Released and Re-signed? – 2024 – Striker Edition:

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

Welcome to the series finale of released and re-signed 2024. Last time we focused on attacking midfielders but for this final article we’re looking at strikers. The Dons currently have Max Dean, Ellis Harrison and Matt Dennis on the books, though judging by how good Dean has been it seems unlikely that he’ll be spending another season at the club.

This means that I’ll be targeting two types of player with this article. The first is a starting choice striker, someone that leads the line and plays most weeks they’re available, the talisman of the squad. It will be particularly hard to find an out of contract player to match this brief that would also be prepared to come down to League Two. The other type of player is simply someone different to what Dons have already in the current back-up strikers. Harrison and Dennis both offer different sets of skills which allows The Dons to ask different questions of opposition defenders. With this in mind, here are seven strikers Mike Williamson could look at adding to the ranks for free this summer:

1) Stephen Humphrys

As ever the first player on the list is an optimistic pick. Stephen Humphrys has been released by League One Wigan after making 38 league appearances last season, scoring nine goals and assisting three more. These are solid stats for the league above so the 26 year old would likely be too good for League Two. However, if Max Dean leaves the club then Humphrys would be the cheapest replacement available that could match Dean’s standard.

A lot of Humphrys’ appearances last season came on the right which would suggest he’s able to play both as a striker and in the attacking midfield role. With this being said, he would be a star player in League Two so it would make more sense to keep him in a central position. Humphrys started his career at Fulham but most of his game time to date has been in League One for the likes of Shrewsbury, Southend, Scunthorpe and Rochdale. His most successful spell came a couple of seasons ago at Wigan but he’s been unable to match his best of 18 goals in League One since. Chances are Humphrys gets picked up by another third tier club but signing him would certainly be a statement of intent for Dons.

2) Cameron Jerome

Dons fans will already be familiar with this next player. Cameron Jerome was released from Bolton after making 30 appearances in League One last season. He only scored three goals and assisted one more. However, these stats are deceptive as most of Jerome’s appearances were cameos in the final few minutes of games. At 37 years old, Jerome is the oldest player I’ve suggested this entire series and even when he last played for Dons in the 2020/21 season, some may recall a debate of whether he was ‘past it’ upon his arrival. He turned out to be a very pacey, intelligent forward and though he’s probably lost a few yards since, Jerome could probably still lead the line in League Two.

There’s no denying Jerome’s pedigree, having played for the likes of Birmingham, Stoke and Norwich in the Premier League. However, some Dons fans might not approve of a return for Jerome due to the way he left the club last time he was here. After one season, Jerome decided to move to Luton at the end of his contract, a club that Dons typically don’t get on with. However, given the Jerome was in his mid-thirties, he probably just wanted one last shot at Championship football before dropping down the leagues. It’s hard to tell just how effective he would be given his lack of starts for Bolton but at the very least Jerome would be an excellent mentor for Matt Dennis.

3) Charlie Austin

Charlie Austin is the first player on this list that was playing in League Two last season. He played all 46 league games for Swindon, scoring 12 goals and assisting six more. Notably he was also captain of the side so he offers leadership qualities as well as goals. There have been rumours linking the 34 year old with a return to QPR but if he wants to be a starter, he may have to hang around in the lower leagues.

Like Cameron Jerome, Austin has fantastic pedigree, playing for the likes of Southampton and West Bromwich Albion in addition to QPR in the Premier League. Judging by the amount of game time he got for Swindon last season, Austin still has the stamina to lead the line and would be a suitable replacement if Max Dean leaves The Dons. However, there’s no guarantee that Austin would be effective in this system. After all, Dan Kemp was a standout player for Swindon but struggled to make an impact back at Dons.

4) Shayne Lavery

Blackpool made the decision to release Shayne Lavery after he scored five goals and assisted one more in 31 League One appearances last season. The 25 year old already has some experience in the Championship through his time with The Tangerines and was a prolific striker for Linfield in the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) Premiership a few seasons back. He evidently has goals in him but may just need a fresh start to find form again.

Lavery started his career in Northern Ireland and is a current Northern Irish international, picking up 19 caps so far. However, he was signed for Everton after a successful trial in 2015. His current pathway would suggest that he’s not afraid of moving a bit further away to progress his career so a move to Milton Keynes might be a smart move for both parties. Lavery looks like a useful addition regardless of whether Max Dean stays or not. From what I’ve seen he has pace, determination and of course an eye for a finish, three very useful attributes for attacking player’s in Williamson’s system. 

