Paynes Player Ratings Salford City

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

Following a statement win away at Mansfield, Mike Williamson’s men returned to Stadium MK to take on Salford, managed by former Dons manager and fan favourite Karl Robinson. The Dons were pegged back early with a goal from Matt Smith but by half-time the home side had turned it around, leading 3-1. A cagey yet quiet second half followed and The Dons saw out the game to secure another three points. Here’s how I rated the players after the win over Salford:

Formation: 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)

GK – Michael Kelly – 6.5: Made a few decent saves over the course of the game but none that were out of the ordinary. Partially to blame for the goal, saving the initial shot following a corner only for Matt Smith to reach the second ball first and hit it between Kelly’s legs from a tight angle, making it 0-1 after 12 minutes. Kelly controlled his box well which was crucial when coming up against a team with lots of physical threats. His distribution was solid enough but inconsistent at long range, though he did pick out a clever pass on a couple of occasions to start counter-attacks.

RWB – Kyran Lofthouse – 9 (TOP DON): Top Don was a choice of two but I’ve gone with Lofthouse. The wingback had the freedom of Buckinghamshire for large parts of the game with Salford seemingly unwilling to mark him. This meant that whenever Lofthouse got on the ball he had an opportunity to make something happen and it wasn’t too long before he made it count. From the edge of the Dons box, Lewis Bate played a diagonal ball for Lofthouse who managed to ride a challenge that saw the ball fall to Alex Gilbey on the right wing. Gilbey advanced before cutting it back to Lofthouse who got the ball onto his left foot before going for goal, finding the bottom right corner and making it 1-1 after 27 minutes. The wingback created plenty more opportunities for himself and his teammates, including a well-weighted cross for Matt Dennis and playing the ball for Jack Payne who would go on to set up Dons’ second goal. Defensively Lofthouse was mostly solid though he did sometimes lose his aerial battles a little too easily.

RCB – MJ Williams – 7: One of the better games Williams has played at centre-back, with Salford’s style of playing leading to lots of aerial battles where the Welshman was able to hold his own. He was sometimes a bit quick to hoof the ball away from the defensive third and he could’ve done with some more composure in these areas but ultimately he did enough to keep Salford out. At times he was able to venture into the opposition half as a support option for the likes of Lofthouse and Jack Payne.

CB – Warren O’Hora – 7.5: Had the tricky job of keeping Matt Smith quiet and he had a lot of work to do with Salford repeatedly pumping balls into the box, particularly in the first half. O’Hora usually did enough to prevent the Salford striker from getting a decent connection meaning that most of the headers on goal were easily claimed by Kelly. O’Hora looked composed on the ball and was able to play out from the back without too much trouble.

LCB – Daniel Harvie – 6: Struggled to adapt to Salford’s physical style of play and was beaten far too easily for the away goal. He lost the initial aerial battle to Theo Vassell from the corner and then failed to block Matt Smith’s shot on the rebound. The majority of Salford’s better chances came as a result of Harvie losing out on headers and he clearly wasn’t equipped to take on a target man that strong. With this being said, his defensive work aside from the aerial battles was good and he defended intelligently, picking the right times to let the ball run and when to put his foot through it. Going forwards he seemed to be on a different wavelength to Joe Tomlinson, with the pair wasting possession on numerous occasions purely through poor communication in the opposition half.

LWB – Joe Tomlinson – 7: Tomlinson had a decent amount of space to operate in, though not as much as Lofthouse on the other side. Dons were able to advance down the left a few times but it wasn’t as fluid as the right side was. With this being said, Tomlinson did still find a way to contribute as he initiated the move for the equalising goal, collecting the ball in a deep position and playing it to Lewis Bate who swiftly started the counter-attack. Aside from this it was a fairly quiet game from the wingback in an attacking capacity, though he did contribute to some of the build-up play. Tomlinson did often find himself having to track back quickly to help Harvie deal with the pace of Junior Luamba, with Salford frequently clipping the ball towards the left corner and letting their youngster do the work.

CM – Jack Payne – 8: Payne showed a lot of creativity with Salford giving him enough space to pick progressive passes. He operated well alongside the likes of Lewis Bate and Alex Gilbey, even assisting the latter for Dons’ second goal. Payne was regularly able to find a teammate that was either in space or in a good position to shield the ball and his creativity allowed The Dons to break through the lines efficiently. He also set up Emre Tezgel for a headed effort on goal with a lovely curling cross. It was a difficult game defensively for the holding midfield duo with Salford frequently bypassing them by looping the ball over their heads and neither player was likely to come out on top in the aerial battles. With this being said they still broke down the play well when Salford had the ball on the ground and plenty of Dons’ attacking moves started with a ball out played from a deep position. Payne came off after 81 minutes for Ethan Robson.

CM – Lewis Bate – 8.5: Bate dealt with the physical side of the game that little bit better than Payne and he won a surprising amount of his battles all over the pitch. The loanee was the starting point was the architect for the majority of The Dons’ attacking plays including the first goal where he collected the ball on the edge of his own box, turned away from his man before pinging a ball away to Lofthouse who was able to counter with Alex Gilbey. He regularly made incisive passes at sharp angles to break through Salford’s midfield line and pick out someone in a forward area, often Matt Dennis. In addition to this, Bate carried the ball well and showed outstanding levels of composure, picking his moments carefully. He helped to secure the win by assisting Emre Tezgel directly from a corner. He came off after 89 minutes for Cameron Norman. MJ Williams moved into midfield to accommodate this change as Dons brought on the more combative players to see the game out.

