Paynes Player Ratings

After a defeat to Wycombe in the cup in midweek, there were a few nerves heading into the first home league game of the season. Tranmere were the first League Two side to Stadium MK after losing their opening fixture to Barrow. It was certainly a game of two halves, but it was The Dons who emerged victorious, securing a clean sheet in the process with a 1-0 score line. Here’s how I rated the players after the second victory of the season:

Formation: 5-3-2

GK – Craig MacGillivray – 7: He made a number of good saves to protect the lead and commanded his box well throughout even in situations where the box was crowded. His distribution was good for the most part, and he carried on with his usual time-wasting antics. This did earn him his second yellow card in as many league games, which could be a worry because at this rate, he would get a suspension in three games time.

RWB – Cameron Norman – 7.5: One of the standout players of the first half, charging down the right wing and playing countless crosses into the box, usually finding their way towards an equally aggressive Daniel Harvie at the back post. Norman played the ball about comfortably with the likes of Alex Gilbey and Warren O’Hora but was just as good out of possession, stopping Tranmere from breaking through down the right. He had to play a bit deeper in the second half but remained solid till the full-time whistle.

RCB – Warren O’Hora – 7: A quietly solid performance from the former vice-captain. He played the ball about nicely and wasn’t intimidated by the physical presence of Tranmere’s strike force. He didn’t have too many standout moments, but that’s because he didn’t really need to. Between O’Hora and Cameron Norman, they had total control of the right flank.

CB – Jack Tucker – 8: Tucker was everywhere in the defensive third, particularly in the second half when Tranmere started to pile on the pressure. He won plenty of aerial battles and was regularly able to stick a foot in at the right time to cut out each attack. His decision-making was sharp with the exception of one or two weak long balls forward, but he was always quick to recover from any mistake he made. A contender for Top Don.

LCB – Tommy Smith – 7.5: Similarly to the Wrexham game, Smith put himself about in a way that only a no-nonsense defender can. He battled well throughout and came out on top more often than not. He never over-played the ball but still found times to play the ball out to Daniel Harvie, particularly in the first half. Smith came under a lot more pressure in the second half as Harvie began to tire, but he stood firm, limiting Tranmere’s attacking opportunities as best he could. With this being said, he did leave his man unattended in the box on one occasion in the second half, but fortunately, the opposing forward hit the bar with his free shot on goal.

LWB – Daniel Harvie – 6.5: Played fantastically in the first half, showing good aggression to get forward and pressure the Tranmere defence, even attempting a few efforts at goal, mostly from getting on the end of Cameron Norman’s crosses. He played the ball about nicely with Ethan Robson as the pair looked to find gaps in Tranmere’s defence, and he did win the free-kick for the goal. However, Harvie started to struggle in the second half, letting his man go a good four or five times before he decided to start playing deeper. It wasn’t from a lack of trying but Harvie looked like he needed a rest and the team probably could’ve done with some fresh legs on his side of the pitch as Tranmere kept finding gaps through the left.

RCM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 8 (TOP DON): Led by example with a relentless display of pressing and battling. He covered every blade of grass and played with that energy throughout, even running half the pitch on his own just to take valuable seconds off the timer as Tranmere desperately searched for an equaliser. His crossing was on point, the best example being when he set up Mo Eisa for his goal from a free-kick. His second half performance was much more defensive-minded but he made it difficult for Tranmere to get through to the final third, with the opposition players sometimes needing three attempts before they could eventually find a way to get the ball past Gilbey. He did have one or two miscommunications with the centre-backs when marking the Tranmere forwards and this led to a couple of major chances but this is more a collective error than an individual one.

CM – MJ Williams – 7.5: Broke down the play extremely well and made it difficult for Tranmere to play through the middle. He won most of his battles and rarely let the opposition anywhere near the final third despite a lot of the second half being played in The Dons’ half. He was suspect to playing a few stray passes but he made up for this with his enforcing abilities out of possession.

