MK Dons: Paul Tisdale says “never say never BUT”

I love the close season.

So many rumours and counter rumours. Speculation abounds regarding new signings and the season ahead. But this summer brings with it an extra edge, as the Dons look to sign a new manager and then decide how the squad will look.

First up is the new manger…

I can’t pretend to know who will be announced because I don’t know, but I am getting bits which makes me question assumptions being made in some quarters.

We all know that Pete hopes to have the new gaffer in place by the end of May but accepts it might take longer. And equally, we all know that Paul Tisdale has dominated the Sky Bet odds for the last couple of weeks.

And of course the Tisdale rumour fits the scenario nicely. Placed on notice by the club, verbally abused by his own fans at Stevenage and Director of Football Perryman retiring at the end of the season.

Oh and the Daily Mail report it.

Flip the coin over and it doesn’t make quite as much sense. The Daily Mail clearly recycled sound bytes from fans forums. Tisdale receives adulation from Exeter fans as he takes them back to Wembley… again!

Let me tell you what I know…

Keith Millen by his own admission has applied for the job. NO interviews had taken place prior to this week and the first external candidate to apply for the Dons job was Darren Ferguson. Keith Millen was due to be interviewed this week. There is a committee carefully considering all of the candidates and ensuring due diligence is carried out on all candidates.

Graham Alexander came and went (sadly as far as I’m concerned). And Martin Allen briefly aroused the interest of fans who probably don’t recall his bully boy tactics last time round, but ended up at National League Chesterfield.

There are other names emerging. A few whispers about interest from Graham Potter, who has had huge success in Sweden with Ostersunds and has recently been linked to the Swansea City job.

But tonight Paul Tisdale was asked;

“Could Wembley be your last game?”

“Who knows. There a lot of managers, coaches, players who get to the end of the season and don’t actually know their future going into next season, and I’m one of them.  Never say never… BUT. It could well be my last game, but maybe not”

The odd thing about these comments is that his contract runs until November 2018. So why doesn’t he know what the future holds?

If I had any doubts (and I did), that interview suggests to me that he’s a man committed to leaving and the odds consistantly say its to us. And you know what, I’m sure he’d do a fine job as well.

For me, Tisdale or Fergie would be outstanding appointments. But right now, with the odds in his favour, the delay in the process and his comments tonight, Paul Tisdale appears to be in the box seat. But time will tell!

“Never say never BUT BUT BUT….”

 

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MK Dons: Another silly season in the sun

And so the shutters close on a winter of discontent – MK Dons style.

It would be easy to cover old ground, pondering on poor decisions and bemoaning our lack of ambition. But as many have said recently, now is the time to let bygones be bygones and focus on coming together and recovery.

As the players head off on holiday many will be wondering if they have a future at all. The early transfer word coming out of Stadium MK was one of refurbishment and rebuilding. I was told that Pete Winkelman was keen to sell players who would generate a profit so that everything could be pushed into building a squad capable of a one-season promotion.

Another source told me that they knew of four players in talks with other clubs.

I was chewing the Dons cud this week with a pal of mine. He pointed out how quiet the club have been on the future of Dons youngsters, especially those out of contract. Putting that in the context of the under 23 side and Pete’s stated desire for a smaller squad, you sense a dilemma that needs to be resolved.

Does Pete demand that the squad size is reduced?

And if so what does that mean for the under 23 players?

Talking of young players, it was interesting to see the club offering a trial to 21 year old Arsenal keeper Ryan Huddart. Standing at an imposing 6’5 in height, the young man seems to be highly rated if the keyboard commentators are to be believed. However Dons fan Nick Bellett who was at the match commented;

“He’s no number one just yet”

So once again, more questions than answers. Has Sietsma sealed his fate following a calamity filled debut in the league? Or will Nicholls bring much needed revenue into a club looking to cut its League Two cloth.

One of the problems the Dons face in League Two are wages. SCMP (or the Salary Cost Management Protocol to the likes of you and me), means that wages can only spend 55% of turnover on wages, although there are no restrictions on transfer fees. And with the likes of Agard earning £6,000 per week that becomes a significant issue.

So therefore, the club may have no option than to sell high earners such as Sow, Agard, and Nicholls and release out of contract players like Upson.

The absence of any public announcements regarding players suggests that the board are waiting for the new manager to be appointed before decisions are made. It may also indicate that Keith Millen is not the first choice, as I suspect he would have been given the green light to start signing off on players.

The management merry go round has picked up speed today with news that Martin Allen has resigned from Barnet whilst Ian Holloway has been sacked by QPR.

My instincts are that neither will come to the Dons.

But…

Martin Allen is an enigma as far as Pete Winkelman is concerned. I have heard Pete openly criticising his management skills but have heard him praise his enthusiasm and recruitment ability. I know that the Dons owner credits Allen with making the club more professional. And as we know from his latest video release, Pete IS looking for someone from the MA mould.

I see Darren Ferguson has shot up in the odds.

Think of the managers you hated playing against, and Ferguson has to feature high on the list. But turn the feeling on its head and imagine how opposition clubs and fans would feel about him as manager of our club. Ferguson is a winner, has contacts and charisma. I understand why some would hate him enough to say no… but I quite like the idea of him fighting our corner. I’m hearing rumours that he’s been in contact with the club over the vacant position.

Its difficult to seperate fact from rumour, but there was word from a reliable Twitter regular that the club had some sort of contact with Paul Tisdale last Friday, but then there are rumours of several interested candidates including Richie Barker and Ray Lewington. Barker has been seen with board members at Stadium MK on more than one occasion in recent days.

I have to say that the club generally keep a tight ship as far as management decisions are concerned, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Whilst I’ve previously blogged about Season Ticket prices being higher than the Championship season, I do welcome their announcement regarding Club Dons membership for £18. Bringing with it a £5.00 discount on 10 EFL matches, I can see it appealing to a lot of fans who can’t make every match due to work or other commitments.

