Noticeable Improvements Being Made at MK Dons

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KINGSTON UPON THAMES, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Alex Gilbey of MK Dons celebrates with team mates after Ryan Seagen of MK Dons scores his sides first goal during the Sky Bet League One match between A.F.C. Wimbledon and Milton Keynes Dons at The Cherry Red Records Stadium on September 22, 2017 in Kingston upon Thames, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

MK Dons secured back-to-back league victories for the first time since April on Friday night. Gboly Ariyibi’s double and Ryan Seager’s late winner gave the Dons a 3-2 win over Rochdale last Saturday, and Ariyibi was then at it again against AFC Wimbledon after George Francomb’s own goal had given the visitors an early lead.

The two wins have propelled the Dons up the league into 11th place in League One. This comes after a less than impressive start where they scored just three goals in their opening five games. As well as improvements in the goal-scoring department, general play has seen a massive increase in quality in recent weeks. The abundance of new signings finally seem to be gelling and there’s certainly a lot more optimism around Milton Keynes now.

Noticeable Improvements Being Made at MK Dons

Early Season System

For the majority of games this season, Robbie Neilson has lined up his side in a 4-3-3 formation. The midfield three would generally be expected to hold, with one pushing forward when the team are on the attack. However, when defending, having three holding midfielders invites pressure and more opposition attackers join the fray. The Dons were guilty of this on numerous occasions at the start of the season.

While not necessarily a problem with the formation, Neilson’s selection of players sometimes did not match the system he was playing. Standing at just 5ft 7″, Ryan Seager has started four games as the lone striker. He did well at times, but ultimately struggled as he always had the opposition’s centre-backs on him, with his attacking counterparts out on the wings rather than supporting him in the middle.

Positive Changes in Style

However, in the games where the formation has been altered, MK Dons have looked a lot more threatening. It has not been done often, but when it has, it has had an immense impact. In the game against Rochdale last weekend, with the score locked at 2-2, Neilson brought on Seager as a substitute to partner Osman Sow up front, rather than to replace him. Aidan Nesbitt made way instead. The partnership worked as well, with the pair linking up like they had played together before.

After the success of the system against Rochdale, Neilson decided to implement it from the off against AFC Wimbledon. Once again, it paid dividends. Sow’s low cross after just seven minutes forced the opening goal. It was credited to Seager, but replays show that George Francomb got the final touch. The Dons doubled their lead 19 minutes later through Ariyibi, who finished first time after a scramble in the home side’s penalty area. The 4-4-2 formation allowed the Dons to look far more threatening in attack, whilst also still looking comfortable at the back. It is an old tactic, but anything that works would suit Neilson’s side perfectly at the moment.

The Introduction of Callum Brittain

After making his first-team debut back in January, Callum Brittain has constantly been in and around the first-team. The 19-year old has been in the squad for every game this season, and has started every one since his first appearance against Oxford.

Many fans would not have expected this to be the youngster’s breakthrough season. However, since the Oxford game, he has really held his own in the position. Brought on for the injured Ethan Ebanks-Landell in that game against the U’s, Brittain sent Stadium MK into raptures as he rifled in his first senior goal to equalise. His performance aside from this was just as impressive, as he defended well and was an asset going forward too. He even saved the Dons from losing late on, racing back and intercepting Gino van Kessel’s effort on the line after he had rounded Lee Nicholls.

If the youngster continues to perform as well as he has, the right-back position could soon be his to keep. The question is, who would he keep out of the side?

Lee Nicholls is Repaying the Faith Shown in Him

While Lee Nicholls was involved in the earlier disappointments of the season, his performances certainly did not match the outcomes of those games. The Dons would be a lot lower down in the table without him saving them on numerous occasions.

He made key saves to keep Blackpool at bay in a 1-0 loss, was instrumental in the EFL Cup win over Forest Green, and performed his heroics again on Friday, diving low to palm away Lyle Taylor’s penalty to keep the score at 0-2.

After David Martin’s departure at the end of last season, Robbie Neilson could have easily brought in another goalkeeper. However, after some positive signs when called upon in 2016/17, the boss decided to hand the responsibility to Nicholls. So far, he has more than repaid that faith.

There is competition from backup Wieger Sietsma, but he has only made one appearance so far. Nicholls certainly seems to have cemented the spot for himself.

Looking Forward

If MK Dons are to continue the success they’ve had in recent weeks, then they simply need to carry on what they have been doing. Robbie Neilson must continue with the 4-4-2 formation. Regardless of whether certain players are fit, it makes the team look much more positive in all areas of the pitch.

The Dons’ next game is another rivalry, this time facing up to Northampton Town. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side had been on a good run since his arrival. However, this was halted as Bradford took all three points away from Sixfields on Saturday.

The Dons, though, will be looking to record three league victories on the spin for the first time since 2015.

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