By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
After a storming job on Friday nights, MKDSA Live Show Luke went back to what he’s known for …the day job
After seven weeks without a Saturday game at Stadium MK, The Dons finally returned to league action with a match against relegation battlers Forest Green. Mike Williamson’s men have had weeks of training to further implement his style of play, and it showed. Dons finished the game as victors, boasting a solid 2-0 scoreline. Here’s how I rated the players after the action at Stadium MK:
Formation: 5-2-2-1/5-4-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)
GK – Craig MacGillivray – 7: Had very little to do from a shot-stopping point of view, only really needing to claim a few loose balls in the box. His distribution was the real talking point. He had a few scary moments where he nearly gave the ball away and even conceded a corner from waiting too long to release the ball on one occasion. However, he was following the tactical instructions given to him by Mike Williamson, and he followed his orders with confidence.
RWB – Joe Tomlinson – 9 (TOP DON): Two assists and a clean sheet. That’s about as good as it gets for a defender. Tomlinson limited Forest Green to very little down the right but was also able to cause a lot of problems down the other end. He regularly made himself available on the right wing and caused the opposition defence all sorts of problems with his aggressive positioning. This quickly paid off when he received the ball on the right wing and played a low ball into the box for Max Dean, who opened the scoring two touches later. He popped up again to cut the ball back for Conor Grant, who unfortunately couldn’t capitalise. Tomlinson then bagged his second assist later in the first half. His first cross was blocked, but he was able to collect the ball again and cut it back to Jack Payne, who put the chance away. He had a bit less success going forwards in the second half, but he did nearly get a goal, heading Alex Gilbey’s cross towards the top corner, but it was punched away by Luke Daniels.
RCB – Cameron Norman – 7.5: It turned out to be quite a comfortable game for Norman on the right side of defence. Troy Deeney had very little impact and rarely pressed, which gave Norman a lot of time to play out of defence. However, whenever he was under pressure, the defender made the right choices, sometimes playing a delicate ball away and sometimes putting his foot through it to avoid playing into traps. Despite operating as a centre-back, Norman was able to spend a lot of time in Forest Green’s half, which helped Dons control the game, never having to drop too deep to pass the ball about. With this being said, he did have to drop deeper in the second half as Forest Green chased the game, but they didn’t really look like scoring down Norman’s side.
CB – Warren O’Hora – 8.5: The standout player from a defensive point of view. He regularly showed up in the right place at the right times to cut out fast attacks from the likes of Callum Morton and he acted as the last man, preventing the most dangerous attacks before they got too close to MacGillivray’s goal. He did make one or two minor errors in possession but quickly recovered from these. O’Hora held firm in the second half and limited Forest Green to very little even when they started committing more players to their attacks.
LCB – Dean Lewington (C) – 7: A solid yet unspectacular game from the skipper. He did get caught out of position a couple of times by Callum Morton but was covered by O’Hora. Lewington was comfortable on the ball, and similarly to Norman, he was able to play deep in the opposition half. He was positive with his passing, though he did sometimes give the ball away. However, you could see the plays he was trying to make, and he only took risks at times when the potential negative consequences would be minimal.
LWB – Daniel Harvie – 7: Played high up the pitch and looked to cause Forest Green problems, but he had very limited success in comparison to Tomlinson on the other side. Harvie did try a few crosses, which forced Forest Green’s defence into action, but his balls weren’t quite as accurate as Tomlinson’s. With this being said, he was getting in the right positions and doing the right things, which is encouraging for future games.
CM – Jack Payne – 8.5: Only just missed out on Top Don, but his role can not be understated. The game started fairly slowly, but it was Payne who started to dictate play. He sprayed passes all over the pitch and was regularly able to pick out Tomlinson and Harvie. His calmness and control on the ball was fantastic, and he was the key to playing out from the back whilst safely avoiding the opposition press. Payne went for goal from two free-kicks. The first was ever so slightly too high, and the second was saved by Luke Daniels. He did get his goal, though, running onto Tomlinson’s cutback to hit the ball first time hard and low into the bottom right corner, making it 2-0 after 35 minutes.
