Released and Re-signed? – 2024 – Centre-back Edition:

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

*Before we get into this article I just want to prefix it by saying that this was written before Luke Offord signed for the club. He was actually a player I had researched and thought was too unrealistic to include which is extremely promising. Offord brings leadership and versatility to the defence which does mean some of my points about leadership later in this article have been somewhat covered already by this signing. However, having plenty of leaders in the team is a good thing so the players listed should still be appropriate signings. With that being said, enjoy the read…

Welcome once again to Released and Re-signed 2024. Last time out we discussed seven wingbacks The Dons could look at signing for free this summer. Sticking on the defensive trend, this article will look at seven centre-backs Mike Williamson could have his eyes on. Currently the middle of defence could be considered a problem area for Dons. The team at the minute consists of Jack Tucker, Dean Lewington and a couple of wingbacks playing in more central roles, Cameron Norman and Daniel Harvie. The Dons do also have Charlie Waller coming through the academy alongside Callum Tripp though it remains to be seen what Tripp’s best position is.

Now Warren O’Hora’s left the club, the defence will need re-working. Dons need players that are quick, physical but also show good technical ability. We’ll also need a new leader at the back as Lewington is unlikely to be able to play week in week out. This is a very difficult brief and it’s hard to see it being fully met without spending some money on players, but here are seven out of contract players I feel could help fix the defensive crisis:

1) Marvin Ekpiteta
As usual I’m kicking things off with one of the more optimistic picks on this list. Marvin Ekpiteta has been released from League One Blackpool after playing 31 league games. He scored one goal and surprisingly only picked up one yellow card. The 28 year old stands at six foot three which would make him an ideal candidate for the middle of the Dons defence. He would bring an incredible physical presence to the side as well as Championship experience, having played for Blackpool in the second tier, even earning both the fans’ and players’ player of the year awards in 2022.

This is a move that would make sense geographically as Blackpool is the only northern club Ekpiteta has ever played for. He previously played for Leyton Orient as well as a few non-league sides in Essex. This would make a move to Milton Keynes quite appealing in that sense. However, a player of his standard should probably be getting offers from League One clubs so it may be difficult to bring him down to League Two.

2) Grant Hall

In terms of finding a leader at the back, Grant Hall would be a fantastic option. The 32 year old has plenty of Championship experience but has fallen down the pecking order at Rotherham, only playing eight league games as they were relegated to League One. He scored one goal and picked up one yellow card in this time. The step down in division would suggest that it’s time for Hall to drop down the divisions a little bit as well. Standing at six foot three, he could come in to play as the middle centre-back, dominating aerial battles and organising the defence.

The downside with Hall is lack of pace. He’s not the fastest and would need the outside centre-backs to be sharp at all times in order to prevent counter-attacks. Although he sounds a bit like Lewington in that sense, Hall would likely be able to play week in week out, something the skipper can no longer do. Hall came through Brighton’s academy and spent a number of years playing for QPR so a move back down south could make sense for him after a spell up north with Middlesbrough and Rotherham.

3) Jacob Bedeau

In the last article, I recommended raiding Morecambe for a player as their financial troubles continue and I’m doing the same again here. Jacob Bedeau played 43 league games for The Shrimps, scoring two goals, assisting one more and collecting eight yellow cards along the way. He’s the first left-footed player on this list so would be direct competition for Dean Lewington and Daniel Harvie if he’s not utilised in the middle of the back three. He’s a bit shorter than the previous suggestions standing at six foot but he is also considered to be much quicker.

Bedeau is 24 so is still developing but this does bring us to the downside of this potential signing. It’s hard to tell how good Bedeau would be in a ball-playing system. If he doesn’t adjust then you’ve effectively got a second Jack Tucker, i.e. a solid one-on-one defender that struggles with possession play. He was previously picked up by the likes of Aston Villa and Burnley which would suggest he has some technical competence but he’s yet to have to exercise that in a system like Dons’. The other major downside is location as Bedeau has exclusively played for northern clubs so far in his career. It would be a bit of a gamble for both parties but if Dons could get the best out of the Grenada international then he could be a standout player in this division.

4) Tom Flanagan

This one could split opinions purely due to the fact that he’s played for the club before. Tom Flanagan came through the academy at Dons and has done relatively well since leaving. He had a couple of seasons in the Championship with Burton, spent a number of years playing for Sunderland in League One, but now he departs Shrewsbury having suffered a knee injury for a large chunk of the season. Flanagan played 21 league games, picking up six yellow cards as well as a red card in what turned out to be his last game for The Shrews. He now has a lot of experience playing at a good level and the 32 year old should be capable of playing out from the back.

