasn’t quite as strong and that’s where Barnsley’s equalising goal came from.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 6: Perhaps the hardest thing to give a rating to is the team performance. After the Fleetwood game I wrote that there was no commitment or desire from the players. In this game, The Dons gave it everything but were let down by 15 minutes of poor concentration at the end. To see a team and its fans go from disheartened to elated to devastated across 90 minutes is painful to say the least. There may be complaints over the lack of appreciation after the game but up until the final whistle those players gave it everything.
The first half looked fairly similar to previous games where Dons had chances to go ahead but didn’t and were punished shortly afterwards. Whatever Jackson said in his half-time team talk must’ve struck a chord with the players as they came out with a fire that hasn’t been seen for months and months. The frontline in particular were playing with such confidence, as if they were the team with a confirmed play-off place but one lapse of concentration allowed Barnsley to get their second goal and the team crumbled. Mental strength or rather lack of mental strength remains the problem with this squad. For example, with three of the four Barnsley goals, you can see Dons players appealing for offside instead of defending. Playing to the whistle is a basic concept that shouldn’t need coaching in League One. The players have to remain focused it’s as simple as that.
Going into the final day, The Dons’ fate relies heavily on Burton, who play relegation rivals Cambridge in the midweek fixture before Jackson’s side pay them a visit to close out the season. If this group of players can perform the way they did in the first 25 minutes of the second half then they have a chance of survival. Of course that’s only if it’s still in their hands come Sunday. They need our support more than ever now so for one last time this season… COME ON YOU DONS!
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!