CM – Ethan Robson – 7.5: Made his return to the side in the absence of MJ Williams due to suspension. Robson played like he wanted his place back. He was sharp on the ball, and similarly to Payne, he played some brilliant passes out to the wings. He wasn’t afraid to pass around corners or play one touch football to break through the middle third. Between Payne, Robson, Grant, and Gilbey, they were able to create some quick passing moves that got Dons from the halfway line to Forest Green’s box in seconds. Eventually, Robson made way for Dawson Devoy in order to give Robson some rest as this is his first game back from injury. He managed 77 minutes before he was withdrawn.
CAM – Alex Gilbey – 7: Had a quiet game by his standards, but he did a lot of the dirty work from an advanced position. Gilbey did play some nice balls out to Tomlinson and also played the cross for Tomlinson’s effort on goal. Apart from this, Gilbey didn’t get too involved in the final third. However, he did enable his teammates to be more effective in the final third and played the ball about well. As usual, he battled from the first whistle to the final whistle.
CAM – Conor Grant – 7: A little inconsistent at times, but he looked confident on the ball and helped Dons break into the final third a number of times. He regularly displayed some impressive dribbling skills to skip away from his man before moving the ball on, and he’s really starting to settle in this possession system. With this being said, he does still need to work on adding goals to his game, as shown by his effort in the first half where Tomlinson cut the ball back to him. Grant tried to go for goal with his first touch, but he skewed his effort well wide of goal. He came off after 77 minutes for Matt Dennis.
ST – Max Dean – 8: Had a quiet start to the game as the two teams sized each other up. However, when he eventually got on the ball, he made it count. He received the ball from Tomlinson from the right-hand side. Dean used his first touch to get away from his marker before using his second touch to strike the ball hard and low across goal, finding the bottom corner from a tight angle. It was an intelligent play that gave Dons a 1-0 lead after 21 minutes. After that, it was Dean’s out of possession contribution that made a real difference. He never gave the Forest Green defence any rest and he pressed them quickly and efficiently, forcing them to pass back to their goalkeeper multiple times which in turn allowed Dons to push the defensive line much closer to the halfway line. He also blocked Troy Deeney’s header following a corner, preventing a goal that would’ve given the game a lot more tension.
SUB (CM) – Dawson Devoy – 6.5: Came on to freshen up the midfield and played the ball about nicely. He helped to maintain the tempo of the game and kept things ticking along nicely until the final whistle.
SUB (ST) – Matt Dennis – 6: Had limited service due to Forest Green pushing to get back into the game, though he probably should’ve done better with the little service he did get. He passed the ball about well enough and occasionally shielded the ball to allow his teammates to get into better positions. However, he struggled to get on the ball in the box. Dennis did end up in a bit of a mental game with Ryan Inniss, with the pair shoving each other seemingly after every interaction. Dennis would finish the game with a knock he picked up after former Don Jordan Moore-Taylor landed on top of him.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 8: On the whole, Dons looked a lot more organised, and they played with a lot of purpose in the first half. Every single player looked more confident in themselves, and they were happy to play one and two touch football through the middle third, which in turn created gaps further up the pitch. The Dons played with the same level of confidence even when the ball was just a few yards away from the goal-line, and no one seemed phased whenever they or their teammate made a mistake. There’s been a notable mentality shift, and this is what carried the team through the game. The second half wasn’t as good and it allowed Forest Green to push further up the pitch but at the same time, they were limited to very few opportunities and Craig MacGillivray never had to make a save. It turned out to be a routine win against a struggling side.
The major concern is still squad depth. Without Jack Tucker, MJ Williams, Ash Hunter and Nathan Harness available, the bench did look a little light on usable options for this system. The fact that Dons had three subs left unused is rather suggestive of who is likely to remain at the club beyond January, especially when energy levels were starting to drop towards the end of the game. A settled team is good news, so whilst this same eleven are on the pitch, there are no major problems. However, against stronger opposition, the bench players may well have been needed to try and secure a result. Equally, if there are any more injuries, then someone new may need to step up, and it’s hard to say that any of the remaining squad players would be able to answer the call.
With all this being said, that’s theoretical football. The reality is that The Dons are now six league games unbeaten and are getting closer to those play-off positions, with a game in hand on most teams above. A string of positive results can do wonders for a team’s league position, just ask Stockport. With lots of games coming up, there is a real opportunity to get into a rhythm and keep grinding out those results. Next up it’s an away trip to Morecambe, who are currently one point ahead of Dons and will be going into the game off the back of a 0-5 win away at Doncaster. This will be a good challenge, so let’s hope Mike Williamson’s men are up for it!
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.