Many MK Dons fans thought that last week’s loss to Bury was just a minor extension of the slight blip they’ve had over the Christmas period. After all, prior to that game, they ripped apart Cambridge United with a 6-0 victory at Stadium MK, with many believing that was the signal that the festive blues were over and the solid form that had seen them cemented in the automatic promotion spots would continue.
However, last week’s 4-3 loss in Greater Manchester, after being 3-1 up with 17 minutes to play, was compounded on Saturday afternoon as the Dons suffered their second home league defeat of the season; 1-0 against Crewe Alexandra. It was a truly lacklustre performance from the hosts, with Charlie Kirk‘s first-half goal the only thing that separated them. It was reminiscent of the type of display that saw them relegated last season and, for the first time real time this season, it was clear that new signings are needed if the Dons want to go up automatically.
Paul Tisdale Must Get the Signings He Wants
Already Through the Door
One new addition has already arrived at the club in the form of Russell Martin. The Scotland international and former Norwich City captain came in on a free transfer after leaving League One side Walsall for family reasons.
However, even with both of those players out of the squad, Martin failed to make his debut against Crewe, with central midfielder Conor McGrandles preferred at right-wingback. While this may just be due to Martin’s recent arrival and a lack of chemistry with his new teammates, it could also suggest that he has only been brought in to be a back-up central defender, perhaps highlighted by the departure of youngster Oran Jackson on loan to Brackley Town.
McGrandles has done his best in his unorthodox position, filling in there while Jordan Moore-Taylor recovered from injury, but the Crewe game, in particular, showed just how unorthodox a position it is for him. Playing Martin in this position might not be a long-term fix, and new arrivals in this position could still be welcomed, but a more defensive approach in this area of the pitch could go some way to stopping the current leakage of goals.
An Unbalanced Defence
Another slight concern of the defence in Paul Tisdale’s side is the unbalance in their favoured foot. When the three centre-backs who started against Crewe start together, what would appear to be the first choices, all three are naturally left-footed.
Baily Cargill and Jordan Moore-Taylor are affected by this the least as they play on the left and in the centre of the three respectively, but Joe Walsh is tasked with playing on the right-hand side, which creates problems in forward areas in particular.
One of the main features of Tisdale’s defence is that the two wider centre-backs (Cargill and Walsh mostly) bomb forward to help out attacks with their underlapping runs. However, these moves are slowed down when on the right as Walsh has to cut back onto his left foot to play any sort of meaningful pass or cross. This gives the opposition defence an extra second or two to reorganise and snuff out any danger, thus preventing an attack from forming.
Tisdale has the option of playing Mathieu Baudry there instead of Walsh, as the Frenchman filled this position well against both Northampton Town and Cambridge but he is also recovering from a long-term injury. Only match minutes will help this, but seeing him start games regularly is probably a little while off just yet.
The loan signing of a centre-back would add another option at the back if the unbalance becomes more of a problem than it already is an annoyance, particularly if Russell Martin is going to be utilised as a wing-back rather than a central defender.
The Front Three
The front three in this MK Dons team have been exceptionally good in comparison to recent seasons. Keeping hold of Chuks Aneke and Kieran Agard, who were both part of the squad in League One, has probably gone some way to ensuring this, but the loan addition of Rhys Healey proved to be the missing piece of the jigsaw up front.
Healey’s loan ended after the Cambridge game, though, and he has returned to Cardiff City. Everyone at the club wants him to return, with Tisdale himself saying: “I hope it’s not dead – we want him back. We’ve asked Cardiff if we can have him, but I don’t know yet. It’s Neil Warnock’s decision. He has been respectful to us, we’ve been respectful to them. I’d like to think Rhys is interested in coming back. It’s not for me to say, but we’ve done everything we can. I’d like him back. Please!”
The glimmer of hope for Dons fan (or, two glimmers) is that Healey came on as a substitute for the Bluebirds in their 0-0 draw with Huddersfield Town last weekend, meaning that he can now only play for either Cardiff or MK Dons for the remainder of the season, rather than being loaned elsewhere. Also, Cardiff have made two additions to their front line with the acquisitions of Oumar Niasse and Emiliano Sala. Surely a striker who was deemed worthy of a loan to League Two in the first place is now more out-of-favour with those additions?
While that ‘starting’ front three caused defences problems throughout the first half of the season, the back-up have been less than impressive.
Of those replacements, Robbie Simpson, Ryan Harley and Osman Sow have registered league goals this season, with Lawson D’ath, Peter Pawlett and Ryan Watson yet to find the net (aside from Watson’s goal against Charlton in the Carabao Cup).
In fairness, Harley, Sow and Pawlett have all had their injury problems, and Sow has looked sharper than ever in the few cameos he has made since Christmas. Pawlett has also looked his lively self but is yet to provide anything thus far. However, Harley’s brief introduction against Crewe was a performance to forget, with absolutely no energy and no desire provided, and D’ath has failed to take yet another opportunity given to him by the manager.
While back-ups are not expected to be as good as ‘the real thing’, MK Dons look completely bereft of ideas when most of them enter the pitch. It’s as if they haven’t trained with having to play a different front three.
Ryan Watson, when he has played, looks to be the only one of them capable of creating a chance or scoring a goal, but his chances have been limited for whatever reason. Perhaps he doesn’t train well? Perhaps Tisdale is doing it to get more out of D’ath? Either way, if Watson is not going to play, then an addition to the attacking ranks is certainly needed because they cannot wholly rely on Agard and Aneke to score the goals.
This should just be a divot in the road for MK Dons. Four losses from six is hardly promotion form but a squad of this calibre in League Two certainly has the quality to turn it around – with additions, though.
Tisdale has done phase one of bringing in another defensive player, but deadline day is fast approaching now. There’s still no news on the Healey return and very few rumours of anyone else coming into the squad. Another week with no transfer news, and it could become a major concern.