By Luke Payne, by kind permission of MK Dons Worldwide on Facebook.
The second official friendly game of the season saw Dons travel to The Hive to face Barnet, with the Dons women’s team also facing off against London Bee’s in a double header. I won’t be doing a full ratings for the women’s game as I don’t currently have enough knowledge to do them justice but they secured an impressive 5-2 victory. I would highly recommend attending their league games once the season starts. They’re a very hard-working, tough-tackling team that are capable of playing some very attractive football.
Unfortunately, the men’s team weren’t able to copy the result and were held 1-1 by the National League play-off side. A total of 32 players travelled with the squad and 21 of them got minutes in the legs by the time the full-time whistle blew. The notable players to not get any minutes were Cameron Norman, Conor Grant, Matt Dennis, Nathan Harness and Brooklyn Ilunga. Some of these may be due to injury. Enough said about the players off the pitch, here’s how I rated the players for the 1-1 draw with Barnet:
GK – Craig MacGillivray – 6: Did the basics very well and was always alert and ready to come and make a save or collect the ball. He was partially at fault for the goal, fumbling at the ball in what quickly became a one-on-one scenario from a long ball forward. The Barnet forward was able to get around MacGillivray and tap it into the net. His kicking was mostly good with the exception of a couple that went straight off the pitch but this was largely due to the strong winds changing the path of the ball.
RB – Callum Tripp – 7 (TOP DON): Tripp’s strong pre-season continued with another impressive performance playing out of position. He did lose track of his man a couple of times but far less often than against Wealdstone and he seemed more defensively aware. The combination of his control, composure and passing was outstanding for a player that’s only 16 and he regularly played Dons out of some tricky positions with his intelligent passing. He even managed to metaphorically ‘break the ankles’ of a Barnet forward, turning sharply to avoid the challenge and dribble into the opposition half as the Barnet man ended up on the floor, totally wrong-footed. He came off for Phoenix Scholtz after 70 minutes.
RCB – Jack Tucker – 6.5: Struggled with Barnet’s physicality to begin with, the goal providing evidence of that as he was the defender best-placed to prevent former Don Laurie Walker’s long ball from getting past the defence. After that he started to look a lot better, winning his battles, passing nicely and covering well. He came off after 60 minutes for Trialist B.
LCB – Warren O’Hora (C) – 4: A bad day at the office. O’Hora was bullied out of the game by the Barnet forwards and he lost the majority of his battles. He also made some unexpected mistakes with his passing. All that combined with the strong winds making it harder to get out of defence made for a poor performance from the first-half captain. He came off after 70 minutes for Dean Lewington.
LB – Zak Jules – 6.5: The only starting defender that looked comfortable defending against physically strong opposition. He was strong with his challenges and just as strong in the air. At times he did look to get forwards and he did force a save out of Laurie Walker although it must be said it did look like he was trying to cross the ball instead of shoot. He came off after 60 minutes for Daniel Harvie.
CM – Alex Gilbey – 7: Just like at the Wealdstone game Gilbey was the driving force of the midfield, always looking to play forwards or run at the opposition. He was involved in some lovely link-up play with the likes of Callum Tripp and Jack Tucker. Defensively he was solid, getting stuck in and cutting out a number of attacks before they reached the defence. He came off after 70 minutes for Matt Smith.
CM – MJ Williams – 6.5: A good first impression from the midfield enforcer. He was tough in a tackle and comfortable on the ball, picking his passes well. He showed leadership qualities as well, often organising the team from set piece situations and you could hear his voice a lot of the time from open play, encouraging his teammates. He came off after 70 minutes for Dan Kemp.
CM – Ethan Robson – 4.5: A disappointing performance on the left side of midfield. He was quite error prone and regularly gave the ball away. He did have a few bright moments in his build-up play with Nathan Holland and Zak Jules but these were out-weighed by the mistakes in possession. Perhaps he was just the weak link in a very strong midfield as Alex Gilbey and MJ Williams both performed well but he did look a little out of place lining up alongside the pair. He came off after 60 minutes for Dawson Devoy.
RW – Josh Morris (Trialist A) – 4: Unusually he looked better playing out of position against Wealdstone than he did playing his natural position against Barnet. He regularly gave the ball away from good positions and it’s rather telling that most of Dons attacking play came down the left which left Morris frozen out of the game at times. Did nearly find himself in a position to score or set up a goal in the second half but he was judged to have been offside. He came off after 60 minutes for Darragh Burns.
ST – Mo Eisa – 5.5: Had an extremely quiet first half, barely getting on the ball at all. This wasn’t entirely his fault as he wasn’t getting much service with any lofted through balls getting caught in the wind, making it easier for the Barnet defenders to clear their lines. His chance finally came in the second half when an attempted through ball from Alex Gilbey found its way through Barnet’s defence. Eisa was able to poke the ball away from Laurie Walker before placing the ball into the goal from a tight angle, making it 1-1 after 54 minutes. He came off after 70 minutes for Max Dean.