And in the interest of fairness, a quick scan of League Two ST’s show that clubs like Coventry City, Carlisle United and Notts County are selling tickets at a higher price than the Dons. So whilst prices seem unreasonably high, I have perhaps been over-critical of the club now that I’m able to make comparisons.

That’s it for me just now…

I will try and bring you news through the summer, but usual rules apply. I try and corroborate information before passing it on, and will only name players by name where the club has released footage/information (deliberately or not) or those names have been linked to the Dons in the media.

Have a great summer everyone and lets hope for good news in the coming weeks.

MK Dons: Remember these times people…

Taking a bite out of my surprisingly appetising steak and ale pie last Saturday, I recall wondering if that would be the highlight of my afternoon at the Dons – and indeed it was. As a regular Dons fan said to me at half time… “it’s broken, very broken.”

Twitter is a mysterious beast, bringing together the worst and the best of humanity in one congealed mess of opinion, news, fake news, respect and abuse. But occasionally I read a tweet and it brightens my day. On Monday, it was Bob Palmer who caught the mood of the moment;

“Remember these times people, it makes the change in cycle a lot more enjoyable. And it will happen too.”

Relegation brings with it a whole raft of emotions, but for rivals it’s an opportunity to gloat, mock and deride. You and I know how unpleasant that feels, especially when the “uneducated franchise bandwagon sheep” take their slice of holier than thou pie.

But as my father in-law often says, “What goes around, comes around”.

Every barbed comment, direct criticism and open disdain for our club needs to be read and remembered. Absorb the feelings of anger, frustration and hurt and let them be the motivator for next season. Let their arrogance and mocking become the very thing that binds us together and helps forge a new and more determined attitude moving forward.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somehow as a club we’ve lost our way. Even during the early days, there was a togetherness and a common cause. It felt like the fans were united by the hatred directed at us, and it inspired us to follow the club with passion, proving the haters wrong.

Those who played for us in the early days have remained supporters of the club with a two-way affection still held for the likes of Izale McLeod, Clive Platt, Gareth Edds, Nick Rizzo and Matt Baker.

Even in the League One days under Robbo there was a comoradary between players and fans. I have such fond memories of watching players such as Jason Puncheon, Luke Chadwick, Stephen Gleeson, Sam Baldock and Darren Potter. There was a class about them, leaders on the pitch but always having time for the fans.

So many other names too… Keith Andrews, Sean O’Hanlon, Danny Swailes, David Martin, Lloyd Dyer, Peter Leven, Alan Navarro and Paul Mitchell…

But what about the current crop?

Dean Lewington summed it up for me when he said; “We need decisions on players out of contract, probably decisions of players who are in contract too, clearing away the debris, what we don’t want.”

We want players at this club who WANT to be here. Players who are prepared to earn the money they get paid and leave everything on the pitch. Players who show honesty and integrity when things go wrong and fight to put it right.

I’m sure that Keith Millen is a very nice man. I know that he has a UEFA Pro-Licence. I understand that he talks the talk and is very convincing. But, the fact remains that as assistant and caretaker manager, Keith Millen has presided over 12 defeats in 18 matches and must take his share of responsibility for the end of season capitulation.

His management record is disappointing with a career win rate of just 32%, he has no promotions to his name and has never managed in League Two. I see nothing to convince me that he is the man to lead our recovery.

Neither am I a member of the Keith Curle fan club. Three relegations and no promotions in a 16 year management career provides no basis for optimism.

This club desperately needs a manager who knows the lower leagues well, has a proven track record of promotions and brings a sense of respect and authority to the club.

It’s easy to be influenced by the betting odds, but at this stage they don’t mean a lot. For example, Paul Tisdale suddenly appeared as the third favourite this week, but that immediately followed articles indicating he would leave Exeter at the end of the season. Graham Alexander is 2nd favourite to join the Dons but then he’s also 2nd favourite for the Northampton job. And he sure as hell can’t take on both jobs at once.

Just as an aside, I received some information last weekend about Graham Alexander.

He actually lived in Milton Keynes with his wife Karen for a number of years when he played for Luton. In fact his children were born here and he still has family living in the general area.

Whilst manager at Scunthorpe he was splitting his time between a flat just outside the town, and his family home in Preston. However, since his dismissal he’s given up the flat and returned to Preston. That being said, I’m led to believe that there are family reasons why they may want to return to the South Midlands area.

My contact tells me that Alexander has been approached by three clubs (two from England and one from Australia) but is unable to confirm any contact from the Dons.

Now, a pause for thought…

All three clubs likely to be relegated from League One made a high number of transfers last summer.

Bury signed no fewer than 16 contracted players, many of whom were highly rated in League One. Signings like Alex Bruce and Jermaine Beckford from Championship clubs were considered to be coups and made them one of the favourites for promotion.

Northampton Town brought in 9 contracted players plus a multitude of loan signings. In addition to Dons offcasts Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell, the Cobblers spent money on Matt Crooks (Rangers) and Billy Waters (Cheltenham).

As far as the Dons were concerned 7 new signings were made by Robbie Neilson in the summer – Sietsma, McGrandles, Cisse, Gilbey, Sow, Nesbitt and Pawlett plus several loan signings in the form of Seager, Golbourne, Ariyibi and Tshibola.

And…

All three clubs had a recently appointed manager – Bury signed Lee Clark in February 2017, Northampton signed Justin Edinburgh in January 2017 and the Dons signed Robbie Neilson in December 2016.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I don’t think the similarities are coincidental. A new manager making a whole raft of changes to the squad and failing to get them playing as a team.

My final word has to address some of the absolute nonsense being peddled across social media right now.

Myth 1 – Pete Winkelman ripped Wimbledon FC from its community. 