LCM – Ethan Robson – 7.5: Played with an aggression that Tranmere struggled to contain in the first half. He put in a number of challenges in the first half and frequently led an effective press with the likes of Alex Gilbey, MJ Williams and Daniel Harvie in support. He doubled up as a playmaker down the left wing and caused the away team a number of problems despite never shooting. Like most of the team he had to play deeper in the second half but he kept battling right to the final whistle.

RS – Jonathan Leko – 6: Took a more selfish approach than he did against Wrexham and didn’t really do much link-up play with Mo Eisa. He did try a couple of solo efforts on goal but he struggled to find the target. Leko did cause excitement with his quick feet and dribbling skills, on one occasion attempting to replicate his first goal against Wrexham but he couldn’t find a way through. He usually contributed to the press but he didn’t really bother attempting any hold-up play. He came off frustrated after 64 minutes. Ashley Hunter came on to replace him.

LS – Mo Eisa – 7: Displayed an admirable attitude, challenging for every header he could against the Tranmere defenders who were much bigger and stronger than him. He was rewarded for his efforts early in the match, playing a glancing header past Luke McGee following an Alex Gilbey free-kick. This put The Dons 1-0 up after just 7 minutes. Similarly to Craig MacGillivray, he picked up his second yellow card in as many league games due to the new rules, this time for preventing a free-kick being taken quickly. He made more of an effort to contribute to the possession play than Jonathan Leko and he carried on chasing loose ends and battling well into the second half. However, he was clearly struggling for energy by this point and he did seem to be a few yards behind the play at times. He eventually made way for Phoenix Scholtz after 85 minutes.

SUB (ST) – Ashley Hunter – 6.5: Was limited in terms of getting on the ball, though he did contribute to a few good passages of play. His job was mostly pressing the Tranmere players into making mistakes which he did very well. He chased loose ends and forced the opposition to release the ball quicker, never giving them a moment’s rest.

SUB (ST/RCM) – Phoenix Scholtz – 6.5: Scholtz is quickly becoming the ultimate utility player having played wingback all of pre-season, then central midfield against Wrexham and now a hybrid midfield/attack role against Tranmere. Scholtz was brought on purely to pressure the opposition players into making mistakes. At times he would be pressing higher up alongside Ashley Hunter but the rest of the time he slotted in on the right side of the midfield, creating a more compact defensive unit that was harder for the opposition to break down. He did get to burst forward a couple of times with the ball, and he did retain possession well whilst under pressure, showing good strength and composure to help close out the game.

TEAM PERFORMANCE – 7: This game may not have been a thriller like the away trip to Wrexham, but it was a case of doing whatever it takes to secure the three points. The Dons started well and were the stronger team throughout the first half but did start to look a little flat as half-time approached. With that being said, the 5-3-2 set-up caused Tranmere a number of problems in the first half as they struggled to deal with the midfield trio as well as the two wingbacks who created almost a wall of aggression in the middle third.

The second half was a different story entirely as Tranmere made three half-time subs that shifted the momentum of the game in their favour. In addition, players like Daniel Harvie and Mo Eisa were struggling for energy, which made it harder to maintain possession beyond the halfway line. It showed that the majority of the players had played three games in their entirety in seven days. The introduction of Ashley Hunter helped somewhat but Graham Alexander didn’t switch it up again until the 85th minute and even then it was only one more change to help with the out of possession play. There wasn’t much of an attempt to get back in control of the game which is a shame given the fact that players like Brooklyn Ilunga and Max Dean were available. Both Ilunga and Dean looked like they might come on at some point but ultimately they were left on the bench.

While it must be said that there are concerns over squad depth and the tactical decisions regarding making substitutions, it’s also worth giving credit to the players that did play and battled valiantly in all three fixtures so far this season. That sense of comradery is growing stronger game by game and you can see the partnerships developing further. There are very few individuals in this team. Instead it’s a collective effort in all areas of the pitch and it’s that sort of attitude that could make a real difference this season. They do still need some reinforcements as there are a lot of games in a season, not to mention the fact that each game is now lasting longer due to the new rules, but there is a core belief within this group that they could be a top side in this division. At the very least there’s a positive energy growing from within this group of players that has been missing from the club for the past 12 months.

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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