This comes with a warning …if you’re a senior player of the MK Dons who was at work at 7pm last night don’t read this if you find the truth hard to take.
By Luke Payne, Feature Writer who kindly allows us to reproduce his musings.
Welcome to the last chance saloon.
A heavily-rotated side took to the field against a youthful Brighton team. The Dons’ starting XI was mostly out of favour first teamers, though there were a couple of youth prospects thrown in as well. The entire bench, apart from Craig MacGillivray, were also academy players. Surely all of this means that the players should’ve been playing like their lives depended on it, right? Wrong…Brighton’s youth team made quick work of Mike Williamson’s men and The Dons found themselves on the wrong end of a 0-4 score-line. Here’s how I rated the players after the action at Stadium MK:
Formation: 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)
GK – Michael Kelly – 1.5: Kelly gets 1 mark for taking part and the other 0.5 for a couple of routine saves he made. This may sound melodramatic, but this was by far the poorest individual performance this writer has seen since the series began a couple of years ago. The keeper spent a lot of time on the ball but consistently seemed to pick the most dangerous option to pass to, leading to countless turns of possession and even resulted in Dawson Devoy getting sent off in the second half when Kelly played him a hospital pass on the edge of the box. The keeper couldn’t have done much about Brighton’s opening goal as it was a penalty. However, he was beaten at his near post for the second goal and passed the ball directly to the goal-scorer for the third. By the fourth goal, he seemed to have given up on attempting to make the save. He was fortunate to concede even more often with the amount of times he passed it to Brighton players in the final third. Based on this performance, it seems unlikely that Kelly will be staying with the club once Nathan Harness returns from injury.
RWB – Darragh Burns – 6: One of the stronger first teamers on the night. Burns showed attacking intent and was involved in most of Dons’ better attacking moves. He tried a couple of speculative shots in the second half, but neither attempt caused much of a problem for Brighton’s keeper. He also played the cross for The Dons’ best chance of the game. The defensive side of his game was a bit more problematic. Burns as a natural winger was always looking to play higher up, which left Albert Wood exposed at the back.
RCB – Albert Wood – 5: He looked hesitant to begin with but grew into the game. Wood had his work cut out for him as his marker had a lot of skill and a quick turn of pace, but the defender held his own. He did get beaten a few times including for Brighton’s third goal and did take too long to pick his passes at times but he was probably the most reliable of the back three when it comes to playing out from defence. He moved to the left side of the back three when Tommy Smith came off. Wood is clearly not ready for a go in the first team just yet, but he was trying to do the right things and clearly possesses a footballing brain. A very respectable showing.
CB – Anthony Stewart – 3: Stewart was just as poor as Kelly when it came to passing out from the back, the perfect example being when he played a seemingly simple pass across the backline straight into the path of a Brighton forward, which immediately set the tone for the game. This was just one example of many, and even when he did pick the right passes, he did it at such a slow tempo that it was always going to be difficult to break through Brighton’s lines. He gets a little bit more credit than Kelly, though, as he did chip in with some very important tackles and blocks, even if a lot of these were made as a result of his own mistakes!
LCB – Tommy Smith (C) – 5: Similarly to the other centre-backs, he was far too slow on the ball, but he didn’t make too many mistakes in possession. He won a few important headers, including one at Brighton’s end when the ball was played in by Burns, and Smith went for goal but could only head it straight into the keeper’s arms. He came off for Charlie Stirland after 83 minutes.
LWB – Jonathan Leko – 4: Had a poor start to the game but did improve somewhat. Leko tried to make things happen but seemed to get his feet muddled up before he could release the ball far too often. This made him ineffective for most of the game going forwards though he did get a little bit more joy once he moved into one of the attacking midfield roles later in the game. His defending whilst playing wingback was actually quite good, and he made a number of interceptions and blocks as well as clearing a lot of corners at the front post. However, when he moved into the more attacking role he neglected his defensive duties entirely and he was totally out of position for Brighton’s third, a goal he could’ve prevented just by standing in the right place. It seems that if Leko isn’t playing wingback, then he won’t take any responsibility for defending. He did pick up a knock in the second half but managed to carry on until he was replaced by Joel Anker after 83 minutes.
