Released and Re-signed – 2024 – Attacking Midfield Edition:

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

Welcome back to released and re-signed 2024. Last time we focused on holding midfielders but now it’s time to divert out focus to the attacking midfielders. The Dons have a few players already whose first position is attacking midfield, namely: Alex Gilbey, Stephen Wearne and Conor Grant. There’s also Connor Lemonheigh-Evans and Dawson Devoy who can play both midfield roles and strikers Max Dean, Ellis Harrison and Matt Dennis who have all operated there in more of an inside forward role. On top of that, versatile forward Jonathan Leko can play attacking midfield in addition to Joel Anker from the academy. It’s safe to say Dons are well-covered in this area already.

However, some of the players listed above could leave the club this summer if they’re not in Mike Williamson’s plans. It’s likely an area where Dons will look to improve in terms of quality in depth. Players coming in will need to be confident on the ball as usual, but they’ll also have to be able to contribute with goals and assists. Ideally they will be different to what Dons have already and if they’re able to play multiple positions then even better! Due to the nature of this role, there may be wingers or central midfield players that could be converted, the same way Alex Gilbey was last season. With this in mind, here are seven attacking midfielders The Dons should look at signing for free this summer:

1) Mark Helm

The first player on this list maybe isn’t the most realistic as he plays for Burton in League One and has been offered a new contract. However, Burton have been in relegation battles for the last couple of seasons and aren’t a particularly well-run club. A chance to battle at the right end of the table might convince Mark Helm to move to Milton Keynes.  He played 37 league games last season, scoring five goals and assisting another three. Helm is versatile and would be able to play both the attacking and holding midfield roles comfortably. Judging by his disciplinary record, he probably did his fair share of defending for Burton, picking up nine yellow cards.

Helm is a dead ball specialist which would make him the perfect like for like replacement if Jack Payne doesn’t return. From his goal contribution stats, the 22 year old clearly has something about him in attacking areas so Williamson would have the choice of where Helm operates. As stated in the introduction to this article, players coming in that can play attacking midfield will likely be able to play other positions as well due to the nature of the role. Aside from the drop in division, there’s only one other downside and that’s location. Helm came through the academy at Manchester United and his only other club was Burnley, meaning that Milton Keynes might be too far south for his liking.

2) Harrison Biggins
Up next is a player that turned down a contract at fellow play-off side Doncaster. Harrison Biggins evidently has a lot of ambition to be turning down one of the more successful sides in the division last season, but a decent contract at Dons might be enough to persuade him to stick in League Two for one more season. The 28 year old played 38 league games, scoring five goals and assisting four more. He picked up six yellow cards in this time. Biggins also scored in one of the play-off games against Crewe. Like Mark Helm, Biggins is able to operate in both attacking and holding midfield roles though Biggins is probably more natural in the more attacking role.

Annoyingly the downside to this move is also location. Biggins’ previous clubs were Barrow and Fleetwood so Doncaster is as far south as he’s been, and even that is in close proximity to Sheffield where Biggins was born. Based on this information it seems unlikely that he’ll come south, especially since he’ll be entering a squad with decent competition for starting places in his area of the pitch already. However, he would still be a solid addition to the squad.

3) Ben Whitfield

Ben Whitfield is an interesting candidate for this role. For most of his career he’s been a central midfielder but Pete Wild decided to convert him to a striker at Barrow. With this information, he could actually be a perfect versatile option for the attacking areas. Whitfield played 36 league games last season, scoring eight goals and assisting another four. He would likely be able to operate in an attacking midfield role whilst also being an emergency cover striker.

Thankfully location is less of a problem for this one as Whitfield has played all over the country for the likes of Stockport, Port Vale, Yeovil and Torquay. From this list of teams the negative of this potential signing becomes clear. Whitfield has no League One experience. He’s played plenty of games in League Two which makes him a quick fix for this season’s squad, but if Dons get promoted, there’s no telling how the 28 year old will fare.

4) Cameron McGeehan

This next suggestion would have the potential to be controversial as he was born in Kingston upon Thames. Cameron McGeehan played 37 league games for Colchester, scoring nine goals and assisting another four. He’s capable of playing in both midfield roles which would make him a valuable asset to Williamson, though Dons would need to be wary of his disciplinary record. McGeehan picked up 10 yellow cards last season, two of which became double yellows. Both times the 29 year old was sent off, the yellow cards were only 15 minutes or so apart.

McGeehan has plenty of League Two experience as well as some experience in higher divisions, playing for the likes of Barnsley, Portsmouth and Scunthorpe. He even spent a few seasons playing for KV Oostende in the Belgian Pro League and has a cap for Northern Ireland. However, what makes this signing unlikely is one of his previous clubs. McGeehan played a lot of games for Luton and played a part in their return to the football league. Luton often come across as a team that hate The Dons more than most, certainly if their fans are to be believed anyway. Moving to Milton Keynes would likely damage McGeehan’s reputation with Luton and their fans which might put him off joining, given how much of an impact he had whilst playing for The Hatters.