In 1990, Sam Hammam was allowed to get rid of the restrictive covenant on Plough Lane which resulted in him selling the land for personal profit. In 1991 Wimbledon FC moved to Selhurst Park where the majority of matchday profits went to Crystal Palace. Wimbledon FC were therefore ripped from their community by Sam Hammam and not Peter Winkelman. 9 years later, in a letter to the Norwegian owners Hammam revealed that the club was in a criticial situation with players being sold due to the dire financial situation. Records show that the club was losing £8.3 million per year. FPD Savills were employed to identify a site for a stadium, but found that there was no location available within 25 miles of Plough Lane. It was concluded that a return to the local community was impossible at that time. Another point to note is that the board of Wimbledon FC explored moves to Cardiff, Dublin. Scotland, Manchester, Wigan and Bristol in 1998, some 2 years before the Milton Keynes move was muted.

Myth 2 – AFC did everything to secure the future of Wimbledon FC

After relegation from the Premier League in 2000, attendances at Selhurst Park fell from 17,000 to 7,000 (including away fans). In May 2002 an independent commission sanctioned the move to Milton Keynes, however the move was not mandatory.  Despite Wimbledon FC continuing to play at Selhurst Park, a group of fans decided to form a break away club – AFC Wimbledon and turned their backs on Wimbledon FC. In 2003, Wimbledon FC went into administration (whilst still at Selhurst Park) and was available to purchase. An enquiry by the London Assembly into London based football stadia noted that not one person offered to buy Wimbledon FC from the time the move to Milton Keynes was proposed until the time the move took place. Creditors were left unpaid, debts abandoned and financial responsibilities ignored. Peter Winkelman ensured that every creditor was repaid and to this day, it is Milton Keynes Dons who pay the pensions of former Wimbledon FC staff.

Most fans would agree that football clubs should not be moved from communities and the rules have since been changed to ensure that cannot happen. However, Wimbledon had been moved away from it’s local community by Sam Hammam 12 years before the move to Milton Keynes. And nobody other than the MK Stadium Consortium attempted to rescue the club from it’s financial plight. The fans who abandoned their club can spin the facts all they want… but they wanted a brand new club of their own, with no debts and no responsbility for the past. Always the victims and never to blame.

There has been wrong on both sides of the divide, but at least MK Dons have attempted to broker better relations over the years. In my opinion there should be no more negotiations, no more concessions and no more pandering – particularly over the club’s name.

One more thing…

Football fans in general (and AFC in particular) often like to tell us how we should have supported our own club – MK City FC. But let me remind you (and them) exactly what happened to MK City FC. The irony (and hypocrisy) is overwhelming.

In the 1980’s Ron Noades was Chairman of Wimbledon FC. He became aware that around 2,500 fans had watched a cup match between MK City FC and Aylesbury. He was also aware that there would be support from Milton Keynes Council for a new stadium. He therefore decided to consider a merger between MK City and Wimbledon FC with a view to locating the merged club in Milton Keynes.

Noades managed to secure a place on the board of MK City FC for himself and three other directors including… Sam Hammam! Having eventually decided that the project wasn’t worth pursuing, Noades, Hammam and their Wimbledon cronies abandoned the club which folded shortly after.

This fact is widely disputed by some “spin masters” at Kingston but I have managed to locate a copy of a programme (never before published on line) which confirms the fact. I also have a copy of a book entitled “Dons in the League” which confirms everything I have said.

Isn’t it extraordinary that Wimbledon director Sam Hammam considered moving the club to Milton Keynes in the 80’s, sold Plough Lane and made the club homeless in the 90’s and left the club in chronic debt and yet Pete Winkelman is apparently to blame for everything.

Minnutes 1

MK Dons: Who’s your money on?

Apologies for the rush of blogs this week. I’ve had a couple of days off and thought I’d take advantage of the time to cover off the latest Dons news. If you get bored with them, let me know and I’ll beat myself with stinging nettles by way of repentance.

Earlier this week I did a little case study on a couple of contenders for the vacant manager’s post at MK Dons. I had quite a few favourable responses so thought it might be interesting to extend the exercise to include a few more who feature high in the betting odds.

Graham Alexander

  • 46 years old
  • 1 promotion (League Two – Fleetwood Town)
  • 42.2% win rate from 263 matches

46 year-old Alexander was born in Coventry and went on to have a long playing career. A combative right back, he played for Scunthorpe, Luton, Preston and Burnley.

In 2012 he was appointed manager of Fleetwood Town and the following year guided the club to promotion from League Two via the play offs. He was sacked the following season after a poor start in League One.

In March 2016 he became manager of Scunthorpe United, taking them to the League One promotion play offs within 12 months. Alexander was sacked by Scunthorpe in March 2018 despite the club occupying 5th place in League One.

Fans of former clubs – causes for concern:

“The main gripe with supporters has been Alexander constantly playing players out of position.”

“Many felt that Alexander had gone too defensive”

“Made baffling tactical decisions”

 

Steve Cotterill

  • 53 years old
  • 4 promotions (National League – Cheltenham, League Two – Cheltenham, League Two – Notts County and League One – Bristol City)
  • 40.70% win rate from 688 matches

Born in Cheltenham, 53 year old Cotterill had a 10 year playing career at the opposite end of the pitch to Alexander. Former clubs include Cheltenham Town, Burton Albion, Wimbledon, Brighton and Bournemouth.

He first dipped his toes into management with Irish side Sligo in 1995 and has since managed clubs such as Cheltenham, Stoke, Notts County, Burnley, Notts Forest, Bristol City and Birmingham City.

He won two promotions with Cheltenham Town, taking them from the Conference to League One. In 2010 he achieved promotion to League One with Notts County. In 2015, Bristol City won promotion to the Championship under his guidance.

Fans of former clubs – causes for concern:

“Steve Cotterill doesn’t bond with Birmingham fans”

“Shouting at fans who have expressed an opinion he disagrees with”

“No man management skills, no tactical nouse, no motivational ability, no brain”

 

Keith Millen

  • 51 years old
  • No promotions as manager
  • 32.91% win rate from 79 matches

51 year old Keith Millen had a long playing career with just 3 clubs – Brentford, Watford and Bristol City. The Croydon born player was a tall, no nonsense defender who achieved three promotions.

After hanging up his boots, Keith became manager of the under 17 side at Bristol City before stepping up to become assistant to Brian Tinnion in the senior side. He eventually took over as manager but had a reasonably unsuccessful time in charge.