LW – Nathan Holland – 5.5: The only starting forward player to really be involved in the first half. He regularly got himself into good positions and tried a number of crosses but was unable to pick out his teammates. At times he was too hesitant and he definitely could’ve done more with the amount of time he had on the ball, but he did put in a lot more effort than he did in the previous game. He came off after 60 minutes for Jonathan Leko.
SUB (RB) – Pheonix Scholtz – 6: A quietly impressive performance from the academy player. He looked good on the ball and was involved in some good link-up play. He did get outwitted a couple of times by Barnet attackers but otherwise he didn’t look out of place at all in a Dons side full of first teamers.
SUB (RCB) – Tommy Smith (Trialist B) – 6.5: It was a pleasant surprise to see a second trialist in the side. 33 year old centre-back Tommy Smith played 10 minutes with O’ Hora as his defensive duo and finished the game alongside Dean Lewington. The former Colchester captain looked confident at the back and showed good levels of physicality to prevent Barnet from getting anywhere near Craig MacGillivray’s goal. He did give away a couple of cheap free-kicks but otherwise it was a promising performance.
SUB (LCB) – Dean Lewington (C) – 6: Led by example and was as composed as ever playing out from the back. He was strong defensively but wasn’t required to do too much defensive work.
SUB (LB) – Daniel Harvie – 6: Wasn’t quite as involved as Zak Jules but he still managed to get forward a few times to attempt some crosses but he too had limited success with this. He was solid defensively and in typical Harvie fashion he had a feisty exchange with one of Barnet’s players. Apart from that his performance was pretty routine.
SUB (CM) – Matt Smith – 6.5: The most improved player by far since the Wealdstone game, Matt Smith showed attacking intent that’s been missing from his game for a long time. He frequently played penetrative passes that put Dons in some very good positions. The only real criticism is his reluctance to shoot. He managed to set himself up just inside the box but because he would’ve had to have shot with his left foot, he opted to chip the ball with the outside of his right foot to Jonathan Leko who was stood in an offside position.
SUB (CM) – Dan Kemp – 5: Struggled to get involved and looked to be playing in a deeper position than he’s used to. Still did a lot of running and put a shift in but he didn’t have much of an impact on the game.
SUB (CM) – Dawson Devoy – 6: Didn’t stand out as much as in the previous game but he still played the ball about nicely and acted as a pivot between defence and attack.
SUB (RW) – Darragh Burns – 6.5: Brought a lot of energy and attacking intent to the side. He played a number of crosses into the box with limited success but he was the player creating the most for Dons in the second half. He still got beaten too easily in his physical battles but the rest of his game was at a decent standard.
SUB (ST) – Max Dean – 6.5: Didn’t really get any chances to shoot but his work-rate off the ball was phenomenal. A number of times he was able to force mistakes out of the Barnet defenders with his fast pressing play, assisted by the likes of Darragh Burns and Jonathan Leko.
SUB (LW) – Jonathan Leko – 6: His work-rate was much improved from the last game but he didn’t create many chances on this occasion. Some good link-up play around the edge of the box but that’s about as good as it got.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 5: From a team perspective, there were still some cogs missing from the machine for it to work properly. The playing conditions were tricky, but even in the second half, when the conditions favoured Dons, there was a lack of creativity. This begs the question as to why Conor Grant isn’t playing as his speciality is setting his teammates up to shoot. The reasonable assumption would be injury, but this hasn’t been confirmed. The defence did also look a little exposed at times, with the attacking players still quite slow to track back.
In terms of the forwards, it looked like Dons were playing with 9 men for large parts of the first half where Josh Morris and Mo Eisa couldn’t get even a touch of the ball. There’s still work to be done on timing runs effectively as there were way too many offside calls. There were clear improvements in the second half, but in terms of overall performance, there wasn’t really any progression from the Wealdstone game.
It’s important to remember that Barnet are a good side having reached the National League play-offs last season. They are likely stronger opposition than a number of teams at the bottom end of League Two, so it was interesting to see how Dons reacted. Barnet were physical, and a lot of League Two sides will be the same, meaning that the current set of players need to bulk up, particularly the forwards. There will be games where simply playing pretty football around the opposition won’t be enough and for those games we have to find another way through. This friendly fixture was a good example of that.
The Dons now have a week away training in Germany before returning to play Coventry and Northampton. Hopefully there will be a couple of new faces in the door before those games as there are still some obvious gaps in the squad, most notably a cover player for full-back as well as a creative midfielder and a striker that can compete with Mo Eisa. It also remains to be seen if Josh Morris or Tommy Smith will join the club. The concern is that the squad is already too big so there must be some departing players at some point but there is little indication as to who could go. Perhaps the only clue was the absence of Matt Dennis who seemed to isolate himself away from the other unused Dons players.
If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game if you attended. If not then let us know who your current starting midfield would be. The first two spots seem obvious but that final spot is very much up for grabs. I hope you enjoyed the read!