By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
It’s safe to say Dons fans went into this fixture optimistic over the potential outcome following a 1-2 win over Tranmere and the introduction of two new faces in the ranks. However, it was a very different Morecambe side to the one that Dons beat 1-3 back in December. Mike Williamson’s men took an early lead but fell short at the final hurdle and the game finished 1-2 in Morecambe’s favour. 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 – Filip Marschall – 5: He had very little to do in terms of shot-stopping but he still had an eventful debut. Most of his contribution in the first half was short passes, which he looked very comfortable doing, even chipping the ball over the striker in the six yard box. He did make one short-range passing error in the second half, but the ball bounced back to him anyway. With this being said, his longer range distribution was poor. He also flapped at most crosses that came into the box, including for Morecambe’s equaliser from a corner where he tried to claim the cross and totally missed it, leaving an open goal. There was little he could’ve done to prevent the second goal. A lot of fans are calling for his head already, but he’s only young and deserves more of a chance than that.
RWB – Kyran Lofthouse – 5.5: Lofthouse was mildly disappointing in this game. He got into some great positions but rarely capitalised on them when he did get the ball. He had two clear chances to shoot after receiving balls across the box, but he passed it both times. He did get one shot away in the first half, but it was a difficult volley, and he failed to hit the target. His defensive work was mostly solid apart from Morecambe’s first goal, where neither Lofthouse nor Ethan Robson properly marked the back post, allowing Jordan Slew to have a tap-in, making it 1-1 after 51 minutes. He was also a bit slow coming back to defend whenever Morecambe tried to counter-attack. Lofthouse came off for Jonathan Leko after 88 minutes.
RCB – MJ Williams – 6.5: Williams looked comfortable in defence and never looked like getting beaten by Morecambe’s forwards. He was mostly comfortable on the ball, though he had one or two strange moments where he randomly booted the ball away without thinking. Williams played with a lot of control in the first half and was able to break into Morecambe’s half a few times. However, in the second half, he was more static, which made it harder to play out from the back.
CB – Warren O’Hora – 7.5 (TOP DON): This is perhaps controversial as he did play a part in Morecambe’s winning goal, but I would argue he’s quite unlucky. He had to sprint back to prevent former Don Charlie Brown running through on goal and managed to get a touch on the ball whilst Brown ran behind him but it bounced straight back to the Morecambe man who went on to score with his resulting shot. O’Hora cut out the majority of Morecambe’s dangerous attacks and was one of the main reasons why Morecambe struggled to get a shot on goal aside from set pieces. He was always on hand to cover Williams and Daniel Harvie, and he played out from the back comfortably, albeit too slowly in the second half. A leader at the back in the absence of Dean Lewington.
LCB – Daniel Harvie – 7: He looked comfortable on his return to the side, though he did make a couple of early errors in possession. However, once he settled, it was as if he had never been injured. Harvie was sharp on the ball and helped advance down the left a number of times, supporting the likes of Joe Tomlinson and Alex Gilbey. He was strong in the air and never let his man past him. Unfortunately, he picked up another injury in the second half and eventually had to let Dean Lewington come on and replace him after 83 minutes.
LWB – Joe Tomlinson – 6.5: Heavily involved in The Dons’ attacks, but his deliveries into the box weren’t as accurate as usual. It was his ball that resulted in Max Dean’s goal, but only due to Morecambe failing to clear the ball properly. He did set up a number of chances for his teammates, but he made a lot of these chances harder than they needed to be, crossing the balls at an awkward height. However, he did play a lovely ball for Max Dean, which created one of the best chances of the game. He was strong defensively and won most of his battles. Tomlinson struggled in the latter stages of the game, but this may be due to an injury he picked up earlier in the half.
CM – Jack Payne – 7: He formed a two man show with Ethan Robson in the first half, and the pair dominated the middle third. He would regularly pick up the ball in deep positions, turn sharply whilst riding a challenge before darting away and moving the ball on. He did make a few mistakes in possession, but equally, he created some fantastic chances over the course of the game. Payne was one of many Dons players who were guilty of over-playing in the final third and sometimes needed to pull the trigger rather than passing. He wasn’t quite as dominant in the second half but still helped Dons to advance deep into the Morecambe half.
CM – Ethan Robson – 6.5: If the game had finished at half-time, both Payne and Robson would’ve been looking at ratings of 9 with how much they were controlling the game. However, they weren’t able to sustain this in the second half, and Robson in particular struggled to make an impact. In the first half, he was constantly breaking up play and moving the ball on to safety, but in the second half, he was overrun by a very physical Morecambe side. They weren’t able to sustain many attacks, and Robson can be credited for helping with this, but equally, Dons struggled to create chances in the second half. He was partially at fault for Morecambe’s first goal, failing to mark the back post from a corner alongside Lofthouse. He made way for debutant Lewis Bate after 75 minutes.
