Luke Payne, Feature Writer
After four league games without a win, The Dons had a huge opportunity to bounce back against a Harrogate side occupying a spot in the bottom half of the league. For about 20 minutes it looked like Graham Alexander’s men had a point to prove but after that things quickly turned sour. By full-time The Dons had fallen to a 1-0 defeat having dominated most of the game. For all the control of the game Dons had, there was no real purpose behind any of it. Here’s how I rated the players after the 1-0 home defeat to Harrogate:
Formation: 5-3-2 (Switched to 4-3-3 after 68 minutes)
GK – Craig MacGillivray – 4: Made a couple of decent saves but they were ones you would expect him to make. He had very little control of his box and was fortunate that Harrogate struggled to put in an accurate cross. MacGillivray played a huge part in one of the worst goals MK Dons have ever conceded, smacking a clearance straight into the path of an opposing forward. His clearance missed the Harrogate man but hit Warren O’Hora and bounced backwards. From there the ball slowly rolled into the goal making it 0-1 after 40 minutes. Apart from that he had very little to do.
RWB – Joe Tomlinson – 4.5: Played a number of balls into the box throughout the match but his delivery left a lot to be desired. He frequently made the wrong decisions in possession, opting to go long when there’s a space to run into or playing a lofted cross towards Mo Eisa who’s stood next to a large centre-back. He did have one shot from range in the first half but his effort was just wide of the target. Didn’t have too much to do defensively but showed no urgency to get back on the few occasions Harrogate did attack.
RCB – Warren O’Hora – 3.5: Although he was the scorer of the own goal, that isn’t the mistake he made in that scenario. His mistake was not reacting at all to Anthony Stewart missing his header. All O’Hora had to do was block the run of the Harrogate man that was looking to press MacGillivray as this would’ve given the keeper an easy clearance instead of a panicked one that he hit straight at O’Hora. Instead O’Hora decided to watch it happen and then got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was just one of a few mistakes he made at the back. He did play deep in Harrogate’s half at times but he showed little urgency, frequently stopping with the ball and waiting for someone to make a run instead of moving the ball on quickly. O’Hora looked like he didn’t want to be playing and he unsurprisingly came off after 68 minutes for Conor Grant as Dons switched to a 4-3-3 in hopes of scoring an equaliser.
CB – Anthony Stewart – 3: Had one job and didn’t do it. He’s partially to blame for the goal as he missed his header from Harrogate’s long ball forward. He also gifted them two free runs at goal after diving in and totally missing his challenge on both occasions. Even his clearances were wayward at times and he struggled to play an accurate pass longer than five yards away. He came off for Jack Tucker at half-time.
LCB – Daniel Harvie – 7.5 (TOP DON): The only player in the starting line-up with any sense of urgency or drive. Every time he got the ball he was looking to play forwards. He played a lot of clever passes through the lines and attempted a couple of over the top balls as well. If there wasn’t an option on then he would sprint forwards with the ball to draw a player in before picking his pass, something that no other Dons player seemed to think of doing. Harvie had a couple of shots on goal and was unfortunate not to get on the score-sheet. He also played a few crosses in, some of which were pointless with only Mo Eisa in the box but he had very little to work with in terms of options. With the exception of Eisa’s two chances in the opening minutes, Harvie was The Dons’ greatest attacking threat… and that’s with him playing at centre-back. His defensive work was reasonably solid as well, winning a number of headers as Dons pinned Harrogate in their half for most of the game.
LWB – Brooklyn Ilunga – 5.5: Was one of the better performers in the first half, showing good strength in defence and playing the ball about nicely going forwards. However, his inexperience started to show in the second half with him frequently making the wrong decisions. Whether it was heading a ball away when he had plenty of time to control it or hoofing a ball towards the box when there was a simple pass forwards that would’ve sufficed, Ilunga seemed to make the wrong decision. You could tell he was just trying to get the ball forward faster but he just needed a bit more composure to make the right decisions so when he did eventually play a ball forward, it would be more effective. In fairness to him, he was only called into the starting line-up at the last minute with Cameron Norman pulling out through injury.
CM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 5: Put in the effort like he usually does but wasn’t playing with the same intelligence and cunning that he usually possesses. He was hesitant in advanced positions and clumsy on the ball at times. He did still control the play and was regularly able to get the ball out to Tomlinson on the wing but he always seemed to be playing with his back to goal whenever he got in the box. He did go up for a few headers in the box once Ellis Harrison came off but he was always unlikely to win any of them.
CM – MJ Williams – 7: One of very few players that performed to a good standard. He broke up play well and made it difficult for Harrogate to get the ball out of their half. Williams often came deep to collect the ball in order to create a space in midfield for one of his teammates to run into. He kept things ticking along nicely and protected the defence from everything apart from themselves. He did pick up a booking for a late challenge but it was the typical ‘take one for the team’ type tackle. Williams was sacrificed after 68 minutes in favour of Jonathan Leko as Dons started to pile the more attack-minded players onto the pitch.
