By Luke Payne
Payne’s Player Ratings vs Notts County (Home):
When second play first at any time in the season, it’s considered a big game and that was certainly the case here as Notts County came to visit Stadium MK. It was a very methodical game from two sides that would expect to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season but in the end neither side could pull away and it finished 1-1. Here’s how I rated the players after the draw at home to Notts County:
GK – Craig MacGillivray – 6.5: Made a vital save towards the end of the game to deny a Macaulay Langstaff header and claimed a number of crosses. Other than that he didn’t have to do too much in terms of shot-stopping. His distribution was questionable at times and as such, he rolled most of his goal kicks out to Jack Tucker so he wouldn’t have to play the ball himself.
RWB – Cameron Norman – 6: Seemed to be at a stalemate with former Don Adam Chicksen in the first half with both players cancelling each other out of the game. With Chicksen pushing so high up, Norman spent most of the half sat deep so he didn’t really contribute much to the attacks. He had a bit more to do in the second half once Aaron Nemane switched wings but he cleaned up well and made a couple of important headers and tackles when Notts County put the ball in the box.
RCB – Warren O’Hora – 5.5: Still doesn’t seem to be at his best and made a few sloppy errors in possession. For the most part he did enough to prevent Notts County from getting any clear cut chances but he wasn’t the most convincing and did need Cameron Norman to step in and help him out a couple of times. He did play a lovely ball over the top for Jonathan Leko in the first half but the forward’s touch let him down.
CB – Jack Tucker – 6.5: He made his usual bad error in possession quite early in the game and he did misjudge the flight of the ball for Macaulay Langstaff’s late chance. However, he was calm and composed throughout, playing reverse passes and twisting away from pressing Notts County attackers in a bid to create more space for his teammates to advance into. Defensively he stood tall and he made plenty of tackles and won most of his headers, sweeping up nicely. Without his habit for making a mistake or two per game, he would’ve easily been Top Don.
LCB – Tommy Smith – 5: Had a lot of work to do with Aaron Nemane running rings around Daniel Harvie during the first half and Smith did get beaten too easily a few times as well. He usually did enough when Notts County were in more advanced positions but he did often look exposed on the left side of defence. As the team dropped deeper in the second half, Smith seemed to get bypassed as Notts County regularly attacked down the left and crossed the ball before they reached him.
LWB – Daniel Harvie – 5.5: Had a torrid first half and was fortunate that Macaulay Langstaff’s attempt on an open goal went flying over the bar as the cross came down Harvie’s side after he was beaten by Aaron Nemane. Harvie was totally outclassed by Nemane and was regularly beaten by a combination of skill and pace. However, early in the second half, Harvie made up for his poor performance by breaking down the wing, dribbling into the Notts County box and rifling the ball into the top of the goal. This gave Dons a 1-0 lead after 46 minutes. He came off after 67 minutes for Joe Tomlinson.
CM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 6: A tough one to give a rating to. He put in a real shift and was involved in the build-up to Harvie’s goal but he was also at fault for Kyle Cameron’s equaliser when Gilbey mishit his clearance and then couldn’t track down Cameron quickly enough before the Notts County captain could shoot, finding the bottom corner with his strike. This made it 1-1 after 66 minutes. He nearly redeemed himself with a great low cross for Ellis Harrison late in the game but the striker couldn’t find the target. Gilbey was heavily involved throughout and did produce some of the highest quality moments in the game. However, he also made a number of mistakes and struggled for consistency.
CM – Dawson Devoy – 5: For the most part, this game passed by Devoy. He was involved for the build-up to Harvie’s goal but did little else of note other than a few clever passes to help Dons play out from the back. He gave the ball away cheaply a few times and seemed to lose out anytime a Notts County player was near him. He came off for Jack Payne after 67 minutes.
CM – Ethan Robson – 6.5: Did a lot of running and crucially played the ball through to Harvie for the opening goal. He was always quick to protect the defence but he was quick to counter-attack as well and can be credited for a lot of the positive plays Dons made. Robson did start to run out of steam towards the end but he still put the effort in.
