MK Dons: The Starting Eleven

Its been some time since I threw my thoughts into the melting pot and tried to make sense of them. But 11 league matches and two full months into the season it’s perhaps a good time to take stock.

Paul Tisdale came to the Dons with an extensive and impressive CV at this level. And having taken the time to understand the club and it’s players he has started to implement his vision using a phased approach. And when I talk about phases, I’m not talking about ad-hoc changes as a response to crisis, but a planned approach that he has talked about openly at each stage.

His remarks on arrival were measured and inclusive;

“I’m assuming it hasn’t been the happiest of places in the last couple of seasons, and hopefully that’s just a transitory period of time, so we’ve got to get busy and engaged. “I have to be cautious not to listen to all the information I’m given.

There’s certain information I need which will help me shortcut some things, but generally, I need to get the balance between what people are telling me and what I can see for myself.

There is so much here to work with at the club, including the players, and I don’t know how it will manifest itself on the opening day of the season.

But we have four or five weeks to sort that. We have to be fit and ready for that first game, and this is only our first day on the grass so we have to be patient. I want to get to know them first” 

But then he identified problems in the camp.

I know for a fact that there were issues with players through the summer months, some of which were quite serious and could have undermined morale and unity. Not once did he wash the dirty laundry in public or hang players out to dry. He kept his own counsel and either moved players on or came to a resolution acceptable to all.

And as the season started it became clear that he was working to a plan;

“I’m selecting players into the squad which best suits the requirements I’m asking of the team. I’m making a selection, it’s selective from me and so far I’m very pleased with what the players have done. Any players on the outside certainly won’t be written off but also have a target to force themselves in, and that goes for any player.”

In a subsequent interview, Tisdale added some detail to that plan, surprising some fans by concentrating on the already decent looking defence before other areas. He explained his rationale;

I made a decision in the last week that that part of our game will become a great strength of ours – I’ve strengthened our strengths. It will become a major part of our performance, so I’ve signed two players who can add to our game. I’m looking to build from the back”

And who can argue with that come 3rd October 2018 with the Dons boasting one of the tightest defences in the Football League. Only 5 of the 92 EFL clubs have conceded less goals so far this season – 8 goals against in 11 matches played.

But even in the early stages of the season, the manager suggested that a solid defence was not the only priority in his plan;

“It’s about getting the best out of the players and trying to establish something which highlights our strengths and hides our weaknesses.

In time, I’d like to keep it as straight forward as possible. I’d like to establish some clarity with how we play.

We’ve got some time, we’ve got some highly competitive games early in the league campaign, so I have to be balanced. We have to defend well as well as attack, and marry those up pretty quickly”

Looking back it is absolutely clear that Tis has been true to his word. He has given the Dons steel and determination. Regardless of the number of draws, his side has become hard to beat – it’s only happened once, away from home, by one goal, against the League leaders.

But he’s also added an evolution to the squad with the emphasis now on attacking football. The sheer number of shots on goal over the last 4 matches is consistantly higher than at any point over the last 3 seasons.

At this point it’s worth reminding ourselves what the Exeter newspaper had to say of Tisdale when he moved to the Dons;

Things may not go to plan immediately, but Milton Keynes must be patient with their man. After the disappointment of losing at Wembley to Morecambe in 2006, Tisdale found his side languishing in mid-table during the 2006/07 season.

He had sold some key players and was giving youth its chance. The likes of Dean Moxey, George Friend, Jamie Mackie, Danny Seaborne, Paul Jones, Matt Gill and Liam Sercombe forming the spine of a very successful City team that, in the second half of the season, came good.

Tisdale will speak about that too: building a season. Promotions aren’t won in November and December, but the opportunity to do so can easily be lost.

So if MK are not running away with things come Christmas time, then fear not. Stick with your man, because as history shows, he has a history of delivering success.

But look we have to be realistic. If I’d prophesied in a pre-season blog that the Dons would only lose one of their first 11 matches, taking them into the play off zone with one of the tightest defences in the EFL, how many would have been disappointed with that?

I don’t want to be premature in my praise for the new manager or make his achievements greater than they are so far. I’m just reflecting on his first 3 months in the job and trying to understand the process he’s gone through to reach this point.

I really don’t want to comment in a negative way on individual players this early in the season. In my opinion most have had some good games and some disappointing moments as well.

I think the balance of the side is better with Ryan Watson in it. For me he’s been a revelation and is developing nicely. Chuks Aneke looks like he may be starting to feel at home in this side and is a threat up front. Jordan Houghton, Jordan Moore-Taylor and Baily Cargill have also impressed me.

