Released and Re-signed? – 2024 – Holding Midfield Edition:

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

Welcome back to released and re-signed 2024. Now we’ve covered the defence it’s time to move into midfield and we’re going to start by looking at the holding midfield role. The Dons currently only have one player whose first position is holding midfield and that’s MJ Williams. New signing Luke Offord can also play there but is more likely to be used in the back three. There’s also Dawson Devoy though he looks more natural as an attacking player than a defensive one. Finally, there’s Callum Tripp from the academy who looks like a real talent, though it’s too soon to be relying on him for the club’s success.

The holding midfield role is probably the hardest role to play in the entire team. Anyone coming in should be able to play out from the back and dictate the tempo of play even whilst under pressure. They’ve also got to be confident in beating their marker in relatively dangerous positions. Given that Lewis Bate, Jack Payne and Ethan Robson have all left the club, at least one marquee signing will be needed for this position. Taking all of this into account, here are seven holding midfielders that I think Dons should look at signing for free this summer:

1) Elliot Watt

The first player on this list is someone with the potential to play a couple of divisions higher in his career. Elliot Watt was one of Salford’s star men in League Two last season, making 36 league appearances, scoring one goal and assisting six more in the process. He’s evidently not afraid to take one for the team having picked up nine yellow cards, one of which became a second yellow and a sending off. The 24 year old made the decision to leave Salford at the end of the season despite The Ammies’ interest in keeping him.

Watt came through the academy at Wolves after a busy youth career playing for the likes of Liverpool, Blackburn and Preston. He has a lot of League Two experience with the likes of Carlisle and Bradford in addition to Salford but it looks like he has the ambition to move up to higher divisions. If The Dons could convince him to get involved in the upcoming promotion push then he would be a fantastic addition, and he would likely become a nailed-on starter in the holding midfield duo. The only things that make this signing less likely are potential interest from sides higher up the pyramid and location. Wolves is the southern-most club he’s played for but perhaps he could be tempted to come to Milton Keynes with the promise of getting a promotion on his CV.

2) Lee Evans

This next suggestion is as optimistic as they come. Lee Evans has four League One promotions under his belt including in both of the last two seasons. He was released by Ipswich in February but was picked up by Portsmouth a month later as a back-up option for their title charge. Now Evans has been released again, having only played four games in League One and two games in the Championship last season. Although these stats don’t look particularly good, the 29 year old has plenty of experience in both leagues from previous seasons. Evans has played for the likes of Wolves, Sheffield United and Wigan, meaning he has some serious pedigree for lower league football.

The downside to this one is that Evans will surely be looking for another League One move. He’s never dropped to League Two and his only games below that level came at the start of his career playing for Newport. A player of his standard would easily match the criteria Mike Williamson will be looking for and Evans’ experience would certainly be welcomed. He even has four caps for Wales. Sometimes to get promotion, you just need people who have been there and done it before, proven winners…and Evans is certainly a winner.

3) Korey Smith

There are some more realistic options further down the list but with this position being so crucial to the way Dons set up, I’ve gone all in to find a potential star player. Korey Smith played 32 games in League One for Derby last season, scoring one goal and assisting one more as they won promotion. Impressively he only picked up three yellow cards in that time, a surprisingly low number for a holding midfielder.  He has a previous League One promotion with Bristol City which was the same year Dons were promoted to the Championship. He even has a Championship promotion from his early career with Norwich.

The only reason I’ve even deemed Smith a realistic enough option to include here is his age. He’s now 33 so it seems unlikely that he’ll be playing higher than League One anymore. However, he would likely be a starter for most League One clubs so if any of the bigger sides show interest, Dons wouldn’t stand a chance of bringing him in. It’s also worth noting that Smith’s never dropped to League Two before. It would take a monumental effort to sign him…but we can always dream!

4) Tyreeq Bakinson

This is the last optimistic pick of the article I promise! Tyreeq Bakinson played eight games in the Championship for Sheffield Wednesday last season before he was loaned to Charlton where he made a further 15 games in League One. He scored one goal and picked up five yellow cards for The Addicks. Bakinson has some other Championship experience as well through his time at Bristol City.