In November 2012 he moved back to South London, becoming assistant manager to Ian Holloway and went on to hold that role during the management of Neil Warnock and Alan Pardew. Despite several periods as caretaker manager at Palace, he never again took on the top job on a permanent basis.

Fans of former clubs – causes for concern:

“He’s a second rate coach and a third rate manager.”

“He handled set pieces which we became terrible at”

“Being a nice guy doesn’t make him a good coach.”

 

Keith Curle

  • 54 years old
  • No promotions as manager (2 relegation’s)
  • 37.2% win rate from 414 matches

Bristol born Keith is 54 years-old and had a 24 year playing career as a defender. Played for 10 clubs through his career including Wimbledon FC. He was signed by Manchester City in August 1991 for a then club record fee of £2.5m – how times have changed. He had a highly successful first season at City which earned him an England call up.

Curle started out on his management career in December 2002 when appointed player-manager at Mansfield. He presided over a relegation into the fourth tier but did take them to the play-offs the following season before leaving the club.

Chester City was his next club, however a disastrous run of results saw him dismissed after just 39 matches in charge. Another club (Torquay United) and another relegation resulted in him being sacked again.

In February 2012 he took over at Notts County and had a better time of it, leading the club close to the Play Offs. In 2013 he was again dismissed and took over the reigns at Carlisle United where he remains until the end of this season.

Fans of former clubs – causes for concern:

“He was responsible for losing in the playoffs when we really should have gone up”

He spends months tracking a player, pays a good salary to bring him and the player is mince

“I think he’s badly advised from other members of staff re scouting, as some have been absolute dross”

 

Grant McCann

  • 38 years old
  • No promotions as manager
  • 40% win rate from 105 matches

The former Peterborough boss was born in Belfast in 1980 and started his professional career at West Ham. Failing to break into the senior side he moved to Cheltenham Town where he scored 31 goals in 158 appearances. Spells at Sccunthorpe and Posh followed before he hung up his boots in 2015.

His first coaching role was at the London Road club and he was offered the managers job by Chairman Darragh McAnthony in May 2016. Despite a reasonably successful time at the club, McCann was dismissed in February 2018 after a run of 7 matches without a win.

Fans of former clubs – causes for concern:

“The players had clearly stopped playing for him.”

“Same mistakes over and over again plus it was clear that he had lost the players.”

“Great player but sadly not a great manager.”

 

Uwe Rosler

  • 49 years old
  • 1 promotion (League One – Brentford)
  • 42.5% win rate from 457 matches

Born in East Germany, 49 year old Rosler is no stranger to England, having played for Manchester City, Southampton and West Brom. Uwe has managed some 7 clubs since 2014 when he first took on a leadership position with Norwegian club Lillestrom.

His first managerial role in England was at Brentford. After losing the League One play off final to Yeovil in his first season, Rosler revamped the squad and achieved promotion in his second. In December 2013, the German made the move to Wigan Athletic, immediately taking the Championship club to the FA Cup semi finals where they lost to Arsenal on penalties. However their league form was a league away from those heights and Rosler was sacked with Wigan in the relegation zone.

In 2015 he was appointed manager of Leeds United, but his stay was brief, dismissed by October after a run of disappointing results. Another job at Fleetwood followed but after a year of decent results he was again dismissed following 7 straight defeats in all competitions.

Fans of former clubs – causes for concern:

“A bit too negative as a manager”

“I’m not sure he’s got the mentality to get a side over the line.”

“I don’t think Rosler understands the word respect”

 

John Sheridan

  • 53 years old
  • 1 promotion (Chesterfield – League 2) and 1 relegation
  • 37.35% win rate from 565 matches

This 53 year old former midfielder spent the majority of his playing career at three clubs, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Oldham. By his own admission he prefers to work in his native North and left a management job at Plymouth to return to his home area citing “family reasons”.

In his first season of management at Oldham, Sheridan took the club to the League One Play Offs before finishing 8th a year later. He left the club after a rumoured fight between Sheridan and his players at a racetrack.

His next club was at Chesterfield in League Two where he achieved promotion as Champions in his second season. Despite winning the Football League Trophy the following season, the club were relegated and Sheridan lost his job.

In January 2013 he took over at Plymouth, who were struggling at the bottom of League Two, guided them to safety and then took them to the League Two play offs two seasons later. Further questions about his temperament emerged after being sacked for gross misconduct by Notts County in 2017 allegedly for abusing and threatening officials. Since then he has had brief spells at Oldham and Fleetwood.

Fans of former clubs – causes for concern:

“His relationship with the fans was totally non existent”

“Never got many fans on side because of his style of football and the perception of his lack of interest in the bigger picture in the city of Plymouth.”

“How does John Sheridan keep getting jobs in league 1”

 

Respected journalist Alan Nixon said earlier today: “Your owner needs to start thinking inside the box rather than his normal outside the box.”

I think he’s absolutely right.

Because the club took gambles with Paul Ince, Roberto Di Matteo and Karl Robinson which all paid off to one degree or another, it has perhaps become too narrow minded in the “type” of manager that it has sought to sign

Although Robbie Neilson had done well in Scotland, the Dons was only his 2nd management role, he had no experience managing in England and brought very few contacts around the EFL. Dan Micciche was yet another gamble by virtue of his complete lack of experience.

Now is the time for an experienced, calm head. Someone who knows the lower EFL like the back of their hands. Someone who will recruit wisely and bring the best out of the players left here. Someone who will bring authority and earn respect.

Of the names covered in this blog, I still conclude that Steve Cotterill and Graham Alexander are the most likely to fit the criteria. But what do you think? Who’s your money on?

MK Dons: What next at the Dons

As the dust settles on another crisis episode at Stadium MK, it’s perhaps a good time to take stock and look forward to what the future could look like next season.

Pete Winkelman told us earlier in the week that he’s not a fan of big squads. Well ours is pretty big and certainly unsustainable in League Two, so I suspect we’re going to see changes and a reduction in playing staff.

