Payne’s Player Ratings vs Notts County (Away):

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

The Dons next game saw two ball-playing, possession-based teams go head to head at Meadow Lane. Notts County had been struggling for form going into this game but they showed up with a solid game plan that caused Mike Williamson and co. problems. The score-line went back and forth but eventually finished on a dramatic 3-3. Here’s how I rated the players after the draw away at Notts County:

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

GK – Filip Marschall – 4.5: Kicking off with an unpopular opinion here, despite The Dons fans giving him endless abuse, Marschall wasn’t the main reason the team dropped points. The ball did bounce off him for the first goal but he was blocked from making a clean save by Cameron Norman so had no opportunity to do anything about it. For the second goal Marschall does have to take a share of the blame as he gave the ball away with a dodgy pass, albeit whilst under pressure. He played his pass first time but only found former Don Adam Chicksen on the right wing. From there Chicksen ran down the line past Norman and crossed it to an unmarked Alassana Jatta who powered his header into the top corner, making it 2-1 after 48 minutes. The third goal had nothing to do with Marschall and everything to do with the defending of multiple outfield players. There’s a debate to suggest that Marschall could’ve claimed the ball in but the cross definitely should’ve been blocked beforehand and Daniel Harvie shouldn’t have lost his man at the back post.

In terms of his general play, Marschall did look shaky at times but he did enough to get the job done. He played multiple long balls forward that put Dons in some good positions and despite the complaints of the fans, most of his passing was perfectly fine aside from the obvious error. With this being said he did have some concerning moments. For example, he attempted to punch a cross that he easily could’ve caught and with just minutes to go he was taking far too long to take his goal-kicks. However, to solely blame him for the defeat is simply wrong and inaccurate. Additionally, abusing one of our own players during the game is pathetic. The abuse was disgraceful and was persistent enough for Michael Kelly and captain Alex Gilbey to have to signal to the fans to stop at full-time. Marschall deserves credit for even applauding the fans at all given the way he’s been treated.

RWB – Kyran Lofthouse – 3.5: There was a big marking problem occurring on the right side of defence, particularly in the first half. It felt like Lofthouse, Jack Payne and Dan Kemp never really decided who was supposed to go to the man on the ball whilst the others were marking the other attacking players. This led to Notts County having plenty of chances to whip in crosses unchallenged, a tactic that paid off in the end. Lofthouse looked solid enough on the ball but he didn’t see all that much of it and offered little going forwards apart from in the advanced attacks towards the end of the game when Dons started committing more men forwards.

RCB – Cameron Norman – 5: Got stuck in and made some key challenges and blocks including a clearance off the line as well as a couple of other clearances in close proximity to the goal-line. However, he was caught out for two of the goals, getting in Marschall’s way for the first goal and getting beaten easily by Adam Chicksen for the second goal. He was one of many who at times seemed far too content for crosses to be whipped in despite Notts County having a target man up front.

CB – Warren O’Hora – 4.5: Probably the most impacted player from the tactical set-up Mike Williamson used. He found himself limited for passing options which wasn’t helped by Notts County’s man-marking system. This left O’Hora playing more dangerous passes as well as more long balls that lacked any real purpose other than to clear his lines. He debatable could’ve rotated into Daniel Harvie’s position to prevent the first goal though O’Hora already had another man he was marking. The centre-back is another one responsible for the second goal, failing to mark Alassana Jatta, giving the Gambian striker a free header in the middle of the box. He had a physical battle with Jatta all game and was barely able to contain the striker who clearly had the upper hand in terms of strength.

LCB – Daniel Harvie – 4: Frustratingly inconsistent. Had moments where he looked like the best player on the pitch but these were overshadowed by moments that made him look like the worst player on the pitch. The epitome of these came for Notts County’s third goal where he left Aaron Nemane unmarked at the back post following a corner routine. This gave the opposition wingback an easy finish from close range to equalise the game at 3-3 after 90+1 minutes. Harvie did also step out of position for the first goal but he did this to mark the man on the wing and although he didn’t necessarily need to do it, O’Hora or Lewis Bate should’ve been able to rotate into his position to prevent the through ball from getting played. The Scotsman was sometimes too safe with his passing but when he did decide to advance and take risks, he did have some success. For example, he helped to set up a big chance for Ellis Harrison by dribbling cleverly down the left before setting up Ethan Robson to play the ball in. Harvie played a number of crosses into the box as well though these had limited success.

