By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
It’s amazing what can be achieved in the space of a week. After a victory over Bradford in the midweek fixture, The Dons welcomed Swindon to Stadium MK for the Dan Kemp derby. Even with Kemp ineligible for this game, there was always a feeling that there could be a lot of goals for both teams. It turned out to be quite a tactical affair, but it was The Dons who emerged victorious once again, securing a 3-2 victory. Here’s how I rated the players after another important win:
Formation: 5-2-2-1/ 5-4-1 (two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)
GK – Craig MacGillivray – 7.5: Didn’t have to make many saves as the defence cut out most of Swindon’s opportunities before they became too dangerous. Debatably could’ve done more to prevent Swindon’s first goal as it was hit from a long way out but equally Jake Young did strike it very well towards the bottom corner to make it 1-1 after 59 minutes. There’s not much he could’ve done about the second goal as Frazer Blake-Tracy had a free header in the box that made it 3-2 after 94 minutes. MacGillivray’s distribution wasn’t quite as good as it was against Bradford, but he still showed outstanding confidence playing out from the back, even when being closed down, just a couple of yards from the goal line.
RWB – Cameron Norman – 8.5: Played a subtle but important part in two of The Dons’ goals. For the opening goal, Norman won the ball in Swindon’s half and started the passing move in the build-up. Later in the game, he played the ball in to Alex Gilbey as Dons broke into the right side of Swindon’s box. From there, Gilbey would play a cross that would result in an own goal. This was probably Norman’s most complete performance in a Dons shirt. He got stuck in and handled most of his defensive work well, but equally, he was good on the ball and was able to play out from the back with the likes of Gilbey and Warren O’Hora. You could argue that he could’ve tracked his man better for Swindon’s first goal, but the whole team’s shape looked wrong for that passage of play.
RCB – Warren O’Hora – 8.5: Had a wobbly moment towards the start of the game where he passed it directly to a Swindon player but quickly settled after that. He saw a lot of the ball as Dons looked to fashion some openings between Swindon’s lines, and he handled himself well when under pressure. O’Hora’s key moment came when he intercepted a ball in Swindon’s half and dribbled towards goal. He played a quick one-two with Jack Payne to get in behind Swindon’s defence and then managed to find the side netting with his left-footed shot across goal, making it 2-1 after 66 minutes.
CB – Jack Tucker – 9: Would’ve been Top Don if it weren’t for Jack Payne’s incredible second half. Tucker hit the ground running, winning a number of vital one-on-one’s against the rapid Rushian Hepburn-Murphy. He put on a defensive masterclass, winning every challenge and header that came his way. On top of that, he was the starting point for a lot of The Dons’ possession play, and he set Joe Tomlinson through on goal early in the game, but the wingback’s touch let him down. Similarly to MacGillivray, there were times when he had possession just a couple of yards from the goal line, but he showed real confidence to play the right pass even when under pressure. His second half was almost as strong as his first, but he was one of a number of players who probably could’ve closed down Jake Young for Swindon’s first goal. With this being said, he was still winning headers well into injury time as Swindon looked for an equaliser.
LCB – Daniel Harvie – 8.5: This was a game for technically-gifted players, and Harvie showed that he fits that description with his composure on the ball in the defensive third. Perhaps he had a little too much confidence at times as he did frequently take on his man whilst being in the last line of defence but he came away with the ball every single time, even sending Charlie Austin flying at one point with his quick feet. He also played Jack Payne through in the build-up to a big chance for Alex Gilbey. Harvie’s defensive work was just as positive with the same exception as Tucker…not closing down Jake Young for Swindon’s first goal.
LWB – Joe Tomlinson – 8: Didn’t run the show like he did against Bradford but still put a real shift in, keeping Swindon’s defence on their toes by making constant runs in behind. He seems to be quickly forming a strong partnership with Harvie down the left, and they’re a very dynamic duo in possession. Tomlinson was running up and down the pitch all game long and never seemed to tire, pressing well even in the closing stages.
CM – Jack Payne – 9.5 (TOP DON): He may not have scored, and he only got one assist, but almost everything seemed to go through Payne at some point. He was operating in one of the holding midfield roles in the first half and played the ball about nicely, often dropping short to provide a passing option for the defenders and simultaneously create space behind him. However, it was his second half performance that made him stand out. He moved into the advanced midfield role after Conor Grant came off, and from that point on, Payne ran the show. At regular intervals, he would collect the ball in the middle third, turn sharply away from his man, and then play a positive pass. If he got knocked down, he would be back up in a flash and somehow still have the ball at his feet.