Let’s take a look at the squad, their ages and contracts:

Lee Nicholls (25) – Contract: July 2020

Decent season by Dons low standards but not faultless. Has to take responsibility for needlessly injuring his hand and with it our chances of survival.

Wieger Sietsma (22) – Contract July 2019

Given a chance to shine in the first team but blew it in spectacular style. Eight senior appearances and 19 goals conceded.

George Williams (25) – Contract July 2020

An extraordinary 50 appearances from last years Player of the Season. Hasn’t come close to last years highs but has remained connected to the fans.

Dean Lewington (33) – Contract July 2019

Has cut a controversial figure this season following his exclusion from the club by Neilson. Age not on the side of the club captain and coaching may be the future now.

Joe Walsh (25) – Contract July 2020

Only played 19 times this season, missing the second half through injury. Dons only lost 3 times out of the 10 league appearances made by the Welshman.

Scott Wootton (26) – Out of contract

Played 42 times as he returned from injury but has struggled to find any sort of form. Neilson indicated his future was not secure and that appears to remain the case.

Scott Golbourne (30) – Loan (Bristol City)

Impressed early on but form dropped away. Suffered a bad injury but came back to feature in last 4 defeats. Out of contract at City but contract not certain at the Dons.

Elliott Ward (33) – Loan (Blackburn Rovers)

Decent contributions and has shown leadership but returns to Blackburn Rovers. Unlikely to see a return as doesn’t have age on his side.

Ethan Ebanks-Landell (25) – Loan (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Haven’t seen anything to impress me all season. Apart from his disconnect with Dons fans, he hasn’t particularly added value to the defence.

Josh Tymon (18) – Loan (Stoke City)

Eight appearances for the Dons and yet to be in a winning side. Spell out through injury. Showed flashes of quality but not enough for me.

Ben Tilney (21) – Out of contract

One of the first players to endure the wrath of Neilson, but returned to the under 23 fold after the Scot’s departure. Nothing to indicate that he will be given a new contract.

Callum Brittain (20) – Contract July 2020

A breakthrough season in the midfield for Brittain, and one player mentioned in positive terms by Pete Winkelman. Will be in the squad next season if we can keep hold of him.

Oran Jackson (19) – Out of contract

Whilst not making it into the senior side, Jackson has put in some decent performances in the under 23 side. Will that be enough to secure another contract though?

Ed Upson (28) – Out of contract

Hasn’t had the best of seasons but still brings a lot of experience to the table. However that is at a cost in terms of wages. Could this be the last we see of him?

Nigel Reo-Coker (33) – Out of contract

Can’t understand why we wasted a wage on a player who was never going to play in the senior side. Maybe has a future coaching but doubt he’ll be at the Dons next season.

Ousseynou Cisse – Contract July 2019

Personable character but a complete liability in the midfield. Hasn’t endeared himself to fans with his constant mobile phone use whilst driving.

Peter Pawlett (27) – Contract July 2019

One of the more impressive contributions to the Dons season… when he’s been fit. Would be a massive player in League Two but can we keep him and keep him fit?

Marcus Tavernier (19) – Loan (Middlesborough)

Seven appearances for the Dons and another player never to experience a win. Again, could develop into a decent player but not done enough for me.

Conor McGrandles (22) – Contract July 2019

No goals scored in 26 appearances. Some fans rate him but I don’t share their enthusiasm. Far too lightweight in the cut and thrust of the lower EFL.

Aidan Nesbitt (21) – Contract July 2019

Signed specifically for development in the under 23’s, he’s made 25 appearances in the senior side. He’s widely impressed and could be one to watch next season if he stays.

Giorgio Rasulo (21) – Out of contract

Not sure how many more chances he will get. Only the three appearances in the senior side. Decent contributions in the under 23’s but may well be on his way.

Connor Furlong (20) – Out of contract

Hasn’t made a breakthrough into the senior side and may become the victim of the Chairman’s decision to reduce the squad size next season.

Alex Gilbey (23) – Contract July 2020

One of the stand out performers this season, it’s easy to forget that Alex is just 23 years old. Out injured until December so certain to be here next season but only for the second half.

Hugo Logan (19) – Out of contract

Decent performances in the under 23 side and three appearances for the senior side in the Football League Trophy.  Has been on loan at Hitchin Town but will be sweating on a new contract.

David Kasumu (18) – Contract July 2019

Having been offered a pro contract in December 2017 I suspect he will be hear for another season. One senior appearance against Stevenage in the Checkatrade Cup

Osman Sow (28) – Contract July 2019

Dons have only lost 8 of the 20 matches Sow has featured in. However as a marquee signing he’s contributed just 2 goals and is fragile beyond belief.

Chuks Aneke (24) – Contract July 2019

Ten goals in 34 appearances from someone who has looked thoroughly frustrated with his team-mates. Quality player but I would be amazed if he was still here next season.

Kieran Agard (27) – Contract July 2019

Club record signing rumoured to be earning £6k per week. Contribution of just 7 goals this season and has appeared anonymous for much of the time.

Robbie Muirhead (22) – Contract July 2019

Three goals in 35 appearances and another who can be summed up by the word “inconsistent.” Not sure he has the physicality to perform well in League Two.

Ikke Ugbo (18) – Loan (Chelsea)

Decent enough but I expected more along the lines of his goal against Doncaster. Definitely one for the future though.

Sam Nombe (19) – Out of contract

Didn’t trouble the scorers in his 11 senior appearances but scored for fun in the under 23’s and for Oxford City. Has to be given a new contract and chance in the senior side next season surely?.

Brandon Thomas-Asante (19) – Contract June 2019

One goal in 21 appearances but most have been late substitutions and he’s generally impressed with his energy and ability. Another who could make an impact in League 2.

Dylan Asonganyi (17) – Contract July 2020

Made his senior debut against Stevenage in the Checkatrade Trophy and has excelled in the under 23 side. Could be the next big thing with rumoured interest from Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool. Currently injured but has potential to take League Two by storm.

