By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
Derby day! Many would’ve predicted an eventful evening going into this match, but no one would’ve expected it to transpire the way it did. Before the line-ups were even announced, Dons fans were hit with the news that Mike Williamson wouldn’t be attending the game due to a close family bereavement. I wish Mike and his family the best at this sad time. In his absence, Assistant Head Coach Ian Watson took the reins. By the 22nd minute, The Dons has taken a 3-0 lead and would go on to secure the 3 points. The game finished 3-1 to MK Dons with the away team down to 9 men due to two second half red cards. Here’s how I rated the players after the action concluded:
Formation: 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)
GK – Filip Marschall – 5: Another tough day at the office for the young keeper. It was a case of just about doing enough to keep the opposition from scoring in the first half and then gifting them a goal in the second half. He made one or two routine saves and punched away the odd cross, but he never looked in command of his box when the opposition had the ball. With his most notable save, he directed the ball straight into the path of James Tilley, who fortunately fired over the bar despite having an open goal to aim at. Marschall’s distribution was mostly solid, but the one mistake he made was a bad one. He played a hospital pass to Jack Payne inside the box and Payne was easily dispossessed, allowing Armani Little a free shot on goal from close range, which he swiftly dispatched to make it 3-1 after 53 minutes. This gave the opposition a glimmer of hope until Huseyin Biler and Paul Kalambayi got sent off later in the half.
RWB – Cameron Norman – 7: Norman had a quietly solid game. He played the ball about nicely for the most part and seemed to be on the same wavelength as MJ Williams. He kept the opposition chances down to a minimum, though he didn’t threaten to do much at the other end of the pitch with the exception of one chance. Joe Tomlinson played a ball through for Norman, but keeper Alex Bass was out quickly and blocked the shot before Norman could get a real sight at goal. He picked up an injury and had to come off early, being replaced by Kyran Lofthouse after 45+2 minutes.
RCB – MJ Williams – 7.5: Williams had his work cut out for him going up against a lively Aron Sasu, but for the most part, he was able to keep him quiet. He did get beaten by Sasu on one occasion in the first half, but the opposition failed to capitalise on the resulting chance. Williams put in a couple of big tackles and used his physicality well, but he also played the ball around nicely, helping Dons to control the game. He looked to get forward whenever he could and offered good support just inside the opposition’s half.
CB – Warren O’Hora – 8: The standout man in defence. He had one or two shaky moments, including when he nearly let an opposition player through on goal, but he recovered quickly to prevent the chance. O’Hora started the move in the build-up to the second goal and also played the ball over the top that resulted in Paul Kalambayi’s sending off. To top all this off, he got the third goal, finding the bottom right corner with a header following an Ethan Robson cross. This made it 3-0 after 22 minutes. O’Hora put in some vital tackles and interceptions at the other end to ensure Dons would close out the game.
LCB – Dean Lewington (C) – 7.5: Led by example with an alert performance. He read the game brilliantly and was able to prevent a lot of the opposition’s chances before they even really started. He did have one or two shaky moments, but he was composed enough to recover from any mistakes he made. Notably, he was also the man ready to block the shot on the line for James Tilley’s first half chance, but the forward missed the target anyway. Lewington and O’Hora were the starting point for a lot of The Dons’ attacks, and in Lewington’s case, he was regularly able to supply Joe Tomlinson, who was having a field day down the left wing. The skipper came off after 64 minutes for Daniel Harvie.
LWB – Joe Tomlinson – 8.5 (TOP DON): As mentioned above, Tomlinson had a whale of a time down the left wing. He had plenty of space to operate and was quick and decisive on the ball. As a result, he was regularly able to beat his man, and he provided the assist for the opening goal, whipping a low cross into the box for Dan Kemp to bundle over the line. Tomlinson continued in this fashion and created plenty of chances for his teammate’s right up until the final whistle. Almost every attack seemed to come through him at some point. He did all of this without jeopardising his defensive duties, though he didn’t have to do much defending once the opposition were down to nine men.
CM – Jack Payne – 7.5: Payne was mostly solid, though he did make a few mistakes in possession in the middle third, including for the opposition’s best chance of the first half. He also lost the ball for the opposition’s goal, but there wasn’t much he really could’ve done about it as Marschall played him into trouble. Payne kept things ticking through the middle and was usually the one to pick out the run of the wingbacks. From a defensive point of view, he put a shift in, sprinting after every ball and never giving the opposition time to rest. He had a shot on goal from a free-kick, but this was comfortably saved by Alex Bass.
CM – Ethan Robson – 7.5: Robson did a lot of the dirty work, breaking up play and covering the wingbacks whenever they advanced too far forward to get back in time. Similarly to Payne, he chased every ball relentlessly, and the midfield duo made it incredibly difficult to break through the middle. Robson picked up an assist for a wonderful cross to O’Hora following a short free-kick from Payne. He was one of three to make way late in the game, with Lewis Bate taking his place in central midfield after 87 minutes.