The one concern is how much that injury could’ve impacted Flanagan as he only returned to action in March. If he can stay fit then he should still be a good option for League Two. With his experience, he should be able to lead from the back as well. Flanagan even has 13 caps for Northern Ireland. Obviously since he began his career at Dons this move would make sense geographically, though he’s a very different player now to when he last played for the club.

5) Michael Hector

From one League One centre-back to another, Michael Hector finds himself club-less after getting released from Charlton. He made 31 league appearances last season, assisting one goal and picking up seven yellow cards. The 31 year old has a fantastic level of experience, playing for the likes of Fulham, Reading, Hull and Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship. He’s well-travelled, having played for Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership as well as German side Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga. With all these bigger clubs requiring his services, he should be technically sound.

The six foot three current Jamaican international looks like a prime candidate for the middle centre-back spot. It may be tricky to bring him down to League Two if he gets offers from clubs higher up the pyramid, but he would likely be more attainable than the likes of Ekpiteta and Hall. Hector would end up missing some games through international duty as he is a starter for Jamaica, earning 40 caps to date. Geography shouldn’t be a problem regardless judging by his footballing CV, but Hector does keep coming back to clubs that are in relatively close proximity to Milton Keynes.

6) Robbie Cundy

This next player would be a huge gamble as he hasn’t actually played any first team games in the last 12 months. In fact, the last time Robbie Cundy played was in the 4-4 draw between Dons and Barnsley at Stadium MK. Unfortunately he’s been out with a long-term injury but was released by Barnsley just as he was starting to return to fitness. As such it’s difficult to make a judgment on him based on his stats. With this being said, the 26 year old does have a decent amount of League One experience as well as a bit of Championship experience through his time at Bristol City. Now without a club, Cundy will probably be looking for somewhere to go in order to get his career back on track.

Cundy came through at Oxford’s academy so a move to Milton Keynes would make sense. It’s just a case of if he can stay fit or not. If he does then Dons have got a League One quality defender on the books, if not then all Dons have is a busier treatment room. Standing at six foot two, Cundy would offer a good physical presence and based on his past clubs, he should be able to adjust to playing out from the back. Interestingly it looks like he’s played on the right of a back three before for Barnsley so he could be direct competition for Jack Tucker. It’s just a question of if Cundy’s worth the risk.

7) Fraser Blake-Tracy

The final player on this list is someone that could’ve easily featured on the wingback article instead. Frazer Blake-Tracy is very similar to Daniel Harvie in the sense that he covers both centre-back and left wingback. Blake-Tracy played 39 league games for Swindon last season, scoring two goals and assisting an additional four. He picked up eight yellow cards in this time. Having also played for Peterborough, a move to Milton Keynes would be easy enough. The 28 year old is one of the shorter players on this list, but he’s also one of the faster ones. He would provide great competition for Harvie and Lewington, whilst also being able to cover for Tomlinson if necessary.

The downside to this potential move is that Blake-Tracy hasn’t been in the EFL for that long. He started in non-league and was eventually picked up by Peterborough. It’s hard to tell how he would do in a ball-playing system as intricate as The Dons’ is. Blake-Tracy has also never really settled anywhere, moving on a free each time he’s changed clubs. This would suggest that there’s a good reason he’s being let go each time. However, Williamson is good at coaching players to fulfil their potential and if he can get the best out of Blake-Tracy then the left side of defence will look very strong with good depth in both left-sided defence roles.

Special Mentions and the Verdict:

It was difficult to match the brief for what Dons need for centre-backs and it would be near impossible to rebuild the defence properly without spending. There are other options available but they’re either far too optimistic or not good enough. For example, there were a lot of older centre-backs getting released from Championship clubs but Grant Hall was the most attainable of these, hence his inclusion on the list. Players like Ciaran Clark (Stoke) and Marc Roberts (Birmingham) would be brilliant additions but the chances of them dropping all the way to League Two are incredibly slim. More realistic options include Farrend Rawson (Morecambe) and Ryan Bennett (Cambridge) though they would be a bit more underwhelming.

A lot of the picks I went with are quite optimistic but then Dons need starting quality players for the defence, including a marquee signing. Marvin Ekpiteta would be the pick of the bunch though that might be wishful thinking! Looking at more realistic options, Michael Hector would be a fantastic pick-up and he would be my first choice. He offers leadership at the back as well as quality, and would improve The Dons’ defence massively without breaking the bank.

I hope you enjoyed the third article of the released and re-signed series. Join me next time where I bring you seven midfielders The Dons could look at signing for free this summer. Thank you for reading!

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