Released and Re-signed? – Striker Edition:

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

Here it is folks, the grand finale of the released and re-signed series 2023! What better way to finish off the series than with the strikers? The Dons already have Mo Eisa, Will Grigg, Max Dean, and Matt Dennis in the squad, and Jonathan Leko can play through the middle as well. However, there’s always the possibility that Eisa or Grigg leave the club, and it wouldn’t hurt to have another proven goal-scorer around. Here are seven out of contract strikers Graham Alexander could potentially sign:

1) Luke Jephcott
Luke Jephcott has fallen down the pecking order at Plymouth despite scoring a reasonable amount of goals in the last few seasons. He only played twice for The Pilgrims before he was loaned out to Swindon in League Two, where he contributed 7 goals and an assist in 32 league games. He is only 23 and hit double figures on his goal tally in his previous two seasons, playing League One football.

Now released by Plymouth, Jephcott will be looking to get back to his best form, and another season playing League Two football could be what he needs. He has also played for southern clubs his entire career so far, so a move to Milton Keynes makes sense. If the likes of Mo Eisa were to stay at the club, then Jephcott would offer more than enough firepower to complete the attacking line-up.

2) Matty Taylor
One thing Dons are missing throughout the squad is experience, and Matty Taylor has that in abundance. The 33 year old scored 7 goals in addition to picking up 3 assists in 36 league games in League One. He spent the first half of the season at Oxford but was loaned out to Port Vale for the second half of the season. The season before, he scored 20 goals for Oxford, so there’s clearly still a top quality player there somewhere.

The U’s have made the decision to release Taylor, and given the amount of younger talent available, it seems likely that he will drop into League Two. Having played as high as the Championship for Bristol City after some impressive seasons getting Bristol Rovers promoted from League Two, Taylor has played his fair share of games across the EFL and would offer some much-needed expertise in the goal-scoring department.

3) Sean Maguire
Sean Maguire, at first look, seems like a very optimistic option as he’s been a Championship player since 2017. However, the 29 year old only managed 17 league appearances and scored 0 goals in the 2022/23 season having spent the first half of the season at Preston before moving to Coventry in January. Both clubs have used him sparingly so a drop down the leagues seems inevitable.

What gives this option potential is geography. Maguire is a former Republic of Ireland international and Dons already have a group of Irish players at the club. The likes of Dawson Devoy and Darragh Burns would benefit hugely from having a successful countryman at the club. In addition to this, Maguire was born in Luton so a move to Milton Keynes would make sense if he wanted to return to the area.

4) Macauley Bonne
It’s fair to say that Macauley Bonne had a poor season. He started the season at QPR but only played 8 times in the Championship, with all of his appearances coming as cameos from the bench. Charlton signed him in January but he only scored 2 goals in 16 League One appearances. Now released from Charlton, Bonne could take the fall into League Two to kick-start his career.

The 27 year old has experience at Championship level and did go through a strong spell at Ipswich back in 2021/22. He is also a former teammate of Alex Gilbey, having played together at Colchester which includes the 2015/16 season. Dons fans may remember that Colchester beat Preston in the final game of that season resulting in Dons’ promotion to the Championship.

5) James Wilson
James Wilson is a player that Graham Alexander will be familiar with already. The Dons boss signed Wilson for Salford back in January 2020. The 27 year old has spent the past couple of seasons playing for Port Vale. He played 25 league games contributing 3 goals and an assist in the 2022/23 season though he did miss part of the season through injury. He was also a part of the Port Vale squad that got promoted from League Two via the play-offs in 2021/22.

Wilson isn’t the most prolific goal-scorer but he plays an intelligent style of football that brings creativity out of his teammates. Port Vale did want him to sign a new contract but ultimately Wilson decided to leave the League One club. At League Two level he would likely score a reasonable amount of goals and he would be a suitable choice for a second striker if Alexander chooses to operate with two strikers on the pitch.

6) Luke Norris
Another former teammate of Alex Gilbey, Luke Norris was released by Stevenage despite scoring 10 goals in 38 league games for the Hertfordshire club as they gained promotion to League One. At 30 years old, Norris has plenty of experience across League One and League Two playing for the likes of Colchester, Swindon and Gillingham. Notably these are all southern clubs so another relatively local move would make sense. He’s not really a 20 goal a season striker but he would definitely chip in with a few goals so he would be a perfect option to support Mo Eisa if he stays at the club.

7) Dan Butterworth
The last player on this list is a bit of a rogue shout. Dan Butterworth finds himself released from Blackburn after spending the season on loan at Port Vale. He made 31 league appearances, contributing 3 goals and 2 assists. However, he’s a bit different to the rest of the players on this list in the sense that he’s more versatile. He’s able to play the number 10 role or on the wing in addition to playing striker.

At 23 years of age he’s still quite a raw talent and Dons have plenty of those sorts of players in the squad already. With that being said he hasn’t dropped as far as League Two yet in his career and the experience he’s already gained at League One level could be enough for him to kick on and start playing his best football. Signing him would be a gamble and with Max Dean and Matt Dennis already available it seems unlikely, but if one of them were to move on then perhaps there would be space for Butterworth given his potential.

Special Mentions and the Verdict:
There are plenty of top quality options available at striker as things stand. The likes of Cole Stockton (Morecambe) and Tyler Walker (Coventry) are probably too good to drop to League Two but players such as Harry Smith (Leyton Orient), Danny Johnson (Mansfield) and Conor McAleny (Salford) easily could’ve featured on this list. Even players like Josh Gordon (Barrow) or Dan Agyei (Crewe) could be worth a risk.

The dream signing would be Sean Maguire simply for the experience he brings from a higher level and the boost it would give the young Irish lads in the squad. However, thinking on a more long-term basis, Luke Jephcott would be the ideal signing. He has plenty of football league experience already and is a proven goal-scorer. He would provide stiff competition for Mo Eisa and could even work as his replacement if The Dons striker leaves the club over the summer.

Looking even further ahead, if Will Grigg departs then James Wilson would be an ideal replacement. He would likely be on lower wages than the man on fire and is a proven League Two quality forward. Dons shouldn’t have to break the bank this season to have a quality frontline given all the options available so there really aren’t any excuses for poor recruitment in this area. Hopefully Graham Alexander and Liam Sweeting are able to make the most of this free agent frenzy while it’s still there.

That concludes the final article of the released and re-signed series for 2023. Which striker would you like to see sign for the Dons? This series has suggested 49 potential options for The Dons to sign (excluding special mentions). Is there one in particular you would like to see in MK Dons colours this coming season? Who knows whether any of this will come true but hopefully at the very least these articles have provided some entertaining reads whilst we wait for the football to return.

Thank you so much for reading and bring on League Two… COME ON YOU DONS!

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