But what’s clear is that Tisdale has plenty of options and isn’t afraid to switch plans or formations – something Dons fans have been crying out for.

We can all talk about dropped points and where we’d be if we hadn’t conceded last minute goals. But I suggest that nobody will give a damn about a last minute goal at Swindon or Lincoln if we’re promoted at the end of the season.

As the great Pele once said:

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

I’m enjoying this season, home and away from home. I’m enjoying seeing the way the squad is developing and Tisdale is introducing his principles and vision. I’m enjoying the drama and the talking points. Its not all been good, indeed there have been moments that have  frustrated the hell out of me. But this season it feels like we’re at the start of a journey and I’m looking forward to the ride.

Advertisements

MK Dons: Sinners or Saints?

Updated with comments made at the MKDSA fans forum on Thursday 23rd August.

I’m in the fortunate position of having a week off work so thought I’d throw in a little extra blog with my thoughts on recent events followed by some player news.

This week we ran into a group of fans with a rather unfortunate “holier-than-thou” attitude. Grimsby Town appear to be blessed (or cursed) with a group of supporters who have some strong views about the Dons, even inviting AFC Kingston spin merchant Ray Armfield (Kent Womble) to write an article in their fanzine.

It’s been some time since I’ve run into such extreme vitriol from fans of clubs outside Kingston. Indeed the majority of supporters of clubs we’ve played before rarely bring it up these days. But dear old, strange old Grimsby appear to be locked in the past.

It was a retired lady called Susan who caught the eye with her outrage towards the “bastard Franchise scum” as she so succinctly put it.

I love the way Dons fans react to these attacks which are sadly becoming rarer. So many years of absorbing and countering the Franchise nonsense has created a sense of humour that makes me chuckle. It’s a thing of beauty when those holding such anger towards us, are wound up even more.

As the Good Book says…

“Better a humble sinner than a self-righteous saint (Susan et all)”

Whilst reflecting on talk of boycotts, there appears to be a pattern emerging. Those who shout the loudest about boycotting the Dons tend to bring larger away followings. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and there’s nothing like controversy for attracting people who would otherwise have no interest.

In fairness to Grimsby, they brought a decent away following who were among the most vocal we’ve had for a while so credit to them for that.

This blog isn’t about match reports but I can’t pass without a couple of observations.

First half against Grimsby we were pretty poor and I can’t say that anyone covered themselves in glory. But how refreshing to find out that after just half an hour, Paul Tisdale was identifying changes that would be made at half-time.

Second half I thought we were damn good at times, playing with a freedom and passion that’s been missing for the past three seasons. And what a change in the support as well. It’s been a while since the fans have become engaged with the action and made a real noise in support of the lads.

Fact that our fans stayed in their numbers after the final whistle, clapping the players and singing after a 1-1 draw tells its own story.

One final observation.

In the midst of the mayhem of the last 20 minutes of the second half, with fans and players losing their heads, Paul Tisdale and his coaching staff were pouring over a whiteboard, discussing tactics and options. When there were breaks in play, they were then calling specific players over and passing instructions. Cool heads and all that.

Moving on…

It’s now just eight days until the loan window closes, not to re-open until January 2019. Speculation continues to sweep round the stands about the futures of Chuks Aneke, Robbie Muirhead and Aiden Nesbitt. All three continue to attend home matches but play no part in the match day squads.

Paul Tisdale commented on Aneke at the MKDSA fans forum;

“Chuks has ambitions of playing at a higher level, which is his prerogative. Until the window closes, my focus is on players who can help us get a result on Saturday. That’s not to say he can’t and won’t be part of that moving forward.”

Several questions in my head.

If these three fail to find other clubs, will they throw themselves back into the Dons cause or will they sit back taking their wage whilst seeing out their contracts? Equally, if they do have a part to play is there a danger that they’ll bring a negative influence into a dressing room that appears far more united and positive this season?

Paul Tisdale also made it clear that other players may well be brought in should existing players leave and also confirmed that talks are on-going with other clubs;

“There has to be some movement before players come in. Either players move or they stay. There are talks from us with other clubs to bring players in to fill their shoes if they move.”

Having some time on my hands this week I decided to pull together attendance data from League Two clubs to see how the Dons are doing. The first was the away fans attendance figure which is usually published by clubs on their Twitter accounts. The second was the actual home attendances – total attendance minus the away fans.

At home we’re doing reasonably well with an average of 6,518. Andy Cullen confirmed at the fans forum that there are 5,000 Season Ticket holders, the same number as the start of the Championship season which is pretty impressive. The Dons currently have the third highest home support in League Two and that figure is likely to rise through the season.