RAM – Dan Kemp – 6: Morecambe seemed to mark Kemp out of the game in the first half, and it was evidently their game plan to keep him quiet. Most of his first contributions involved being wiped out by Morecambe players, and he struggled to get into the game until the second half when Morecambe switched their focus to Max Dean. Kemp looked good on the ball and displayed great speed to escape his marker. He looked comfortable in the final third but was another one that didn’t pull the trigger often enough. With that being said, he did have a couple of shots on goal, including a volley following a set piece that Archie Mair in the Morecambe goal saved comfortably. He looked lively, at least, which would suggest there’s more to come from him yet.
LAM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 6.5: Looked to be one of the main outlets for Dons in the first half, with the right wing heavily guarded. Gilbey was involved in countless passing moves with the likes of Tomlinson, Payne, and Max Dean. He created chance after chance but did also contribute to the overplaying Dons were doing in the final third. He was less impactful in the second half and eventually made way for Ellis Harrison after 76 minutes.
ST – Max Dean – 7: A contender for Top Don with the amount of chances he created for himself and his teammates. Dean opened the scoring with a proper striker’s goal, picking up a loose ball in the box and hitting it on the spin with his first touch straight into the bottom corner, making it 1-0 after just 2 minutes. He had another major chance in the first half, getting on the end of Tomlinson’s cross, but his shot was somehow saved by Archie Mair. Dean’s most impressive trait in this game, though, was his link-up play. He regularly controlled fast-moving balls and flicked them on to his teammates to advance at speed, setting up the likes of Gilbey, Payne, and Robson in this fashion. He moved to one of the attacking midfield roles when Ellis Harrison came on, but regardless of where he was playing, Dean popped up everywhere, contributing to both defence and attack.
SUB (CM) – Lewis Bate – 5.5: Looked lively on the ball and helped Dons to create more attacks in the latter stages of the game. However, his standout moment was a bad one, though it wasn’t really his fault. Dean Lewington played a hospital ball vaguely in Bate’s direction, and Bate slipped as he went to retrieve it, resulting in Charlie Brown charging through towards goal and eventually grabbing the winner. Bate had some nice touches and looked natural as a possession player. There’s certainly more to come from him.
SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 6.5: Came on at a time where Dons were frustrated and struggling to get the ball into the final third. It took a while for Dons to get back into a rhythm in the second half but when Harrison did start to get more involved he did well, contributing to some great chances, most notably a one-two he played with Jack Payne for a Dons break. Harrison picked the right passes at the right time and was mostly selfless apart from on one occasion right before the final whistle where he tried to control a ball with his back to goal when he should’ve let the ball run to his teammate who was in a good shooting position.
SUB (LCB) – Dean Lewington – 4.5: Never really got going and proved to be the weak link when it mattered most. His passing was loose and inaccurate, with particular reference to Morecambe’s winning goal where he played an inaccurate short pass intended for Bate, but Lewington ended up playing it straight into the path of Charlie Brown. From there, he tried to pressure Brown into O’Hora’s path, but Lewington was unable to stop Brown before he got the shot away. The Morecambe striker found the bottom corner from the edge of the box, making it 2-1 after 92 minutes.
SUB (RWB) – Jonathan Leko – 6: Didn’t do much wrong but was given little service out on the right. A quiet cameo appearance through no fault of his own.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 6.5: I’ve never been as relaxed watching a game of football as I was in that first half. Every Dons player looked composed and comfortable on the ball. Morecambe could barely get into the final third, and Mike Williamson’s men were creating plenty of chances at the other end. There was certainly some over-playing in the final third, but the passing moves to get to the final third in the first place were sublime. The movement off the ball and clever passes around the corner were incredibly impressive. Every intricate detail seemed to click into place right up until the point where someone had to put their laces through it.
Morecambe regrouped at half-time, and just like that, the game changed entirely. Dons got caught in a more physical, feisty game, which suited Morecambe far better, shown perfectly by the equalising goal from a corner. The Dons did start to recover, but a couple of injuries led to a defensive change that upset the rhythm, and Morecambe capitalised, picking up on a passing error and breaking effectively. The disappointing thing is that this game should’ve been out of sight by half-time. The performance in that half was top quality but didn’t have the goals to go with it. Apart from Max Dean, no one seemed prepared to take a shot early. Almost every attacking player had a chance to shoot and instead chose to pass. There comes a time when you have to take a risk, and Dons just weren’t prepared to do that, instead opting to try and walk the ball into the back of the net.
With the exception of set pieces, Dons defended very well and limited Morecambe to very little. Both goals were down to individual errors, which should be ironed out given the incredibly squad depth at Mike Williamson’s disposal. The biggest concern is still that frontline as the players should be good enough to score plenty but are struggling to score from 20 or more shots every game. The next game will be a real test of mentality as all form is thrown out the window when it comes to playing against that one team in South London on Tuesday evening.
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