The 25 year old is less of a playmaker than everyone else on this list but a player of his standard should be able to make it work in League Two. Standing at six foot three, he’s more of a ball-winner so would be direct competition for MJ Williams. This would be a move that makes sense geographically as Bakinson came through the ranks at Luton and has mostly played for southern clubs. He’s not quite at the same standard as Lee Evans and Korey Smith so there’s a chance he slips through the net and falls to League Two.

5) George McEachran

Dons fans know his brother well but fortunately Josh isn’t the only McEachran that’s a holding midfielder. George McEachran played 39 games in League Two for Swindon last season, scoring one goal and assisting another five. His disciplinary record is respectable, picking up six yellow cards. The 23 year old is by far the least experienced player on this list but he does have potential to become a very solid player having come through Chelsea’s academy just like his brother.

Signing McEachran would be a bit of a kick in the teeth for Dawson Devoy, as he’s a similar age and has similar goal contribution stats in fewer games. They’re also quite similar in terms of experience and if anything, Devoy’s the more experienced of the two. It would potentially be a case of stockpiling too many similar players but there’s little indication of whether Devoy is in Williamson’s plans or not, and McEachran might fit the mould slightly better. The geography would make this an easy move, albeit more of a gamble in terms of quality.

6) Charlie Lakin

The Dons have already filled a certain South London fanbase with rage after signing Connor Lemonheigh-Evans… why not do it again? Charlie Lakin was released from League One Burton but he played 27 games in League Two last season, six of which came for AFC Wimbledon, whilst the other 21 were for Sutton. He scored eight goals and assisted another five, all of which came in the second half of the season with Sutton. These included a goal and an assist against Dons on the final day. His efforts were enough to earn him two end of season awards for Sutton: Club Player of the Year, and Players’ Player of the Year.

Lakin is the sort of player that could play both holding and attacking midfield hence why he’s included on this list. This would give Dons more options and would allow for rotation amongst the midfield players. The 25 year old came through the academy at Birmingham but until the second half of last season, he struggled for consistent game time. There would certainly be risk in signing Lakin as he’s still unproven. Half a season isn’t enough to determine that he’s a top player for the level but it would certainly suggest he has the potential, and Williamson is the sort of manager that should be able to get the best out of him.

7) Jack Payne

What better way to replace Jack Payne…than with Jack Payne himself? This man needs no introduction to Dons fans as he played 40 league games for the club last season, scoring six and assisting six more. He picked up six yellow cards and was a nailed-on starter and set piece taker. Payne is another player that can operate in both holding and attacking midfield which gives Dons more options. He seemed to get on well with the group but the only question is… would he come back?

Payne has spent plenty of seasons playing League One football for the likes of Blackburn, Oxford, Lincoln, Bradford, Swindon and Southend as well as Charlton. There’s a good chance that the 29 year old could get another contract in League One. If it’s League One football Payne’s after, he would have to wait at least one more season to get that with Dons and now he’s approaching 30, he doesn’t have many prime years left to play at the top level he can. Obviously this is a move that would make sense for both player and club as Payne is familiar with the players, staff and fans. He would likely be very popular with the fans if he were to return.

Special Mentions and the Verdict:

As it turns out, it’s very hard to find a replacement for Lewis Bate. A player of his standard never should’ve been in League Two in the first place so the chances of getting a like for like replacement are very slim, as you can see from some of the players on this list.  There are more realistic options available like Matty Virtue (Blackpool), Tom Bayliss (Shrewsbury) and Yann Songo’o (Morecambe) but a player needs a certain set of skills to be able to pull off the holding midfield role in Williamson’s system.

Obviously it would be huge if The Dons could sign someone like Lee Evans or Korey Smith but I think if we’re going to try and get a player of that standard, we’ve got to catch them on the rise so my pick of the bunch would be Elliot Watt. We will of course need more than one player for this position so my additional pick would be Jack Payne. If he won’t come down to this level again then maybe we could go for a more physical option like Tyreeq Bakinson. The reality is that money will likely have to be spent in this area, or at the very least we might have to find a loan player or two. It is entirely possible to get a top midfield from the players available, but it would take some very good contract offers to bring them here.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the holding midfielders Dons could look at signing. Join me again next time for the penultimate article of this series where I’ll bring you seven attacking midfielders The Dons could sign for free this summer. Thank you for reading!

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