Away from home we’re in 8th position which isn’t that great, however the away following at Crewe was larger than the season we were promoted to the Championship which is pleasing to see. I suspect we’ll take decent numbers to Swindon and Lincoln in the coming weeks as well. But there’s always room for improvement.

Average Away Attendances:

  • 1 Lincoln: 1631 (-)
  • 2 Tranmere: 805 (+2)
  • 3 Grimsby: 731 (-1)
  • 4 Oldham: 553 (-1)
  • 5 Cambridge 536 (+1)
  • 6 Macclesfield: 495 (+1)
  • 7 Swindon: 465 (+1)
  • 8 MK Dons: 426 (+1)
  • 9 Notts County: 426 (-4)
  • 10 Newport: 326 (+3)
  • 11 Mansfield: 301 (+3)
  • 12 Northampton: 289 (-1)

Average Home Attendances (total attendance minus away fans)

  • 1 Lincoln 7870 (-)
  • 2 Notts County 6767 (-)
  • 3 MK Dons 6354 (-)
  • 4 Tranmere 5754 (-)
  • 5 Grimsby 5599 (-)
  • 6 Northampton 4772 (-)
  • 7 Port Vale 4613 (-)
  • 8 Oldham 4101 (+1)
  • 9 Exeter 3960 (+1)
  • 10 Mansfield 3911 (+1)
  • 11 Carlisle 3842 (-3)
  • 12 Cambridge 3563 (-)

Exeter are the visitors on Saturday and a real classy statement from them ahead of the match;

Former manager Paul Tisdale, director of football Steve Perryman, and coaches Mel Gwinnett and Matt Oakley, along with players Ryan Harley, Jordan Moore-Taylor and Robbie Simpson, deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the effort and commitment they showed to Exeter City during their time at St James Park.  

It must be said that Paul did a great job during his 12 years at the club, and showed a great deal of loyalty to Exeter City during that time. He, the Supporters’ Trust and the club board left on very good terms and, aside from Saturday’s game, we wish him well and I am sure he does the same for Exeter City.

So, in football, is it possible to be different from any other football club and any other football supporters? Well, as one of the very few supporter-owned clubs, we think it is. And we would urge any of our fans who were thinking of giving a hostile reception to Paul, his staff or Milton Keynes Dons, to just remember the effort and commitment they showed to Exeter City.

They deserve respect for those years or service and we would urge those fans that recognize that to find their voice prior to kick-off on Saturday and give them the reception they deserve before getting behind Matt Taylor and the boys as we, hopefully, cheer them on to another three points in League Two. 

Exeter have of course made a blinding start to their season. Their two away wins came against Cambridge and Morecambe, both of whom may struggle this season and they were held at home 1-1 by Newport County. However they will doubtless start with the impressive Jayden Stockley who was someone I desperately wanted us to sign in the summer. At 6’3 tall, he’s an imposing and combative striker who knows how to find the net.

But let’s not be negative. We’re unbeaten in five matches this season and have only conceded 2 goals thus far. Paul Tisdale has already shown us how astute he is in this league and has the advantage of knowing Exeter City and a lot of their players. Sometimes it’s the matches where you expect little that you gain the most.

A couple of bits of information from the training ground today. The good news is that Brandon Thomas-Asante was back in full training with the first team. Meanwhile Chuks Aneke, Robbie Muirhead and Aiden Nesbitt all took part in a training game against the under 18’s but didn’t train with the 1st team. Also playing in the match was Sam Nombe who appears to be recovering well from his injury.

Osman Sow wasn’t present at training today however the reason for that has been revealed by Barry Anderson, a journalist at The Scotsman newspaper. He reported that Sow is in Tynecastle for talks with Hearts who are lining him up as a replacement for Kyle Lafferty.

Paul Tisdale confirmed the position at the fans forum;

Osman wants to look at other options. He is in talks with another club and we are in talks with that club for him to move, but it hasn’t been concluded yet.”

Mixed feelings about that to be honest as I suspect that he’s a much better player than we saw last season. That being said, he’ll have been one of our big earners and hasn’t really proved himself here.

I’ve been wondering what’s happening with the planned training ground at Tickford Fields, Newport Pagnell. I couldn’t find anything of note other than a mention in a recent meeting of Newport Pagnell Town Council that outline planning permission could be submitted for the site in November 2018. That may not of course relate specifically to the Dons side of things.