33 players represents a large squad and won’t be maintained in League Two. Obviously the six loan signings will return to their parent clubs leaving a contracted squad of 27 players, 9 of whom are out of contract this summer.

If we only retain contracted players the squad will look like this:

Keepers: Nicholls and Sietsma

Defence: Williams, Walsh and Lewington

Midfield: Brittain, Cisse, Pawlett, McGrandles, Nesbitt, Gilbey (injured) and Muirhead

Forwards: Sow, Aneke, Agard, Kasumu, Thomas-Asante and Asonganyi

I’ve highlighted 8 players in bold because (in my opinion), they’re the only ones I can be sure will perform at the top end of League Two.  The new manager is going to be VERY busy this summer, trying to sell some players and bringing in others. Players are going to leave this club – of that I am certain. Talking of which…

Lets have a look at the latest odds on our new manager:

Early money is being split between Graham Alexander (3/1), Keith Millen (5/1) and Steve Cotterill (6/1). Big movers in the last 24 hours are Grant McCann (7/1) and Keith Curle (16/1).  This pretty much mirrors the views of Dons fans on Twitter with Graham Alexander the most mentioned name and Steve Cotterill also favoured by many.

 

Graham Alexander

46 year-old Alexander was born in Coventry and went on to have a long playing career. A combative right back, he played for Scunthorpe, Luton, Preston and Burnley.

In 2012 he was appointed manager of Fleetwood Town and the following year guided the club to promotion from League Two via the play offs. He was sacked the following season after a poor start in League One.

In March 2016 he became manager of Scunthorpe United, taking them to the League One promotion play offs within 12 months. Alexander was sacked by Scunthorpe in March 2018 despite the club occupying 5th place in League One.

With a career win rate of 42.2% from 263 matches employed as a manager of League One and Two clubs, he is a proven winner at this level.

But what about the negatives? Well here’s some of the comments made by fans at his former clubs:

“The main gripe with supporters has been Alexander constantly playing players out of position.”

“Many felt that Alexander had gone too defensive”

“Made baffling tactical decisions”

 

Steve Cotterill

Born in Cheltenham, 53 year old Cotterill had a 10 year playing career at the opposite end of the pitch to Alexander. Former clubs include Cheltenham Town, Burton Albion, Wimbledon, Brighton and Bournemouth.

He first dipped his toes into management with Irish side Sligo in 1995 and has since managed clubs such as Cheltenham, Stoke, Notts County, Burnley, Notts Forest, Bristol City and Birmingham City.

Cotterill boasts a management win rate of 40.70% over 688 matches and therefore has a proven track record.

He started by winning two promotions with Cheltenham Town, taking them from the Conference to League One. In 2010 he achieved promotion to League One with Notts County. In 2015, Bristol City won promotion to the Championship under his guidance.

But what are the negatives from fans of former clubs?

“Steve Cotterill doesn’t bond with Birmingham fans”

“Shouting at fans who have expressed an opinion he disagrees with” (Bristol City)

“No man management skills, no tactical nouse, no motivational ability, no brain” (Notts Forest)

 

Two of the early favourites at the Dons, and two contrasting styles of management. If nothing else it makes you consider what type of manager you want.

A younger manager who has achieved success whilst cutting his management teeth in the lower leagues or an older manager who is less concerned about fans opinions but knows what it takes to get out of the lower leagues. Someone who will manage in the “MK Way” or someone in the Martin Allen mold.

Strangely, by writing this blog I’ve changed my mind. I was initially drawn by the greater experience of Steve Cotterill, but am now concerned about his detachment from the fans. If I had to choose (and thank God I don’t), I’d probably have to favour Alexander now.

But you will all have your own opinions.

The purpose of a blog is to share personal opinions and generate discussion and thoughts. Imagine how difficult it is for Pete and the board to make their decision!

 

 

MK Dons: Dare to Dream

Peter Winkelman is a compelling orator.

As someone who made his name in the music industry and then moved into the world of property investment and football ownership he is used to winning over the listening ear. In some ways he’s the ultimate salesman – selling his vision to those willing to buy into his plans. However, did he really bring anything new to the table?

Mistakes have been made and he takes responsibility.

With hindsight he believes he shouldn’t have signed Neilson and Dan Micciche – but then rattles off a list of reasons why he felt they were the right signings at the time.

He had made the decision that Dan wasn’t to be the manager next season but doesn’t really rationalise the decision.

He is concerned about the poor recruitment of players but that is the responsibility of the individual managers.

Investment in players is among the highest in the lower leagues, but the way it is spent by managers is a concern to him.

The lack of a training ground is a major concern to him

Personally, I’ve heard most of this before.

His honesty is to be applauded but its action that we really need and not just words.

For all of that, I wouldn’t want him to leave this club… not for one moment. Because whatever you think of him, he is the glue that holds the club together and given the scale of the infrastructure around the club any replacement would be of a corporate ilk and take MK Dons far away from the utopia sought by our fans.

Another positive is that it’s not in his interests to allow the club to fail. He has invested so much time, effort and personal emotion into the project that he cannot afford ultimate failure. I understand that he’s shown a high level of anger at the position the Dons find themselves in, sliding back into the basement league. It is that anger and passion that mark out achievers and may will be the motivator to a better and stronger future.

Pete’s big mistake (only in my opinion of course) was the level of investment in the Championship. I accept that he invested more money than ever before, but the level of spending was way below the minimum requisite for survival in that cut-throat league. And once the slide has started, it’s difficult to stop.

Unlike some fans, I won’t criticise him for signing Neilson. On the face of it, the Scotsman was the perfect replacement for Robbo. A young, ambitious manager who had taken cash strapped Hearts from the bottom of the Scottish Championship to the top of the SPL in two seasons. He came highly recommended and had a sound pedigree as a player in Scotland and England.

The way he turned last season around wasn’t pretty but achieved everything asked of him. But Neilson had inherited an experienced bunch of players. Taking on responsibility for recruitment and bringing his own principles (and players) to the squad, it soon become clear that all was not well.

