By Luke Payne, Feature Writer
At last, an away game… at a new ground too! Mike Williamson’s men took the long trip up to Barrow for what can only be described as a six pointer. Dons fans travelled nervously up the country after hearing the news of Max Dean’ injury and there was a further set-back when Stephen Wearne’s name didn’t appear in the match-day squad either. It was a tricky game on a poorly kept pitch and Dons did eventually fall to a Cole Stockton strike. Here’s how I rated the players after the 1-0 defeat at Barrow:
Formation: 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)
GK – Filip Marschall – 6.5: A steady improvement from the keeper who managed to cut the mistakes out of his game. He didn’t necessarily look comfortable but he made some good saves and his distribution was smooth. There’s some debate over Marschall opting to push the ball away rather than claim it but at this stage, it’s better to be safe than sorry, just while he’s building his confidence between the sticks. Not too much he could’ve done about the goal given that it was a breakaway goal that was essentially a one-on-one by the time the shot came in.
RWB – Daniel Harvie – 4.5: Looked very uncomfortable on the ball but suffered the same fate as anyone else who plays right wingback in the sense that no-one is prepared to pick out the runner on that side. Harvie made countless runs through down the right but he was rarely used as an option. The few times that ball did get played, it was far too late and Harvie was caught offside. However, he did look uncomfortable with the ball at his feet on the right and he struggled to make any impact. This led to his eventual departure from the field, with Kyran Lofthouse coming on to replace him after 82 minutes. Harvie’s defensive work was solid enough but he was right next to another player who was uncomfortable in their role…
RCB – MJ Williams – 4.5: Williams is NOT a centre-back. There are only so many times it can be said. He’s had some good games playing there but it’s not his natural position and against a good side he got found out. Too often he would let the ball bounce and allow the opposition forward to attack it instead of dealing with the danger early. He also misjudged a lot of his headers and showed too much space to the Barrow forwards. Williams was heavily at fault for the goal, firstly not reacting quickly to challenge for the first ball played over the top from the keeper. This allowed Cole Stockton to win his duel against Williams. From there, Stockton played the ball to Ben Whitfield and made a run that Williams failed to track, resulting in Whitfield playing Stockton through and the Barrow man firing home the winner with his first touch. This made it 1-0 after 78 minutes.
CB – Warren O’Hora – 6: Had a difficult job, trying to keep tabs on both Cole Stockton and Dom Telford. His defending was solid for the most part but he did leave gaps on occasion. O’Hora struggled to play out from the back, with Barrow content to let us push up before triggering their press. He did try and play a few long balls to counter this but none of these were very accurate. He did make one bad error in possession in the second half but luckily it led to nothing.
LCB – Dean Lewington (C) – 5.5: The skipper improved from his last game but still wasn’t at his usual standard. He played the ball about nicely but had the same problem as O’Hora, with no obvious way to break Barrow’s defensive shape. With this being said, did contribute to a couple of The Dons’ better attacks. Lewington did get beaten for pace a couple of times and wasn’t reading the game as well as he normally does.
LWB – Joe Tomlinson – 5.5: A tricky one to give a rating to. He had some good spells and looked to be one of the more likely players to cause Barrow problems but his error rate was unusually high which led to him being ineffective more often than not. He played a few balls into the box that didn’t make it past the first man and he had a shot on goal that was saved well by Paul Farman. However, Tomlinson was extremely poor from defensive set pieces, gifting Barrow player’s free shots on goal on multiple occasions. In addition to this he gave the ball away far too often with poor passes.
CM – Jack Payne – 6: Wasn’t as influential as in previous weeks and seemed reluctant to pass to specific players, most notably Daniel Harvie playing right wingback and later on Emre Tezgel when he came on to lead the line. He was still involved in a lot of the build-up play but he’s certainly capable of doing more. Payne did test the keeper with a couple of shots from range but he struggled to find the incisive passes that make him so popular at the club.
CM – Lewis Bate – 7.5 (TOP DON): The standout player from start to finish. Bate was confident on the ball and was regularly able to turn away from his marker and dribble away, creating space elsewhere on the pitch. His passing was mostly good and he seemed to be at the centre of everything positive Dons produced. He also popped up to cover the wide centre-backs whenever they strayed out of position, which came in handy multiple times when Barrow looked to break.