CM – Dawson Devoy – 7 (TOP DON): The weirdest Top Don ever given, Devoy didn’t finish the game due to getting a straight red card for pulling down a Brighton attacker whilst being the final man. However, he cannot be faulted for this because Kelly played the ball directly into the Brighton man’s path in an attempt to pass to Devoy. All the midfielder could do to prevent the goal was to take the man down. Aside from this, Devoy was the only senior player to display any real quality and his passing was the only suggestion that any of the first teamers could play in Mike Williamson’s system. He sprayed passes all over the pitch, including a couple of fantastic long balls out to Burns. Without Devoy acting as a deep-lying playmaker, The Dons would’ve been pinned in their own half for the entire game.
CM – Keon Lewis-Burgess – 6: Had a busy night against opposition that were quick on the ball and physically strong. However, this didn’t stop him from getting stuck in and battling for every ball that he could. He did have some shaky moments in possession and did get caught a few times but the level of desire he showed was enough to carry him through the game. Lewis-Burgess had to hold the midfield together pretty much on his own once Devoy got sent off and he deserves a lot of credit for his work-rate.
CAM – Matt Dennis – 4: The strongest performer from the starting front three but that doesn’t really say much. Dennis was too hesitant and negative with his passing, wasting a number of attacking opportunities by passing backwards from the final third. He did try to play a couple of crosses into the box but these were intercepted easily. When Ellis Harrison came off, Dennis moved up to striker but was frozen out of the game from there.
CAM – Mo Eisa – 3.5: He struggled to keep possession on the ball and was barely involved for the majority of his appearance. Eisa did have Dons’ only shot of the first half though this was from long range and his effort went flying harmlessly over the bar. He likely would’ve been subbed off a lot sooner had there been first team players on the bench but he was eventually replaced by Phoenix Scholtz after 64 minutes.
ST – Ellis Harrison – 3.5: Got a bit more of the ball than Eisa but was just as wasteful with it. Harrison kept trying to chest the ball down to his teammates with his first touch which led to a Brighton player getting the ball every single time. All he needed to do was bring the ball down and pick his pass but he kept making the same mistake. He also gave away the penalty that opened the scoring, bringing down a Brighton forward in the box with a rogue leg. Harrison came off after 64 minutes for Rian Silver.
SUB (CAM) – Rian Silver – 4.5: Not a bad game from the academy lad but similarly to the starting attacking players he struggled to get on the ball. He did play a few passes with mixed success but notably instead of sitting and waiting for the ball to come to him, he did try to get closer to the action.
SUB (RWB) – Phoenix Scholtz – 6.5: Scholtz played how the first teamers should’ve played. He showed high levels of determination and played with purpose, looking to attack at every opportunity. He did this without neglecting his defensive duties, even preventing a goal with a last ditch sliding challenge. Scholtz probably deserves to be making the occasional match-day squad for league games.
SUB (CB) – Charlie Stirland – 5: Immediately stood out as a leader, barking out orders from the centre of defence. He did have his work cut out for him and did get beaten too easily a couple of times including for Brighton’s third goal but he did also make some vital tackles in an attempt to keep the score-line down.
SUB (CAM) – Joel Anker – 4.5: Brought some much needed energy onto the pitch but struggled to get anything going. He gave the ball away for Brighton’s fourth goal with some poor control though the ball was played to him in a tricky position by Kelly.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 3: Disappointing is an understatement for what was on show in this game. It was men against boys but it was the Brighton U21’s that were the men. They played with confidence, purpose and energy, everything The Dons’ side was lacking. The back-line did look makeshift so it’s not surprising that Dons conceded, but the nature of all of the goals was nothing short of embarrassing. Senior players shouldn’t struggle passing a football a few yards, especially against an inexperienced side. There were also four senior strikers that started the game and not one of them looked like scoring at any point. If they can’t even test the keeper of a youth team, what threat could they possibly pose to an experienced League Two keeper? For players that are at risk of being frozen out of the team, they did nothing to prove their worth.
With no cup competitions left, there won’t be heavy rotation for games anymore which means very limited opportunities for player’s that aren’t currently in the match-day squads. This could well have been the final Dons appearance for four or five of these players as there is no reason to keep them beyond January with the pathetic attitude they showed in this game. If anything, some of the academy lads are more deserving of a spot on the bench for the upcoming League Two fixtures. You could tell they wanted to be there and they were desperate to prove that they deserved their chance. Fans can accept that sometimes players will have bad games, that’s just football… but if you can’t be bothered to put the effort in when your career at the football club is at stake, you may as well terminate your contract and go play somewhere else.
If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to read your thoughts on the game and on the state of our reserves and academy players in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed the read!