By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
The games are starting to come thick and fast at Stadium MK and next to visit was play-off chasing Gillingham. It was an edgy affair but the game opened up towards the end, with The Dons scoring two late goals. It got nervy right at the end with Gillingham scoring in stoppage time but the game would eventually finish 2-1 to the hosts. Here’s how I rated the players after full-time at Stadium MK:
Formation: 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)
GK – Filip Marschall – 6.5: Had a questionable start, playing hospital balls twice whilst trying to play out from the back. His decision-making both times was far too slow. With that being said he soon settled after making a couple of comfortable saves and he went on to make a few vital stops over the course of the game. Importantly, he learned his lesson with regards to ball distribution and did start to go long more as Gillingham ramped up the pressure in an attempt to get something from the game. Marschall did make the initial save for the goal but unfortunately it bounced straight into the path of Josh Walker who was stood right by the keeper when the first shot came in. From there, Walker was able to bundle the ball over the line to make it 2-1 after 90 minutes.
RWB – Joe Tomlinson – 7: A solid all-around game from Tomlinson. He looked comfortable enough defensively and even won a couple of headers and he made himself an option out on the right wing, though he wasn’t used often enough. He did play a few crosses into the box with limited success but it was his ball in that led to MJ Williams opening the scoring.
RCB – MJ Williams – 6: Scored the opener but up until that point he would’ve been one of the lowest-rated players on the pitch. Williams was shaky defensively, getting beaten by his man a good four or five times down the right. He also struggled in the aerial battles against Gillingham’s physical forwards and his passing was inconsistent. However, when his chance to make a difference came, he took it! Following a cross from Tomlinson that bounced off the back of Alex Gilbey, Williams hit a low volley into the bottom right corner to open the scoring, making it 1-0 after 79 minutes.
CB – Warren O’Hora – 6: Fared the best of the three centre-backs but still struggled to win his aerial duels against the likes of Oli Hawkins and Macauley Bonne, losing out for some of Gillingham’s best chances of the game. This includes the Hawkin’s header in the first half that forced Marschall into making his first real save in a Dons shirt and Macauley Bonne’s header that hit the bar before going out for a goal-kick just before full-time. O’Hora did try to match the physicality of the Gillingham frontmen but he did look a little lost at times without Jack Tucker there to win the duels. He looked composed on the ball but did sometimes take far too long before playing the next pass. At the same time, there were occasions where he was slowly able to move forward with the ball and encourage a press from Gillingham in order to create gaps in behind.
LCB – Dean Lewington (C) – 5: A bad day at the office for the skipper who seemed to struggle to complete his passes, making numerous errors in possession. This gifted Gillingham a few dangerous attacks and Lewington was lucky to get away with it. With that being said he did play a couple of very good forward balls, one for Alex Gilbey who would go on to set up a chance of Dan Kemp, then another that forced Jake Turner out from his goal-line to punch it away which led to Jack Payne having a shot on goal. However, Lewington’s general play seemed to upset the rhythm which Dons were playing at with so many mistakes creeping into his game.
LWB – Daniel Harvie – 6.5: Looked comfortable on the ball and was involved in some good build-up play but didn’t attack the wing the same way Tomlinson usually does. For most of the game he was one of the better defenders on the pitch, putting in a number of important blocks and tackles to prevent Gillingham from reaching the box. Unfortunately towards the end, Harvie lost his aerial duel against Timothée Dieng from a corner which led to Josh Walker poking the ball in for Gillingham’s only goal of the game.
CM – Jack Payne – 7: He’s been making a habit of starting games slowly before settling in after a few minutes and this game was no different. He made a couple of mistakes early doors but was soon back to his usual play-making ways. Payne did struggle at times to find progressive passes to play but he did pick out some good runs on occasion, including a well-weighted through ball for Max Dean in the first half. This was a move Payne started himself after winning the ball with a top quality interception. He also started the move for the second goal, playing a header to Ellis Harrison following a long ball by Jake Turner. He did his best to try and match the combative Gillingham midfield and picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
CM – Lewis Bate – 7: Similarly to Payne he had a slow start but quickly grew into the game. Despite being small in stature he put in some fantastic challenges and did an excellent job at covering the wingbacks whenever he needed to. At times he did need to be told where to run by Lewington and O’Hora but that will be down to being unfamiliar with the system rather than lack of ability. This is something he will learn with time and overall it was a promising first start for the loanee. He came off after 76 minutes for Ethan Robson.