5) JJ McKiernan

We’ve reached the part of the article where I tell you about a Morecambe player we could sign whilst they go through their financial troubles. JJ McKiernan played 27 league games, scoring seven goals and assisting one more. He picked up six yellow cards in this time. Despite the lower number in appearances, McKiernan was actually a regular starter for Morecambe. Unfortunately, he picked up an injury that kept him out the side for a couple of months. The Shrimps have offered the 22 year old a new contract, but it probably wouldn’t take much to prise McKiernan away from them.

Surprisingly the geography for this move could actually work. Last season at Morecambe was McKiernan’s first time playing up north. He previously came through the academy at Watford and grew up in Southampton. His other previous clubs were Eastleigh and Andover Town, both of which are based in Hampshire, meaning that a move to Milton Keynes would bring him closer to home. The downside to this potential signing would be lack of experience. This was McKiernan’s first full season of EFL football and although he seems to have a lot of potential, Dons already have Conor Grant and Dawson Devoy on the books. Bringing McKiernan in would likely involve losing either Grant or Devoy so the team doesn’t have too many prospects. 

6) Connor Mahoney

This next player isn’t an attacking midfielder but he’s someone I think could be converted from a winger to suit Williamson’s system. Connor Mahoney has been released by Huddersfield after spending last season on loan at Gillingham. He played 39 games in League Two, scoring seven goals and assisting a further four whilst impressively never getting booked. Mahoney has some Championship experience through his time at Huddersfield, in addition to playing for Millwall, Birmingham, Blackburn and Barnsley. The 27 year old started at Blackburn’s academy and spent a little time at Accrington as well.

It seems likely that Gillingham will want Mahoney back and he could potentially get League One offers as well. Gillingham have started the window well and obviously Mahoney knows the club already so they have the advantage if they’re interested, but if Dons can convince him to sign for the style of play then he would be a shrewd addition to the squad. With this being said, if Mahoney joins it would probably freeze Jonathan Leko out of the squad, resulting in his departure. Admittedly that could be inevitable anyway due to last season’s attempt to loan Leko out to Burton.  

7) Noah Chilvers

For the second time this article, I’m suggesting a Colchester player that’s been offered a new contract. Noah Chilvers played all 46 league games last season, scoring four goals and assisting one more. His scoring stats aren’t particularly impressive but the 23 year old scored a few more in both of the previous campaigns which would suggest he’s capable of doing more in a stronger side. Chilvers picked up six yellow cards which isn’t too bad considering how much game time he was getting. What’s most impressive is his availability because even including cup competitions, Chilvers only missed one game and that was an EFL Trophy fixture where he was being rested.

The only thing that makes this signing harder to pull off is his loyalty to Colchester. Chilvers came through Colchester’s academy and is already getting close to 200 games for the club, a very impressive total when you consider his age. He was The U’s Player of the Year back in 2020/21 and is already well on his way to club legend status. It would probably take a good contract and a promise of reaching League One for Chilvers to even entertain a move away. Some sweet talking from Colchester Player of the Year 2015/16 Alex Gilbey would definitely be required! Interestingly Chilvers was captain of Colchester’s U18’s just like Gilbey was. He’s even captained the senior team a few times already so maybe he’s another Gilbey in the making!

Special Mentions and the Verdict:

There are plenty of options for players that could fit into the attacking midfield role. Other suggestions would include the likes of Jack Nolan (Accrington), Dom Jefferies (Gillingham), Aaron Rowe (Huddersfield) and former Don Josh Martin (Portsmouth). However, it’s difficult to find realistic options that improve on what Dons already have. The club have been proactive in finding players for this area as shown by the signing of Lemonheigh-Evans and the reports of interest in Doncaster’s Luke Molyneux before he signed a new contract.

Of the players listed, my personal pick would be Mark Helm. It would be a cheeky bit of business to take him away from Burton in the division above but they’re clearly struggling to compete at that level so a fresh start for Helm could be a good thing. If that move isn’t possible then I would be looking at JJ McKiernan or Noah Chilvers. Both are young exciting talents that would be able to compete with the likes of Gilbey and Wearne. There would be an element of risk involved as signing a lot of young players doesn’t always work out, in fact that’s how Dons ended up in League Two in the first place. However unlike the players signed for Dons in the 2022/23 season, these players have already proven their worth at this level.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the attacking midfielders that could join The Dons’ ranks for free this summer. Join me next time for the final article of the series where I’ll bring you seven out of contract strikers The Dons could look at signing. Thank you for reading!

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