RS – Jonathan Leko – 4.5: Showed his usual lazy attitude and refused to run unless the ball was played directly in to his feet. He gave up pressing multiple times when he easily could’ve forced a mistake out of the Notts County defenders and simply didn’t seem interested. On the few occasions he did get the ball, he drove forwards well and forced a very simple save out of Aidan Stone. His lack of energy got him substituted, with Ellis Harrison taking Leko’s place after 67 minutes.
LS – Max Dean – 7 (TOP DON): Similarly to Leko, Dean was quite limited for service. However, the way he tackled this problem was totally different. He showed fantastic levels of energy to press the opposition and he wasn’t afraid to come deeper to collect the ball. He also forced two decent saves out of Aidan Stone, the second of which came after he beat his marker with a fantastic bit of skill, lifting the ball over the defender’s head before charging towards the edge of the box and shooting towards the bottom corner. Notably, Dean was very decisive. There was no hesitating, he just made a decision and played the ball immediately. This is a trait that the majority of Dons’ attacking players lack. He did eventually make way for Mo Eisa after 78 minutes.
SUB (LWB) – Joe Tomlinson – 6: He looked more confident than Harvie defensively but he did also let too many crosses into the box. Tomlinson didn’t get too much of the ball but on the few occasions he did have it, he seemed comfortable and played the ball about nicely.
SUB (CM) – Jack Payne – 6.5: Payne always looked to play positively, usually passing either forwards or out wide into a crossing position. He did have one attempt on goal that was just wide of the mark. Perhaps he was a little suspect defensively, leaving gaps in behind but he was quick to chase down his man.
SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 5.5: Put in a decent amount of effort but didn’t look very match sharp. He went up for a lot of headers but rarely won them. He did nick the ball off the opposition a couple of times but nothing came from these turnovers. Harrison very nearly scored the winner in the closing minutes, getting on the end of Gilbey’s cross but he couldn’t keep his shot down and it sailed over the bar.
SUB (ST) – Mo Eisa – 5: Did a lot of running but didn’t really see much of the ball. Perhaps could’ve forced a dangerous mistake out of Aidan Stone when Eisa pressed him quickly just a few yards away from the keeper’s goal. However, Eisa turned his body away from the ball and Stone flicked it past him. Had Eisa kept looking at the ball, he may have been able to get his foot to it before the keeper could get around him.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 6: From a casual fan’s perspective, this would likely be seen as an awful game for Dons given that Notts County had the majority of possession and didn’t have to drop into their own half too often. However, there’s more to it than that. Notts County are a possession-based team and play what Dons fans know as ‘The MK Way’. Dons set up to protect their half and counter-attack where possible. It wasn’t as effective as it could’ve been as no-one seemed willing to play Max Dean or Jonathan Leko in behind, not that Leko was making many of those runs. In the end, the team had a similar amount of chances to Notts County despite the limited possession and perhaps could’ve won this fixture with some more accurate shooting.
With that being said, Dons sat way too far back after Daniel Harvie scored, and this wasn’t corrected until the water break midway through the second half. The defence were starting to drop deeper again in the closing minutes as well, but they did defend the box well. It wasn’t a pretty performance and it certainly wasn’t the best game Dons have played this season but it was an intriguing game of chess between Graham Alexander and Luke Williams, managing two of the top sides in the division. There are of course some tactical concerns as defending a 1-0 lead every week probably isn’t going to work but with the players he has at his disposal, Alexander should be able to fix such a problem within a few weeks. Questions will certainly have to be asked if this is not the case.
The reassuring thing is the much-improved squad depth. Players like Conor Grant and Brooklyn Ilunga didn’t make the bench, and that’s before the likes of MJ Williams and Matt Dennis return from injury. Jack Payne and Joe Tomlinson could start to feature more regularly as time goes on, and both had promising moments. Ellis Harrison didn’t have his best game, but he will get sharper, and Mo Eisa will be ready to start games soon as well, which can only be a positive. Perhaps the biggest positive to take is Max Dean taking his chance. He didn’t get a goal, but he certainly proved a point with his high energy, decisive gameplay. It’s hard to drop him when he plays like that, which means someone like Jonathan Leko could end up on the bench if he doesn’t step up his game.
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!