5) Courtney Baker-Richardson

The Dons have already signed Luke Offord from Crewe, why not weaken them further by taking one of their strikers? Courtney Baker-Richardson played 36 league games last season, scoring nine goals and assisting one more along the way. The 28 year old has played for a variety of clubs across the country, including a spell with Swansea in the Championship. However, he only started gaining regular EFL game time in the 2021/22 season with Newport.

Baker-Richardson doesn’t appear to be the most prolific striker but he’s been fairly consistent across the last three seasons and would be a very good second choice striker. With this being said, he’s probably not an improvement on Ellis Harrison and is just a less-experienced version of the Dons man. Although he would be a solid signing, Baker-Richardson would potentially be signing someone for the sake of it, though it would weaken Crewe who have already lost their starting striker Elliott Nevitt to Gillingham. 

6) John Marquis

We’re now approaching the realms of players that have previously been good but have struggled in recent seasons. John Marquis has been released from League One Bristol Rovers after making 35 league appearances, scoring four goals and assisting one more in the process. The 32 year old’s scoring record has fluctuated in the last few seasons playing for the likes of Portmouth, Lincoln and Doncaster in League One. Perhaps dropping to League Two might give Marquis the confidence boost he likely needs.

Marquis started his career and had loans at clubs like Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Cheltenham and Northampton so he’s no stranger to EFL football. He has plenty of experience and interestingly last time he was in League Two, he won Player of the Year for the entire division as he helped Doncaster to promotion. Based on this information, a return to Doncaster seems likely but it may be worth trying to offer Marquis a contract anyway.

7) James Wilson

The final player of the series is James Wilson. He was released by Port Vale after making 27 appearances in League One, scoring three goals along the way. Admittedly this isn’t exactly an impressive return but the idea behind signing Wilson would be signing him as a squad player. He came through the academy at Manchester United and once upon a time he was one of their better prospects. Wilson even played a few games in the Premier League for them. He also had a decent loan spell in the Championship with Brighton.

Obviously Wilson never lived up to those expectations, but the 28 year old’s most prolific two seasons of his career so far have both come in League Two. He actually helped Port Vale to promotion out of League Two a couple of seasons back in addition to winning the EFL Trophy with Salford in the 2019/20 season. Wilson looks like a player that will put a shift in and although he doesn’t necessarily score lots of goals, his work-rate off the ball could help enable other creative players in the team to do well. In other words, he would probably be a decent back-up option for both striker and attacking midfield.

Special Mentions and the Verdict:

This was a particularly tough assignment. As it turns out, clubs don’t willingly release 20 goal a season strikers so I had to think outside the box a little bit with some of these picks. Other options include Ryan Bowman (Shrewsbury), Sean Maguire (Carlisle) or even Jón Dadi Bödvarsson (Bolton) if Williamson’s prepared to sign more of a target man though I suspect that’s unlikely! However, it’s fairly safe to say if Max Dean leaves The Dons, money will absolutely have to be spent on his replacement. Some of the more realistic options on this list are good squad options but they’re not safe bets and could easily backfire.

Of the players listed, my first choice would be Shayne Lavery as I think Stephen Humphrys would be too unrealistic. Lavery looks like a solid option that Williamson would be able to coach effectively. He would have the potential to become a prolific striker at this level and potentially in League One as well. If not Lavery, then Cameron Jerome or John Marquis seem like the most likely options. They’re experienced players with plenty of EFL experience that are probably due a step down in division. Most importantly, they would offer decent competition to Ellis Harrison and Matt Dennis who are likely to be staying with The Dons going into next season.

We’ve finally made it! That’s the end of the released and re-signed series for 2024. Thank you to everyone who read any of these articles as well as the MKDSA for agreeing to let me run this series again. It took a lot of work to find suitable players but it was an enjoyable process. Maybe if I’m lucky one of the players I’ve mentioned in one of these articles actually signs for Dons!

Obviously it’s going to be a while before the player ratings get to make their return but if you’re a fan of my content and want to read more of my stuff then be sure to keep an eye out for any articles I post on ‘The Deck’. I’ll be posting all the articles I release on social media as well so keep your eyes peeled! I hope you enjoyed this series and thank you for reading!

A very big Thank You goes to Luke for another brilliant  article which we are sure our readers have enjoyed.

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