RAM – Dan Kemp – 5: Looked lively but struggled to create anything substantial. He had one shot on goal that was saved easily and contributed to passing moves that led to chances for the likes of Payne and Alex Gilbey. Kemp did often try to hold-up play in the opposition half but lost possession the majority of the time. His impact lessened as time went on and he eventually made way for Ethan Robson after 73 minutes. Payne took Kemp’s attacking midfield role to accommodate this change.
LAM – Alex Gilbey – 5.5: Had a busy first half, running all over the place to try and find openings in Barrow’s defence, even switching sides with Kemp for a while. Gilbey was the Dons player to force the issue in the absence of Max Dean and he got into some great positions but his finishing let him down massively. He had a couple of tame shots on goal as well as a diving header that he couldn’t connect with in the second half. With that being said, he didn’t look as involved in play in the second half, except when he popped up to try and play the final ball. Had he taken his chances, he could’ve changed the game massively.
ST – Ellis Harrison – 7: Didn’t do much shooting but it was his selfless hold-up play that helped create Dons’ best chances of the first half. His quick feet enabled him to get out of some tricky spots and set his teammates on his way. Harrison also offered a physical presence at both ends of the pitch, winning plenty of headers and eliminating Barrow’s threats from set pieces. He wasn’t quite as quick with his pressing as Max Dean but then…who is? Unfortunately Harrison picked up an injury after 58 minutes and had to go off, giving Emre Tezgel an earlier debut than expected. The Dons lost a lot of steam without Harrison there to lead the line.
SUB (ST) – Emre Tezgel – 4.5: This rating looks harsh and in a way it is, as it’s asking a lot for a totally new player to come into an intricate system and lead the line perfectly within 48 hours of joining the club. Tezgel struggled to get on the ball and this is largely due to him staying on the last man the way a striker usually would. In this system, it’s more common for the striker to drop in deeper to allow the attacking midfielders and wingbacks to run into the spaces. Tezgel being new to the team obviously didn’t do this which made it difficult for Dons to get into any kind of rhythm in the second half. Don’t judge him based on this performance as he now has a chance to get on the training ground and learn what’s expected of him playing the leading role.
SUB (CM) – Ethan Robson – 5.5: Brought on to add a bit more life into the midfield but he too struggled to find ways of breaking Barrow down. He played the ball about nicely enough but didn’t do much to change the game.
SUB (RWB) – Kyran Lofthouse – 6: A substitution that should’ve been made far sooner. Lofthouse gave new life to the right wing and he actively looked to take on his man and get the ball in the box, something the rest of the team had been reluctant to do. His introduction gave Dons a chance at a comeback but it was too little too late.
TEAM PERFORMANCE – 5: This was a bit of a disjointed performance due to the unfamiliar right side of defence consisting of a central midfielder playing right centre-back and a left wingback playing a right wingback role he’s not played for about two years. This was a tactical oversight from Mike Williamson which was bound to happen at some point as he is still a young, somewhat inexperienced manager. It does highlight some frailties in the squad depth with Jack Tucker and Cameron Norman missing, though it perhaps wouldn’t have been quite as bad if Kyran Lofthouse had started.
Barrow played a very smart game, sitting back until Dons advanced further up the field before triggering their press. This made it much harder to find gaps in behind and Dons as a result started sitting much deeper in order to settle on the ball a bit more. It was a very tactical affair but the turning point was when Ellis Harrison came off, leaving Dons without a natural focal point. Frustration grew and in the end all it took was one lapse in concentration to give Barrow the chance they needed to secure the win. Williamson’s men had rode their luck a bit with the home side’s previous chances going to waste but if you give someone like Cole Stockton enough chances, eventually he’s going to score.
Dons fans may look to the poor playing surface and questionable refereeing decisions to justify this loss but this was still a winnable game despite all of that. With a number of attacking options missing, Dons just lacked the creativity and cutthroat mentality in the box to really take the game to Barrow. The whole team needed a bit more adaptability to counter Barrow’s well-executed game plan. It’s a learning experience and fortunately, the majority of the top teams dropped points. This makes it more of an opportunity wasted than a knockout blow in Dons’ efforts to chase the automatic spots.
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!