CAM – Dan Kemp – 7.5: Lively as ever and opened the scoring after just 10 minutes, getting on the end of Tomlinson’s cross having gained a yard on his man. He was also the man to trigger the press that led to the turnover of possession in the build-up to the second goal. Kemp tended to drift inside to get more involved in the action, and as a result, he was able to contribute to some lovely passing moves that helped Dons reach the final third. He had one shot on goal in the second half that he should’ve done more with when he played a lovely diagonal ball out to Tomlinson. From there, Tomlinson advanced into the box and cut it back for Kemp, but he fired his shot straight at Alex Bass. Kemp came off after 87 minutes with Mo Eisa taking his place in attacking midfield.
CAM – Alex Gilbey – 8: Gilbey went under the radar but played a huge part in Dons’ attacking success in this game. He technically got the assist for the second goal when he tried to flick a ball through for Max Dean which resulted in Ryan Johnson lobbing his own keeper and simultaneously getting injured, making it 2-0 after 16 minutes and forcing the opposition into an early substitution. He was heavily involved in most of Dons attacking play and played the ball about beautifully with the likes of Lewington, Tomlinson, Payne, and Max Dean. This includes fast one and two touch passing moves that took Dons from the defensive third to the opposition box in just a few passes.
ST – Max Dean – 8.5: Didn’t get a goal, but something good seemed to happen every time he made a run. It was Dean’s run that forced Ryan Johnson to put it into his own net for the second goal. Runs that Dean made also resulted in both Huseyin Biler’s and Paul Kalambayi’s red cards. On each of these occasions, the opposition defender dragged Dean down when he was running through on goal. When he wasn’t forcing mistakes out of the opposition defender’s, he was creating chances for his teammates, contributing to the fast passing moves that enabled Dons to break through the defensive lines. Dean did have a couple of shots as well, but these efforts were tame and easily saved by Alex Bass. He came off after 87 minutes with Ellis Harrison coming on to lead the line.
SUB (RWB) – Kyran Lofthouse – 7.5: A notable improvement from his debut. Lofthouse looked lively and showed a lot more attacking intent than Norman before him. He was confident on the ball and regularly able to beat his man, which made it even harder for the opposition, with them now having to deal with both wingbacks in the final third. He was solid enough defensively, though he didn’t provide as much support to Williams as Norman did.
SUB (LCB) – Daniel Harvie – 7.5: Had very little defending to do with the opposition losing multiple players to red cards shortly after his introduction, but whenever he was called into action he did well. Harvie played the over the top ball that led to Huseyin Biler’s red card. He also played some very composed headers out to the left wing, swiftly turning a defensive action into an attacking one. As the game went on, Harvie gained more of a licence to attack, and towards the end of the game, he was mostly hovering on the edge of the opposition box. He had one great shot on goal, which forced a big save from Alex Bass.
SUB (CM) – Lewis Bate – 7: Bate looked much more impressive than he did in his debut game, though in fairness, he came on late when the game was dead and buried. However, he kept the ball ticking over nicely and played some fantastic forward passes that oozed quality. It remains to be seen what he can do in a more competitive situation, but this performance is a promising sign.
SUB (CAM) – Mo Eisa – 6: Didn’t have that much to do. Contributed a bit to the build-up play but didn’t offer much in his cameo appearance.
SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 7: Another late change, but he quickly became the centre of attention, with Dons players looking to play one-two’s with him to advance into the box. Harrison played the ball about well and enabled Dons to create plenty more chances in the closing stages.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 8: This was a proper team performance. Everyone did their bit to help the cause, with particular reference to the starting midfield and attack who were selfless in their approach to attacking. The team defended as a unit and attacked as a unit. If someone made a mistake, there were four or five bodies sprinting to get back and cover. Ultimately, it was the display of a side that wanted to win the game and would do whatever it takes to secure the points. It wasn’t a flawless performance as there were a number of mistakes in possession, though this is somewhat unavoidable with the style of football Mike Williamson wants the team to play. However, the fast passing passages were a joy to behold, and it enabled Dons to be on the front foot for most of the game.
The only major concern was the goalkeeper as he’s made a second error that’s led to a goal in as many games. He is young and perhaps needs more time to settle but he’s yet to face a side that have created a lot of chances and based on his performances so far, it’s hard to be confident that he’ll make the required saves. However, the one safety net is that the defence are limiting opposing teams to very few chances, and that’s before Daniel Harvie’s fully fit and before Jack Tucker’s even returned to the side. Add in the reinforcements of Stephen Wearne and Ash Hunter at the other end of the pitch, and Mike Williamson has a very strong squad at his disposal. Competition for places couldn’t be much higher, so let’s hope it encourages more positive performances and, more importantly, more points on the board!
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!