RAM – Dan Kemp – 6.5: Kemp looked like the only dangerous creative spark in the first half though he was working with scraps a lot of the time. However, his best chance came in the second half when he was set up by Alex Gilbey on the left side of the box. Kemp set himself onto his left foot and tried to fire his shot across goal but it was too close to Jake Turner and the keeper saved it easily enough. He tried a number of dribbles over the course of the game but lost the ball more often than not but he did also contribute to some of the better passages of play whenever Dons started to play more incisive passes. Kemp came off after 76 minutes for debutant Stephen Wearne.
LAM – Alex Gilbey – 8 (TOP DON): A proper workhorse performance from the midfielder. He got stuck in at both ends and was the driving force for a lot of The Dons’ attacks. He didn’t always get it right but he kept forcing the issue until it eventually paid off. He set up a number of chances including Kemp’s second half effort. He got the assist for Williams’ goal though it perhaps wasn’t intentional as the ball in from Tomlinson ricocheted off Gilbey’s back and fell nicely for Williams who scored the resulting volley. Gilbey would then go and score what turned out to be the winning goal, converting from Stephen Wearne’s low ball across goal. This made it 2-0 after 88 minutes. It would be harsh to solely blame Gillingham’s goal on Gilbey but it must be said that he played Josh Walker onside when the forward would’ve been blatantly offside had Gilbey stepped up from the goal-line after realising the corner ball’s trajectory was elsewhere in the box.
ST – Max Dean – 6: A difficult game for Dean who struggled to get much of the ball in the first half. He had one chance from range which was saved and put out for a corner by Jake Turner but he didn’t get much service otherwise. He found himself having to drop deep to get on the ball and he became a link in the build-up play more often than the man to go for goal. Dean still put a shift in and forced Gillingham to clear their lines with his high energy pressing. Eventually he came off for Ellis Harrison after 82 minutes.
SUB (CM) – Ethan Robson – 7: Robson added another wave of energy to the midfield which enabled Dons to win more battles in the middle third. He broke down play effectively and helped Dons to maintain the lead to the final whistle.
SUB (RAM) – Stephen Wearne – 7.5: A very impressive debut where he didn’t really put a foot wrong. He was active and looked to get on the ball as much as possible and every pass he played was inch perfect. This came in handy for the second goal where he was played through by Ellis Harrison before riding a challenge and playing a beautiful pass across goal for Gilbey to finish.
SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 7: Another super-sub performance from Harrison. He didn’t get a goal or an assist but he enabled the second goal with some great hold-up play, bringing the ball down whilst holding off his man before playing a through ball down the right for Wearne. Harrison offered a new challenge for Gillingham’s defence and they failed to deal with him when it mattered. He continued to press their defence as Dons’ closed out the game.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 6.5: This was a difficult game for Dons. Gillingham have been good on the road in recent weeks and they wanted to impose a very physical style of play. It took Mike Williamson’s men a while to get used to Gillingham’s set-up and they spent far too long trying to play through the middle which was congested most of the time. The wingbacks weren’t really exploited enough particularly in Tomlinson’s case and it led to Dons playing a very dangerous game at times. As a result Dons had to start playing long balls more often than usual which played straight into Gillingham’s hands and enabled them some sustained periods of dominance despite not necessarily having possession.
With that being said, there were times where Dons were able to get the ball down and dominate play and this is where most of the chances stemmed from. There weren’t many shots on goal in comparison to the last few fixtures but Dons were clinical enough to take two of them. Gillingham are a strong side defensively so to break them twice is good going. Filip Marschall had more to do this week and he stepped up which will be fantastic for his confidence assuming the Dons fans don’t hound him too much every time he has the ball at this feet. In the end was a very tactical affair and some clever substitutions from Williamson enabled Dons to secure the points. He did leave it late to make the subs but when they did finally come on they made a real difference.
That win puts The Dons six points clear of the teams just outside the play-offs and notably puts the team just three points away from Mansfield who currently occupy the third automatic promotion spot, albeit their goal difference is considerably better. This also puts The Dons’ next opponents in range and Williamson’s men would leapfrog them with a win. After three home games in a row, it’s time for an away trip all the way up to Barrow!
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!