CM – Jack Payne – 5: Similarly to Gilbey, he tried but seemed more clumsy than usual, often giving the ball away cheaply. He did still control play and bring his teammates into the game but his impact was limited. Payne did try a few shots on goal but they were blocked before they could cause any real threat to Harrogate’s goal.
RS – Ellis Harrison – 4: For a team to have nearly 30 shots and only one of them being your striker is a major concern. Harrison’s first half was ok, as he was regularly able to hold up the play and link up with Mo Eisa. However, that’s as good as it got for Harrison. He missed one chance that he should’ve done better with and was in the wrong position for all of the crosses into the box. He’s putting in the effort but he doesn’t look as match sharp as he should be by this stage of the season. He came off for Max Dean after 81 minutes.
LS – Mo Eisa – 6: Many will be critical of Eisa because he didn’t score but he is incredibly unlucky not to have a goal to his name. He was denied in the first couple of minutes by potentially the save of the season from Harrogate’s Mark Oxley, with the keeper reacting brilliantly to Mo Eisa’s strike from fairly close range. Eisa was then denied again a few minutes later after hitting the target from the edge of the box, though the save this time around looked like it was more for the cameras. He had another chance in the second half, glancing a header wide of the target but he struggled to get involved after that. He also had to do a lot of challenging for headers and chasing loose ends whenever balls were aimlessly lumped his way.
SUB (CB) – Jack Tucker – 6: Although this probably wasn’t the right substitution, that’s not Tucker’s fault and he did a reasonable job. He prevented Harrogate from having anymore major chances and showed much better distribution than Stewart in the first half.
SUB (CM) – Conor Grant – 4.5: Came on as someone who is supposed to be able to split open defences with his passing but in reality he was playing a much safer game than Gilbey and Payne who were both looking to create chances. Grant on the other hand seemed content to just play the ball on to the next man. His passing was accurate and he moved the ball on fairly quickly, but he played the safe option far too many times.
SUB (RW) – Jonathan Leko – 6.5: It’s amazing what happens when you put a little effort in. Despite not being able to find an equaliser, Leko did change the tone of the game. He was constantly running at the Harrogate defence, something that only Harvie had done up until that point, and Leko was sharp and decisive. He tried a number of crosses into the box but his teammates didn’t seem too keen on attacking any of them. Leko did also try a couple of shots but he struggled to find the target. It must be said that his attitude was far better than in previous weeks… long may it continue!
SUB (LW) – Max Dean – 5: Fell victim to Dons trying to pump the ball into the box despite having no forwards on the pitch that were six foot or over so naturally his impact was limited. However, you cannot fault his commitment and determination. He was always quick to grab the next ball whenever it went out of play and was the only one apart from Harvie to come around and clap the fans properly after the game. Others did applaud the fans as well but it was very half-hearted.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 4.5: The opening twenty minutes of the match were actually really positive believe it or not. The players showed good levels of energy and were starting to press in a way that hadn’t been seen since the opening day of the season against Wrexham. During this time it looked like it was more a question of how many Dons were going to win by rather than what the result was going to be. However, as time went on the players let their level drop, to the point that Harrogate should’ve been three or four goals up at half-time. Fortunately, their strikers didn’t know how to shoot but as it turns out…neither did ours!
Dons regained control of the match in the second half but the high energy pressing and fast-tempo passing were lost for good. Most of the creative players were too slow with their decision-making and countless shots were blocked due to taking far too long to pull the trigger. There was a total lack of urgency from everyone with the exceptions of Daniel Harvie and Jonathan Leko and when Leko is putting in more effort than the rest of the team, that’s how you know there’s a problem.
These players are at their best when they get the ball on the ground and move the ball quickly. When the ball wasn’t being lifted towards Mo Eisa, it was being lethargically played around the edge of Harrogate’s box. The tactics were blatantly wrong and have been for a number of games now but in this fixture the player’s had the chance to do what they’re good at and they still didn’t do it beyond the 20th minute. There were simply too many players that weren’t fully committed to trying to win the game. I would go as far as saying there are a couple of them that didn’t look like they wanted to be playing at this football club.
In terms of tactics, the line-up was questionable from the start. Playing Harvie as a centre-back actually made sense because it suggested that Dons were going to try and dominate the game, which is what they did. However, why would you then start Anthony Stewart who is a no-nonsense centre-back over a ball-playing defender like Jack Tucker? Better still, why not put an extra man in midfield to ensure that the team had enough legs and didn’t spiral after doing a few early presses? There’s no reason why Ethan Robson or Conor Grant couldn’t have started ahead of one of the back three. MJ Williams is there to protect the defence anyway so you can afford to put one more body in front of him. All of this is before you consider the constant attempts to play high balls towards the likes of Mo Eisa, Alex Gilbey and Max Dean in the box. Common sense would suggest that it’s better to play it to their feet.
There’s certainly a lot to think about. If a reaction was needed before, it’s absolutely vital now. The fans are losing patience. If Graham Alexander is planning on staying in charge for much longer, then Walsall need to be demolished on Tuesday.
If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game as well as your thoughts on Graham Alexander in the comments below and I hope you enjoyed the read more than you enjoyed the game!
Luke Payne, Feature Writer