Whatever you think of the Lewington situation (and I accept some think I was wrong for backing the club captain so strongly), the way Neilson handled the situation was appalling.

When you consider that he averaged 0.76 points per match (excluding the month of September), and place that in the context of a divided dressing room I don’t think Pete had any option but to let him go.

And so we come on to Dan Micciche.

When a new manager is signed, you look for the positives. Nobody wants a manager to fail and the fans always hope that success will follow. After early defeats, I expressed the hope that fans would show some patience and give him time. But there was for me and I know for others, a nagging concern about his lack of experience.

Dan has to take some responsibility. He applied for the job believing that he was capable of taking on a role that has been the undoing of those with far greater pedigree than himself – Paul Ince (2nd term) and Danny Wilson as examples. His success with academy sides is proven, but to aspire to the top job before cutting your teeth as a coach and assistant manager is questionable at best.

But ultimately Pete admits he gambled.

And gambling on a young man who has a family to support and a future to consider is wholly unacceptable. Dan Micciche is clearly a very nice, personable guy. Someone who was desperate to do well and equally desperate to please everyone. Without experience to draw upon or a playing career for reference he appeared more and more overwhelmed. After the match against Doncaster Rovers I honestly thought he was heading for a breakdown.

Was it the cheap option? Was he the only option available? Either way, I have nothing but sympathy for Dan Micciche and what he has been through. As some have said today, the situation is baffling. But he has left and we must move forward.

I appreciate that fans are angry and have been looking for change (from top to bottom as some have put it). I agree there is need for change but not in all areas.

One of the main areas of major concern for me is our scouting network. Since I previously mentioned this issue, I’ve again been made aware that Dons scouts have developed a poor reputation since the arrival of Robbie Neilson at the Dons.

It may surprise some fans, but Bobby Winkelman is held in high regard by those working the scouting networks with his knowledge and contacts second to none. His involvement was apparently essential to the recruitment of key players in the past. yet he has been sidelined.

Another member of staff sidelined by Neilson recruit Alex Threapleton was Dons stalwart Glen Botterill. 59 year-old Botterill, himself a successful manager in non-league football has been scouting for the Dons since the days of Andy King and is another who has a wealth of experience and knowledge.

We need to clear out the deadwood and employ/empower scouts who are experienced, connected and are prepared to put in the time and effort to identify and recruit the right people.

Pete Winkelman clearly aired his opinion that recruitment has not been what it should be, and made reference to player recruitment made without reference to Bobby and his management of the player database. This view is reflected by those working in the scouting industry.

Another area that needs change is the playing staff.

Some of our players need to hang their heads in shame. We’ve heard all about how they’re too good to be relegated but that IS what will happen. I don’t think there’s much benefit in naming and shaming but 75% of our players can leave the club as far as I’m concerned.

Of our contracted players, those who’ve shown a degree of class and commitment in my opinion are Nicholls, Aneke, Brittain, Pawlett and Gilbey. Of course you will add a couple to that list or maybe take some off but I’m pretty sure that most would agree. There have been far too many players who’ve shown disregard for the fans and the badge, and that’s unacceptable.

Players at the Dons should be putting themselves on the line for the town, the club and the badge. I have memories of Gleeson’s tears and Chadwick running until he fainted. We’ve had players who’ve given everything for the cause, and even if we didn’t win as fans we’d stand and applaud them. This season has been shameful.

I must admit, I’m looking forward to Nombe and Thomas-Assante being given a greater chance to prove themselves at the club. We don’t know if they can perform in League Two, but lets give them a chance and find out.

Pete now has the chance to sign an experienced manager… and he will.

I remember following the club last time out in League Two. I recall how desperate he was to get out of the league, and how he appointed Martin Allen to ensure the right players were brought in. And he did… Keith Andrews and Sean O’Hanlon to name just two. I don’t want another bully-boy manager like Allen but I do hope to see someone who knows and understands how to get out of League Two.

As a fan of the club, I want to feel excited when the new manager is announced. I want to feel happy with new players coming into the club. I want to feel a sense of anticipation as we kick of next season. I hope we can all come together and start a new journey together, remembering the good times of the past with joy but looking forward to creating a new and better future together.

Over to you Pete… turn our sadness into happiness and lets start that journey again. Turn our nightmares into dreams.

MK Dons: The Final Countdown

As I took my seat in coach B of the 11:13 Virgin train to Preston via Wigan, I was filled with anticipation and hope. The weather seemed a little warmer and the promised rain had failed to materialise. Cutting through the grim industrial estates of Birmingham and out into the Staffordshire countryside I reflected on recent wins and the uplifting second half performance against Blackburn Rovers. I promised myself that a point against Wigan would be a decent result to make the journey home a sweet one.

  • Wigan (a) 5-1 – Sat 7th April 2018
  • Burnley (h) 5-0 – Tues 12th January 2016
  • Carlisle (a) 5-0 – Sat 13th February 2010
  • Charlton 5-1 (a) – Sat 14th November 2009
  • Rochdale (a) 5-0 – Sat 27th January 2007
  • Huddersfield (a) 5-0 – Sat 18th February 2006
  • Hartlepool (a) 5-0 – Mon 3rd January 2005

Some 25 minutes after taking my seat in the DW Stadium the Dons were 2-0 down, and my pre-match hopes and dreams were evaporating faster than Dele Alli’s money.

Five goals conceded, equals the worst defensive league performances by MK Dons in their 14 year history and the capitulation was complete.

A former MK Dons scout was at the match, casting his eye over several Wigan players and had this to say about the Dons:

“Really poor again. Against a very good Wigan side they just buckled. The Dons have recruited very badly and no-one takes the blame. People have a lot to answer for. Some shocking decisions from people who shouldn’t even be in the game. It’s scary.”

Standing among fellow Dons fans on the steep stands of the DW Stadium looking down on the pitch below I felt a sense of embarrassment and humiliation. It was fascinating listening to the conversations around me. These were fans who have endured one of the worst seasons in the Dons history and had followed their club home and away, week in and week out.

