By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
It was a quick return to action for Graham Alexander’s men after a dismal home defeat to Harrogate at the weekend. This midweek fixture saw The Dons visiting Walsall at the Poundland Bescot Stadium, where the two sides played out a 0-0 draw. Here’s how I rated the players after the 0-0 draw on the road:
Formation: 5-3-2 (Switched to 5-2-3 after 68 minutes)
GK – Craig MacGillivray – 6.5: A fairly routine performance for the keeper. He made a couple of decent saves but was never too troubled by Walsall’s attackers. Hs distribution was questionable at times, and he did seem to rush a few clearances, but that’s understandable given the goal he conceded against Harrogate.
RWB – Cameron Norman – 6.5: Solid yet unspectacular on his return to the side. He seemed to have the better of his man and looked comfortable on the ball for the most part. He did try to play a number of balls into dangerous positions with mixed accuracy and success. Norman did also step in to cover the centre-backs a couple of times to prevent Walsall from getting a clear sight at goal.
RCB – Warren O’Hora – 6.5: Much improved from Saturday’s game but still seemed a little off. Some of his defending was fantastic and showed great levels of awareness, but he wasn’t consistent enough. He played a few dodgy passes, but none of his mistakes led to major chances for Walsall. He made more of a conscious effort to get forward, and he frequently underlapped Norman when the wingback had the ball on the right wing. O’Hora did have one attempt on goal following a free-kick but his header was caught well by Owen Evans.
CB – Anthony Stewart – 7 (TOP DON): By no means a perfect performance from Stewart but a significant improvement from the Harrogate game. He didn’t rush into challenges too often, and he picked his moments to break down Walsall’s attacks. His no-nonsense attitude came in handy when perfectly timing a slide tackle on a Walsall forward in the box. Stewart did still hoof the ball away far too much, but he showed composure in defence and limited Walsall to very little.
LCB – Daniel Harvie – 7: Another reasonably strong showing from the wingback turned centre-back. Similarly to O’Hora he tried to get involved with the attack and played a few decent balls into the box. He helped bring Joe Tomlinson into the game, and the pair were able to create a lot of space down the left. Defensively, he won most of his aerial battles and got stuck in well.
LWB – Joe Tomlinson – 5.5: Got into the right position and defended well for the most part but he was incredibly wasteful in possession and ruined a number of The Dons’ attacks with a poor pass or a bad cross. Tomlinson did occasionally play a decent ball, but neither Mo Eisa or Ellis Harrison were able to capitalise on these opportunities when they came. He did get into one great position after Harvie cut the ball back to him in the box but Tomlinson couldn’t seem to decide whether to shoot or cross so he ended up playing the ball straight out of play.
CM – Jack Payne – 5.5: Tried to find pockets of space, and he used his quick feet to get Dons out of some tricky situations, but he struggled to find that killer pass. He did also give the ball away cheaply a few times with poor touches and passes. Payne put the effort in and battled well but lacked that cutting edge. He came off after 68 minutes as Dons switched to a more attacking formation. Jonathan Leko came on to replace him.
CM – MJ Williams – 6: Very solid defensively. He broke up the play well and used his body well to retain possession in the middle third. Williams won the majority of his aerial battles as well. However, he offered very little going forward and regularly misplaced passes. A lot of these passes seemed rushed, and he just needed more composure to make the right pass.
CM – Alex Gilbey – 5.5: Got stuck in and battled well, but similarly to a number of his teammates, he lacked consistency. He did give the ball away cheaply a few times, but equally, he made a few vital tackles to keep Walsall away from The Dons’ defence. Gilbey got into a couple of really good positions where all he needed to do was play the final pass, but he couldn’t quite make it work.
RS – Ellis Harrison – 5: Put in a lot of effort for very little reward. He went up for every header and won the ball the majority of the time. However, his headed efforts at goal weren’t particularly accurate, with the exception of one that the keeper saved comfortably. Some of Harrison’s hold-up play was really good, but at times, he would take a heavy touch and lose the ball. He did nearly open his account for the season with an overhead kick, but his effort was straight at the keeper who was able to parry it, and the danger was averted soon after. Harrison came off after 68 minutes for Matt Dennis.
LS – Mo Eisa – 5: Similarly to Harrison, Eisa put the effort in but lacked composure in the final third. He had the best chance of the game when the ball was played across the box for him by Jonathan Leko, but Eisa failed to hit the target. Shortly afterwards, he fired off target again from thirty yards out when he had acres of space to run into with Jonathan Leko and Matt Dennis both making runs in behind. His possession play was good, but as soon as he got a sight of goal, he seemed to panic.
SUB (ST) – Matt Dennis – 6: Dons struggled to get the ball forward after the subs due to having one less man in midfield, so Dennis didn’t get too much of the ball. However, when he was in possession, he looked calm on the ball and held up play well. He would carry the ball a few yards and then move the ball onto his teammate, and The Dons were able to create a few chances from this. However, he was never really in a shooting position.
SUB (RF) – Jonathan Leko – 6: Similarly to Dennis, Leko fell victim to having one less playmaker on the pitch, but he worked well with the scraps he was given. He was usually able to draw three or four players towards him before moving the ball on, though he did sometimes release the ball too late. He set up Eisa for a huge chance but struggled to find any space to get a shot away for himself.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 5.5: From a defensive point of view, this was a very strong performance. Walsall didn’t have many chances, and the only time they did get a clear sight of goal, they were caught offside. The Dons dominated all aspects of the game apart from the one that matters…putting the ball in the back of the net. As a collective, no-one seemed comfortable in and around the box. Any shots were either from outside the box or were rushed. It was always the final ball that let the team down, whether it was a key pass or a shot. It’s this lack of composure that’s haunted Dons in all of the last few games, and it’s a mystery as to why all the players are so on edge whenever they get a chance to score.
Perhaps the most confusing thing is that it’s the most experienced players that seem to be struggling with this. You would happily put money on Alex Gilbey completing a ten yard through ball or on Mo Eisa scoring from a few yards out, but in this game, you would’ve lost your bet. Similarly, Warren O’Hora hasn’t looked like the player he was prior to Graham Alexander’s appointment. There seems to be something that’s unsettling the players, but it remains to be seen what it is. MJ Williams was quick to defend the manager after the major fan backlash following the defeat to Harrogate, but if it’s not Alexander that’s having a negative impact on these players mentally, then what is?
Next up it’s Gillingham away on Saturday. Unfortunately, I won’t be there to do the ratings, and I’ll be missing the following game at home to Barrow as well. The good news is that Jonathan Harries and Chris Turner are stepping into the breach once again, so the ratings will still be up for the next two weekends like usual. Thanks to Jon and Chris for stepping in again… they’ve been carrying the series so far! I can only apologise for missing so many games, but I’m hoping to have a clearer schedule by November.
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!
By Luke Payne, Feature Writer