Paul Tisdale's tactics
BLACKPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Milton Keynes Dons manager Paul Tisdale during the Sky Bet League One match between Blackpool and Milton Keynes Dons at Bloomfield Road on September 14, 2019 in Blackpool, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images)

This season should be all about consolidation for MK Dons. Wins should be savoured and losses should, for the most part, not be dwelled on for too long. This defeat might leave a taste a little sourer than previous ones though, with Southend United producing a smash-and-grab to take all three points from Stadium MK. The Dons were, by most accounts, useless, but Paul Tisdale’s tactics, particularly in the first half, did absolutely nothing to help them.

Paul Tisdale’s Tactics Play Part in MK Dons Defeat

Rocked at the Back

Whether you view it as a back three or a back five, there have been plenty of occasions this season, although particularly at home, where the defence has proven to be shaky. They panic under pressure and concede possession in silly areas, and although the eventual goal by Charlie Kelman after just four minutes did have an element of fortune surrounding it, the positions of the Dons defence on the floor showed just how badly they had been pulled apart by an attack bereft of any sort of form.

Russell Martin had initially got back well to block an effort from Brandon Goodship. There was then a similarly good block from the sliding Joe Walsh, but Lee Nicholls had already dived for the blocked effort, leaving Kelman with the simple task of tapping home.

Indeed, it could have got worse just two minutes later when, in similar fashion, Southend broke quickly and ran the three central defenders ragged, and plenty of other chances went begging for the side only kept off the foot of League One by Bolton Wanderers’ points deduction.

Paul Tisdale’s Tactics Unfathomable

Throughout his time at MK Dons, Tisdale has largely stuck to the same shape; a five-man defence, wing-backs supporting a bank of either two or three midfielders, and then either two or three forwards depending on the number of midfielders. The only time he has had to deviate from that was when injuries in the second half of last season left the Dons short-changed at the back.

However, it could be argued that although results didn’t look as convincing on paper once those changes were made, performances, both collectively and individually, saw a marked improvement. Even in a more recent case, Tisdale took the bold decision to start with a 5-4-1 formation in Tuesday night’s defeat to Ipswich Town. Leaving a young striker in Sam Nombe up front on his own against a defence that, realistically, could cut their teeth in the Championship, panned out just as anybody else would have expected. Tisdale made the changes at half-time, bringing off Joe Walsh and Brennan Dickenson, two defenders, and replacing them with Callum Brittain, a defender but used more advanced in this game, and Jordan Bowery.

The change worked, and Ipswich were put under heaps of pressure. On any other day, the Dons would have taken at least a point. Why, then, were those same tactics not put in place against a side yet to win in the league, were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by the Dons last month, and had kicked off their Football League Trophy campaign with defeat to League Two side Leyton Orient? Instead, the 5-4-1 was back out in force, and the hopeful, or rather hopeless, long balls towards the 5’7″ frame of Nombe, were easily picked off by Rob Kiernan and Harry Lennon.

Second Half Changes Don’t Bring Reward

To Tisdale’s credit, he did notice that something was wrong at the break, and made changes to try and change the outcome. Jordan Houghton, who had arguably had the best game of any of the starting 11 in the first half, made way for Kieran Agard, a striker with just one goal to his name so far this season.

Two strikers on the pitch should have been the perfect remedy, but it only brought about the exact issues faced last season. Tisdale hadn’t changed it in the way he did against Ipswich on Tuesday – instead, he reverted to the 5-3-2 that brought limited success in League Two last season.

Instead of long balls forward for Agard (who is only an inch taller than Nombe himself) and his strike partner, they were now tasked with winning aerial duels from crosses against a Southend defence that had packed themselves together tightly. Almost anything that came their way in the box was dealt with by Kiernan or Lennon, and anything along the floor was either blocked or met with Agard’s woeful finishing.

What Next?

After facing Ipswich Town and Southend United in their last two games, a serious step up comes next as the Dons host current European champions Liverpool in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. It would be foolish of them to have any serious expectations of winning (although don’t forget the 4-0 drubbing of Manchester United in 2014), but tactically there needs to be a huge improvement on show because the league schedule doesn’t get any easier either.

Sunderland are next for MK Dons in League One at the Stadium of Light. Although inconsistent, a club the size of Sunderland should realistically see no problem in getting past the Dons. They may look better away from home (take last week’s 3-0 win at Blackpool, for example), and the Black Cats may have needed a stoppage-time penalty to draw with troubled Bolton this week, but unless Paul Tisdale’s tactics improve, they’re going to on another slippery slope.

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