Calm, rationale conversations pinpointing basic errors that allowed Wigan to retain possession and carve holes in the Dons fragile defence. Confusion between players, balls hoofed away in desperation when a period of calm possession was needed to build confidence. The entire team following the ball, whilst the likes of Will Grigg were allowed to wander unmarked around the 6-yard box time and again.

The stats tell an accurate story – 42% possession, 2 shots on target, 1 goal scored and 5 goals conceded. With the exception of the last 10 minutes of the first half, the Dons were played off the park in all aspects of the game.

Some may make the point that we were expected to lose this game and that is of course correct. But our goal difference has now been critically damaged – taking us well below the likes of Oldham, Kingston and Walsall with whom we had retained parity until now. That could well come back and bite us. But worse than that is the impact on players confidence moving into the last 5 games of the season.

Before I leave the events the I witnessed at the DW Stadium (my 50th away ground), I just want to pay tribute to Will Grigg. Apart from his outstanding hat-trick of goals, I was struck with the respect that he showed to the Dons fans, not least his sympathetic applause directed to us after his first goal. The one that got away because he wasn’t good enough – I wonder who signed off on that decision at the Dons!

So what is the reality of the relegation battle?

  • Oxford – 47 from 40
  • Walsall – 47 from 40
  • Oldham – 44 from 39
  • Kingston – 43 points from 40
  • Rochdale – 42 point from 39
  • MK Dons – 42 points from 41
  • Northampton – 40 points from 41
  • Bury – 30 points from 41

Kingston are at home to Charlton on Tuesday, with the visitors firm favourites on current form. Cobblers travel to a Blackpool side who are high on confidence. Oxford are at home to Fleetwood and could well take 3 points. Rochdale travel to Wigan and are unlikely to secure any points. On Wednesday, Walsall are away to Oldham but I fancy the home team to take the 3 points.

That would leave the table looking like this:

  • Oxford – 50 from 41
  • Walsall – 47 from 40
  • Oldham – 47 from 40
  • Kingston – 43 points from 41
  • Rochdale – 42 point from 40
  • MK Dons – 42 points from 41
  • Northampton – 40 points from 42
  • Bury – 30 points from 41

Next weekend, Oldham take on an out of sorts Gillingham and Walsall are at home to Kingston  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Oxford, Walsall and Oldham out of sight on 50+ points each.

With Bury certain to go down, it then becomes 4 teams for 3 places and we start comparing the last five matches of the season. I’ve graded the opposition as 1 (top 8), 2 (mid table) and 3 (bottom 8):

Rochdale:  Peterborough (1), Oldham (3), Bradford (2), Plymouth (1), Oxford (2)

Kingston: Walsall (3), Oldham (3), Wigan (1), Doncaster (2), Bury (3)

MK Dons: Doncaster (2), Southend (2), Bradford (2), Scunthorpe (2) and Shrewsbury (1)

Cobblers: Blackpool (2), Bury (3), Plymouth (1), Walsall (3) and Oldham (3)

I’m not going to attempt to predict these results but would observe that Kingston and Cobblers have significantly easier games than the Dons. On the final day of the season we face Shrewsbury while the other sides have winnable matches.

That brings me back to the one match I’ve not covered – MK Dons v Doncaster Rovers next weekend at Stadium MK. This for me becomes the most crucial match of the season. Anything other than a win will cause us massive problems, and they’ve only lost 1 in their last 6 matches. Lose it and I wouldn’t put money on our survival.

Looking for positives, our fate is in our own hands.

It was the Buckingham fans forum on Wednesday and a pal of mine kindly agreed to take some notes on what was said. Most of the comments have already been posted by various fans on social media but to recap the main points…

Player injuries was a subject covered in some depth.

The return of Marcus Tavernier and Josh Tymon to the squad was announced, although they wouldn’t be travelling to Wigan.

There was some confusion about the return of Alex Gilbey which was cleared up by Dan Micciche afterwards. Alex is recovering from significant surgery on a knee injury and the recovery/rehabilitation is slow and complicated. He’s unlikely to return to the squad until December 2018 and will be assisting with some radio commentary in the meantime.

Joe Walsh is making good progress as he recovers from an operation and will return to the squad pre-season which is ahead of schedule.

MK Dons Executive Director Andy Cullen spoke about the club finances and indicated that it would make a £3million loss this season. He added that the club had provided a playing budget which was £1million more than the Championship season.

Rather controversially, it was revealed that Dan Micciche was a big fan of Bournemouth’s model which he had presented to the club on his first day. He went on to say that there was no disruption in the squad and spirits were high. Lets hope that hasn’t changed after yesterdays performance.

Micciche indicated that a specialist coach would be appointed to the club next week. He said that he saw Nesbitt as a future number 10 and had set him a target of breaking into the first team next season, along with Sam Nombe and Brandon Thomas-Asante.

Andy Cullen talked about issues around the stadium car park after matches. There had been a number of serious safety issues, particularly around the Asda exit with pedestrians nearly being run over by cars. The club was considering holding car back post match to allow foot traffic to clear.

Finally, Dan Micciche confirmed that he was aiming for a points total higher than 51 and held to his believe that the Dons would stay up. Micciche said that both Gilbey and Aneke had committed their futures to the Dons even if the club are relgated. Gilbey had been quite forthright in saying “I got us in this mess and I’ll get us out”.

Separate to the fans forum I received some information about the new screens.

I’m aware that some fans had raised concerns about the club investing money in replacement screens instead of the playing quad. However it appears that the club had worked out a deal with a customer who wanted to showcase the screens to prospective clients. They were therefore provided gratis in return for a hospitality box on match days for the company concerned.

He was also able to confirm information circulating through other sources that the club would shortly be installing pitch level digital advertising boards (similar to those seen at most Premier League grounds). Again the arrangement is the same as the screens.

So there you have it…

I suspect that most readers will feel just like me – can’t wait for the season to end, one way or another. If the winter has been a long and bleak, so has following the Dons. All we can do now is keep cheering the lads on and keep hoping that they can get back into the winning habit. Then we can go again next season.

COYD