He got the assist for O’Hora’s goal, and he also set up Alex Gilbey for a major chance, turning his man on the left side of the box before squaring it to his captain. Payne did also have a couple of attempts on goal, including one from a passage of play where Dons seemed to turn into Barcelona at their peak, with quick passing and multiple back-heels resulting in Payne getting the ball on the edge of the box but unfortunately he couldn’t convert his shot. He came off after 86 minutes for Jonathan Leko.
CM – Ethan Robson – 8.5: A performance that would’ve gone under the radar for many, but he just kept running! He was always quick to press and broke up play particularly well. He would often be the one that sat back to protect the defence when Payne, Gilbey, and Grant were off making their attacking runs. He did start to tire towards the end, and he came off for Dawson Devoy after 85 minutes.
CAM – Alex Gilbey – 9: This time it was Gilbey that was given the licence to roam and he sure made it count, pressing constantly and battling high up the pitch, forcing a number of mistakes out of Swindon’s backline. He created a lot of opportunities for himself and his teammates, including an early chance for Max Dean and a second half shot of his own where he had the ball in a fantastic position but was denied by an onrushing Murphy Mahoney who came off his line quickly to close down the angle. However, it was a play from Gilbey that sealed the win. He got on the end of Norman’s through ball and tried to play it across goal, forcing George McEachran to try and defend it but all he could do was put it into his own goal, making it 3-1 after 84 minutes.
CAM – Conor Grant – 8: A very typical Conor Grant performance. For parts of the game, he seemed invisible, and he did make a few dodgy passes, but when he got a chance to make a difference, he made it count. He played the key pass for two of The Dons’ best attacks in the first half, the second of which ended up being an assist as he sent Max Dean through on goal. He did also do a lot of work out of possession and deserves credit for the effort he put in. He was the first man to make way, though, with MJ Williams coming on to replace him after 56 minutes.
ST – Max Dean – 9: As long as time keeps moving, Dean keeps running for the next ball. His desire to get involved makes him the perfect focal point for a possession team as he’s tricky to keep tabs on so there’s always gaps to exploit. As a result, the best chances of the first half all fell to him. He had two shots saved by Murphy Mahoney but the keeper could do nothing to stop his third attempt, as Dean ran through from Grant’s pass and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner making it 1-0 after 39 minutes. He became more of a provider in the second half as The Dons midfield started to take more shots on goal but he kept his energy levels up for as long as possible before he eventually came off for Mo Eisa after 86 minutes.
SUB (CM) – MJ William – 8.5: Came on to give the defence a bit of extra protection. He broke up play well and was able to start a few attacking moves, combining with the likes of Gilbey to launch counter-attacks.
SUB (CM) – Dawson Devoy – 8: Wasn’t on the pitch long enough to give him a higher rating but he carried on where Robson left off, playing the ball about in a composed manner and hunting down Swindon’s attackers whenever they looked to advance.
SUB (CAM) – Jonathan Leko – 5.5: Came on to freshen up the attacking line-up and press the opposition which he did at times but not consistently the way that Dean, Payne and Robson had done earlier in the game. He gave up chasing a ball that he easily could’ve kept in play as Dons were looking to run down the timer…a mistake that gave Swindon valuable seconds.
SUB (ST) – Mo Eisa – 5.5: Showed very little intensity in comparison to Dean before him and didn’t really get much of the ball. Pressed half-heartedly and walked straight down the tunnel at full-time.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 8.5: The Dons weren’t as dominant as they were against Bradford, but they were still ruthless and played with confidence. It was a very promising performance in terms of attacking output with that now being 7 goals in 2 games. However, Swindon did expose some defensive frailties. Their first goal was problematic because both of the holding midfielders were on one side of the pitch and no-one came back to cover for them so when Swindon played around the holding players, there was no-one there to stop Jake Young from finding the back of the net from outside the box. The second goal was more of a collective error as everyone lined up to defend zonally from a free-kick but no-one actually went up to challenge for the header when the ball came across because no-one knew who’s man it was.
The style of play may be lacking detail due to lack of time on the training pitch, but you can already see that it suits this group of players. Players like Jack Tucker, Conor Grant, and Dawson Devoy, who have looked shaky previously, look much more at home playing this 6 it suggests that there’s more improvement yet to come. The quality of the chances Dons are now getting is significantly better, and more importantly, there’s someone up front with the composure to take their opportunities when they come.
The question now is, what will become of the players who have lost their places? Big names like Mo Eisa, Jonathan Leko, and Ellis Harrison won’t like sitting on the bench or missing out, so it’s now a real test of their mentality. Either they can react the way Max Dean would, keeping their heads down and working hard to earn their spot back…or they can sulk and stay out of the team until they can be moved on in January. The way things are going currently, I wouldn’t expect much rotation going into the very winnable looking FA Cup game against Reading.
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!