During my research I did come across the minutes of a meeting of Newport Council on 23rd July 2018 which referenced a meeting involving MK Dons regarding the Willen Road stadium, Newport Pagnell;

“A meeting had taken place between Steve Wells, MK Dons, and Ian and Julie Ford to discuss various options at Willen Road. The introduction of an artificial grass pitch (AGP) depends on the MK Dons and Football Club working together. NPTFC are not interested in losing their main grass pitch to an AGP. However they would be interested in an AGP elsewhere on the site.”

Is this linked to the planning application at Tickford Fields or are the Dons looking at other options whilst they try and resolve planning issues? I don’t have the answer I’m afraid.

The final word sits with Paul Tisdale and his comments at the fans forum:

“You have a wonderful club. You have a fantastic chairman and the vibe here is warm and friendly. The people who come to watch are good people. The people who work here are fabulous. It’s impossible to get everything right but we have a wonderful starting point.”

COYD

 

 

MK Dons: All change at Crewe

Away days are a strange phenomenon in English football.

Sometimes you can wake up and just feel it’s not going to be a great experience. At other times everything feels right from the off – as it was on Saturday for me.

The train was on time and nobody was in my seat – a good start to the day. Then I had the pleasure of catching up with another Dons fan who happened to be on the same train. A short walk over the bridge from the station and we fell into the Corner Bar, nicely refurbished since our last visit.

I hadn’t set out to have a boozy day but you know how it is. You catch up with old friends and new and before you know it, several pints had managed to find their way into my bloodstream.

Down Gresty Road and into the “Alexandra Stadium.”

It’s a peculiar ground. The staff are friendly enough and the price of food cheaper than Stadium MK. But the design of the away stand, running alongside the pitch with a huge roof girder hemming you in, makes it feel like you’re inside a building looking out.

People like to taunt us for our empty stadium, but when you struggle to fill one third of a ground with a capacity of 10,000 you realise that this really is league two bargain basement football.

The last time we played Crewe away from home was on 31st January 2015 (and I was there for that one as well). You may remember that season – we won promotion to the Championship and defeated the home side 5-0. The starting line-up was somewhat different with the likes of Dele Ali and Jordan Spence featuring for the Dons.

Surprisingly, the away attendance in 2015 was 422 which is less than the 450+ who travelled up to Crewe on Saturday.

Chatting to the girls in the food kiosk, they were talking about how loud our fans were. Saying that we were the “rowdiest lot” they’d had at Crewe for some time.

Our fans have been starved of success since the heady days of the 2014/15 season. We’ve had very little to sing about and no particular reason to be filled with optimism. But when you see players taking to the pitch as a team, playing for each other and showing grit and determination it brings fresh enthusiasm to the fans. Perhaps one of the reasons so many made the 260 mile round trip.

I don’t often say it of a 0-0 draw but I enjoyed the match, as did the Crewe manager, David Artell;

“I thought it was a great game played by two good teams, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that Crewe have only lost 3 matches at home in 2018 (this season and last), scoring 22 goals along the way. This side is no push-over, especially in front of their own fans.

There was a perception in some quarters that Crewe bossed the match but I didn’t see it that way at all. In fact the stats show that possession was equal at 50% each, that both sides had 12 shots, and that the corner count was 5-4 in favour of Crewe.

Whilst Crewe looked dangerous in attack, the Dons defence was extremely well organised and snuffed out the attacking intent before they troubled Lee Nicholls. In fact I can only recall two occasions when the Dons keeper was properly brought into the action. A low diving save to his left in the first half and a scrambling save at the near post in the second.

Meanwhile the Dons looked confident on the ball themselves moving forward with some excellent build up play at times. Whilst we generally lacked a cutting edge in the final third, Agard really should have scored after some excellent work by Cisse down the left resulted in a pin point cross which Kieran managed to put onto the post.

A clear red card for Mathieu Baudry (what was he thinking?), was out of character in a match generally played in a good spirit. Last season, that red card would have caused mayhem in the Dons side and probably costing us the match. But Tisdale simply re-organised his side without any fuss and we saw out the match without too many problems.

Chatting to a few fans after the match, the feeling was generally positive.

There’s a clear evolution taking place at the moment. We’ve seen a massive sea change in the defence, with the Dons now conceding just 1 goal in 360 minutes of EFL and cup action. Throw in the pre-season friendlies and you’ll find that MK Dons have conceded a miserly 6 goals in 11 matches since Paul Tisdale took over at Stadium MK.

Jordan Moore-Taylor and Joe Walsh are outstanding in the centre of the defence and are probably the most effective pairing since the days of Swailes and O’Hanlon.