LWB – Stephen Wearne – 3.5: Still not a wingback. That’s now three games where Wearne has played at wingback and in all three he’s crumbled defensively as if he was never there in the first place. Aaron Nemane had his number and found plenty of opportunities to get past Wearne one-on-one which left Dons in some very tricky defensive scenarios. This led to major chances for the likes of Alassana Jatta and it forced Norman into making a goal-line clearance as well. Even at the beginning of the game, Wearne stepped out of position to challenge an opposition player, which left a huge gap in defence and immediately gave Notts County an overload down the left wing as they looked to counter-attack. He redeemed himself a little bit by picking up an assist for Ellis Harrison’s first goal, but this was no more than a loose ball falling his way where he only had to pick a simple pass, which admittedly he did well.

CM – Jack Payne – 5.5: Started the game with the tricky job of having to play balls around the corner out of defence whilst getting pressed. To begin with Payne was the only one willing to move to get out of the man-marking system Notts County were using. His passes didn’t always come off but were positive on the whole. He assisted the opening goal by passing the ball in to Max Dean who went on to score a couple of touches later. Defensively Payne looked a little uncertain as to when he should press the opposition and he often had to do so without Dan Kemp in support. Payne started to improve further after Ethan Robson came on but would eventually make way towards the end, coming off for MJ Williams after 88 minutes.

CM – Lewis Bate – 4: An uncharacteristically poor game from Bate and by far his worst game in a Dons shirt. He got caught out in possession too often and was all over the place defensively. Bate should’ve been the one to rotate into Harvie’s position for the first Notts County goal. Unfortunately he didn’t which allowed a through ball to be played down the left which resulted in a low cross across the box that Alassana Jatta turned towards goal. Marschall made the initial save despite getting blocked by Norman but the second ball fell straight to Sam Austin who fired into an empty net, making it 1-1 after 45+4 minutes. Earlier in the half Bate let Macauley Langstaff fly past him before the striker thumped the crossbar with his effort from outside the box. Bate carried on in a similar fashion in the second half though he did set up Max Dean for a half-chance just before the pair were substituted. The midfield man was replaced by Ethan Robson after 62 minutes.

RAM – Dan Kemp – 4: Kemp went missing for too long in the first half even in defensive scenarios when he should’ve been in position to press the opposition and prevent crosses. He was involved in the build-up to The Dons’ first goal alongside most of the right-sided players. Kemp had a livelier second half but it wasn’t enough to make a difference. He had a decent chance to get a shot on goal but virtually missed the ball as he went to hit it. There was one moment just before he came off where he could’ve potentially been through on goal had Max Dean decided to pass but the striker opted to shoot instead. Kemp came off after 61 minutes for Emre Tezgel.

LAM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 6.5: Didn’t offer as much going forward as he usually does but defensively he showed his usual level of grit and determination. Gilbey got stuck in where he could, offering Wearne as much support as possible in the hopes of keeping Aaron Nemane quiet. With Dons operating in much deeper positions than normal due to the poor tactical set-up, Gilbey ended up breaking up play a lot more than he usually would. He played the ball about nicely and drove forwards with the ball on a few occasions but struggled to make much of an impact until the triple Dons substitution was made.

ST – Max Dean – 7: A tricky game for the young striker who was working with scraps for most of the first half. Dean ended up in his usual gamesmanship battle against the opposition defenders which clearly frustrated him. However, when he got his chance he took it. Payne fed the ball in to Dean, who turned his man before shooting from outside the box, rifling it towards the far top corner to make it 0-1 after 18 minutes. A moment of magic in an otherwise poor half. Dean did have another opportunity to shoot from outside the box in the second half but he failed to hit the target. He probably chose the wrong option as Kemp was making a run through on goal right in front of him.

SUB (RAM) – Emre Tezgel – 7: His performance has gone under the radar but Tezgel put in another good shift, linking up play and running the channels, this time from the attacking midfield role. The loanee picked up an assist by playing a lovely through ball for Ellis Harrison to give Dons the lead. With this being said, Tezgel does have a share of the blame for the injury time equaliser as he was too slow closing down Jodi Jones following a corner routine, allowing a low ball to be played across the box in the corridor of uncertainty.

SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 8 (TOP DON): Easily the standout player and not just for the two goals he scored, although they certainly help! Harrison came on with a lot of energy and showed a great level of desire and selflessness. Defensively he was prepared to rotate into midfield in order to slow down Notts County’s attacks and he was constantly running at both ends of the pitch. His hold-up play enabled Dons to commit more bodies to the attacks and this completely changed the momentum of the game, especially after he started shooting. Harrison’s first goal was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Wearne collected the ball in the box following a block from Ethan Robson’s shot. From there, Wearne played it across to Harrison who took a touch before swiftly volleying the ball into the bottom right corner, making it 2-2 after 64 minutes. Harrison then double his tally later in the game, holding his run beautifully before chasing Tezgel’s through ball. The experienced striker made no mistake in the one-on-one scenario, lifting the ball past Luca Ashby-Hammond to give The Dons a 2-3 lead after 83 minutes.

SUB (CM) – Ethan Robson – 7.5: An industrious performance from Robson who at times felt more like an attacking midfielder than a holding midfielder. He offered a lot going forward, including a lovely cross for Harrison though the striker missed the target with his header. Robson indirectly created The Dons’ second goal after his shot from the edge of the box was blocked into the path of Wearne who went on to assist Harrison. Robson was combative as ever, but he was also good with his feet and helped his teammates to start playing the way The Dons usually do, passing the ball about efficiently in the Notts County half and picking the right moments to pick apart the opposition.

SUB (CM) – MJ Williams – 5.5: A late change made to add a bit more physicality to the midfield. Williams didn’t have too much to do in his cameo appearance though it did feel like his introduction disorganised the defensive set-up somewhat.

TEAM PERFORMANCE – 4.5: Mike Williamson got this one wrong. He said as much in his post-game interview. However, the big mistake wasn’t putting Filip Marschall in goal and that’s probably not what Williamson was saying when he said he got it wrong. It was the entire tactical set-up of the team. Dons rarely pressed the Notts County back-line with particular regards to the first half. This was a defence that just came off the back of a result where they effectively passed their way into conceding goals twice so it makes no sense to show them so much respect. There’s no reason to give them that sort of time on the ball, especially when you’ve got players like Max Dean and Dan Kemp who play with such high energy and would likely be able to force mistakes just by pushing that little bit harder. Instead The Dons let Notts County play out from the back until they reached our box. It looked like a philosophy of soaking up pressure and playing on the counter-attack, which is a style this Dons team have never played well.

Dons have reached fourth in the league through playing a similar brand of football as Notts County which would suggest that Mike Williamson’s men would be better at playing that way than the home side…so why not play that way against them? We essentially set up how teams often set up against us, a low block that’s hard to break. The problem with that is we’re not that good at defending so playing a low block does nothing but invite pressure. Eventually after enough bombardment, the defence will cave in and that’s exactly what happened. If opposition players are allowed to cross the ball that many times totally unchallenged then of course they’re going to score eventually. People can scapegoat Marschall all they like but the reality is there were much bigger problems in that game.

I’ve obviously written a lot in defence of Marschall but I will say I don’t think Michael Kelly deserved to be dropped. He did have two poor games but he found his feet against Walsall and probably should’ve been rewarded for the clean sheet. The way I would put it is that the mistake wasn’t starting Marschall, the mistake was dropping Kelly. Whilst on the topic of team selection there needs to be more discussion had about the persistence to play Stephen Wearne as a wingback. Logically it would’ve made far more sense to put Daniel Harvie in at wingback and play Dean Lewington in the back three, especially if Dons were planning on playing more defensively than normal. Having Wearne in defence only invited even more pressure since he’s not natural in that position and had no idea how to deal with Aaron Nemane, who was enough of a handful as it was in the reverse fixture.

If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game in the comments below. To those of you dishing out abuse to Filip Marschall, you have a right to an opinion the same as the rest of us, but do you really think abusing a young goalkeeper whilst he’s playing is going to improve the situation? Have your opinion and speak out about it I’m not disputing that, but when those Dons are out on the pitch, give them all the support you can. The players can sense positive and negative energy. They’re not stupid and they know what needs to be done. There are only four games left now and we’ve got to give it everything! Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you enjoyed the read!

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