RAM – Emre Tezgel – 7: Tezgel was one of the livelier players in what was a poor opening fifteen minutes. Some of his touches in his own half were heavy but he looked a lot sharper in the opposition half and contributed to the build-up play well. Alex Gilbey and Tezgel switched sides at some point during the half and from that point on Tezgel found it harder to get involved with the play. However, the Stoke loanee got involved where he could and he had another lively spell towards the end of the half. He had one header on goal saved by Alex Cairns following a cross from Payne. From the resulting corner, Tezgel won another header which he directed towards goal. His effort deflected heavily off Matt Smith and into the back of the net which gave Dons a 3-1 lead after 45+7 minutes. He came off after 63 minutes for Dan Kemp with Mike Williamson deciding to change the entire front three all at once.

LAM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 9: Very easily could’ve been Top Don again. His grit and energy clawed Dons back into the game after a slow start and he set up Lofthouse for the equalising goal, running at his marker before cutting the ball back. Gilbey turned from provider to finisher for the second goal, audaciously chipping the ball from the edge of the box and finding the top left corner, even though Alex Cairns was only a foot or two off his line. Payne and Bate may have been the playmakers but Gilbey was the driving force and he made life difficult for Salford’s defence, popping up time and time again in dangerous positions. He came off after 63 minutes for Stephen Wearne.

ST – Matt Dennis – 7.5: Showed what he’s about with a much more professional display than his performance against Mansfield. He may not have got on the scoresheet this time but he was full of energy and forced the issue constantly. Dennis may not have been as physically strong as the Salford defenders but he protected the ball well enough to be able to turn in the box on a couple of occasions and quickly get his shot away. His first effort just missed the target whilst the second was too soft, allowing Alex Cairns to make an easy save. However, the level of urgency when going for goal was something that’s been missing since Max Dean got injured. Dennis also had another attempt at scoring a headed goal. He hit the target this time but he was again denied by Cairns. In addition to all of this, Dennis’ hold-up play was impressive when the ball was played in to his feet and he was quick with his attempts to press. If he continues to perform like this, it won’t be long before he scores again. Dennis came off after 63 minutes for Ellis Harrison.

SUB (RAM) – Dan Kemp – 7: Kemp found shooting opportunities hard to come by but his energy and movement ensured that Dons had some kind of threat going forward in what became a scrappy second half. He operated well with Lofthouse to find space on the right side of the final third and he moved the ball about well, particularly in the closing stages where Salford were desperately trying to get possession back in the hopes of launching a late comeback.

SUB (LAM) – Stephen Wearne – 5: An uncharacteristically poor game from Wearne who seemed to struggle with his first touch and gave the ball away cheaply a few times. He was involved in one good counter-attacking move but he had minimal impact otherwise.

SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 6: A frustrating game for Harrison who struggled to deal with the gamesmanship on show from Salford’s centre-backs, particularly Curtis Tilt who would grab hold of The Dons forward any time he tried to press the keeper. He earned a yellow card in one of his encounters with the other centre-back, Theo Vassell. Harrison kept the pair busy in that regard but he found it difficult to get involved in the play whilst being man-handled so much. Like Wearne he was involved in one decent counter-attacking move but he never looked like threatening the Salford goal. Harrison’s physicality became a useful asset in the closing minutes as Dons looked to run down the clock by holding the ball in the corners of the pitch.

SUB (CM) – Ethan Robson – 6.5: A relatively late change to give Dons some fresh legs and a more combative nature in the middle third. Robson kept things ticking along nicely and never let Salford put a dangerous attack together.

SUB (RCB) – Cameron Norman – 6.5: A cameo appearance right near the end to help see out the game. Norman cleared a couple of balls but that was all that was really required of him in the few minutes he was on the pitch.

TEAM PERFORMANCE – 7.5: The opening 15 minutes were poor. It took Dons a long time to get to grips with Salford’s physical style of play. After going behind, Mike Williamson’s men started to settle and asked questions of Salford’s defence. Once Kyran Lofthouse equalised, The Dons stepped it up until half-time, creating plenty of chances. With a two goal lead going into the second half, the home side did the usual thing of still playing possession football but without putting too much effort into getting more goals. The second half was largely forgettable with the exception of a wayward back-pass nearly beating Alex Cairns in the Salford goal. It may not show the ruthlessness of promotion chasers, but it does show a fantastic level of control to be able to kill a game off with 45 minutes to play.

The defence were kept busy but just about did enough to prevent Salford from having too many major chances. Michael Kelly was called into action few times but it was usually a headed effort from the middle of the box, rarely with enough power to cause any real trouble. With the exception of one or two players, Dons did eventually adapt to Salford’s game plan and figured out how to beat it. This was largely helped by the opposition’s reluctance to press or sit back, instead hovering in the middle third which is where The Dons midfield thrives. With so much space to operate in Mike Williamson’s men were always going to get chances and the players were clinical enough to take three of them. The disappointing thing was that too much of the game was played in The Dons half after the initial substitutions. Although content to let the game die out, the players coming on had enough ability that they should’ve been able to force Salford back a little bit more, rather than allowing a cagey affair in the Dons half to occupy the rest of the game. Though Salford never got a major chance to get a goal back, it only takes one moment or one mistake for them to get one chance and put it away, which would’ve let to a nervy ending.

Ultimately it’s another three points on the board which is what matters most. Crewe were the only team to slip up from the frontrunners but this was enough for Dons to leapfrog them and take fourth place, still just two points away from second. The Dons only recently broke the curse of the Tuesday away game by beating Mansfield but now they’ll have to do it again, travelling up to Grimsby to take on David Artell’s side, who are currently involved in a relegation scrap.

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!

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