But there are now signs that Tisdale is working on other areas;

“They need to be fit, play forward, attack, commit and be positive. There will be mistakes, but if we’re purposeful and positive I’ll support them no matter whether we win, lose or draw”

Whilst Jordan Houghton and Alex Gilbey have won praise for their performances of late, it was former Barnet reject Ryan Watson who impressed me at Crewe. He worked hard for the entire 90 minutes, passed the ball impeccably and carried the ball forward with real intent. Several times I saw him take on players and beat them for pace, creating attacking options for other players.

Once again Cisse is showing how important he is becoming this season. His ability to hold the ball up whilst using his strength to hold off players is important. Once he was substituted the front men rarely received any service and were far less effective.

So a decent result in the end against a side who’ll do well this season.

Away from the match itself, there’s little to report that hasn’t already been mentioned.

I’m hearing that Chuks Aneke and the club are still waiting on Bolton in respect of a loan move. That move (if it happens) will allow Paul Tisdale to bring in a loan signing. Meanwhile Muirhead and Nesbitt continue to be conspicuous by their absence. I understand that there have been “issues” with both players that came to head on the pre-season training camp in Spain. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both players left the club before the end of August (either to Scotland or on loan) but time will tell.

I’ve been told that the Dons have to find savings of £2million, hence the implemenation of cost cutting measures across the club. We’ve lost £205,000 per season (Broadcasting Deal) and £215,000 (Solidarity Payment) as result of relegation and also have to consider smaller gates and less sponsorship.

I just hope that the staff made redundant (some of whom I know very well), find new employment very soon. As I’ve said before, I understand why the club has done it but have massive sympathy for those affected.

One change that has slipped under my radar is that the club appointed Bobby Winkelman as a Director of the club on 1st July 2018.

So its on to Tuesday evening and the visit of Grimsby Town. Did you know they only sing when they’re fishing?  See you there.

MK Dons: A Quiet Revolution

The definition of “revolution”

“A dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation”

The untold story of summer events at MK Dons started with the arrival of Paul Tisdale. A man known for taking a failing club and putting it on a sound footing. Of achieving success with limited assets by surrounding himself with players and staff who he trusts. Someone who prides himself on organisational skills and hands on coaching.

The scale of changes at Stadium MK are not co-incidental.

For the first time in the 14 year history of Milton Keynes Dons, the entire coaching staff has been replaced. There are no throwbacks to previous managers, no favouritism to players built on years of working together and no negative influences from those who don’t like the changes thrust upon them.

Assistant manager Matt Oakley was an experienced player who achieved promotions, played regularly in the Premier League and reached an FA Cup final. An analytical brain who has worked with Tisdale for 7 years – a loyal wingman.

Danny Butterfield arrived from Southampton this week.  Another coach who gained Premier League and EFL experience at every level and won promotions as a player. Another who’s shown loyalty to Tisdale, having played under him for three years at Exeter.

The goalkeeping career of Mel Gwinnett in the EFL was nothing to write home about,  however he’s worked as a coach under the manager for 10 years. I have no doubts that he’ll take over goalkeeper coaching duties from Paul Heald.

The announcement that Steve Perryman has been appointed as Associate Director completes the picture. I understand that this will be a part time role in support of Tisdale and the club. Having been the Director of Football at Exeter during the reign of Paul Tisdale, he is another trusted member of the inner circle.

A clue to the relationship between Perryman and Tisdale can be found in an interview the former Tottenham favourite gave at Exeter City:

“I’m a director with a small d and I’d prefer to be called the manager’s aide. Not a mentor, not an assistant, but an aide.”

And further clarity from the manager himself:

Tisdale calls Perryman an “ally – we see it the same way.”

Just before the play off final at Wembley, Perryman was assked about Paul Tisdale:

“Tis is a terrific manager. He could do any job at Exeter City; he could be the chairman, Trust chairman, he could be the scout, he could play; he’s so intelligent, so switched on, that he should probably be managing director.”

Another revolutionary decision has so far slipped under the radar, with the club dispensing of the services of their scouts. Some will of course see this as a negative, and there has to be sympathy for those whose livelihood’s are affected.

However, I’ve previously written blogs about the questionable quality of scouting at the Dons. A scout for a Championship club has personally told me about several incidents that demonstrate poor judgement and a lack of committment. And the fans generally have been critical of our recruitment since the departure of Andy King.

I can see a lot of good reasons for Tisdale, Oakley, Perryman and Sweeting sharing the scouting responsibilities amongst themselves.

One change that the manager hasn’t made is one that may have been expected in some quarters. Dean Lewington has remained as club captain. There was no big announcement or fan-fare but it appears that Tisdale feels that Lewie is an important cog in the new order.

That decision appears justified with some impressive performances in pre-season followed by his selection to the League Two team of the week last weekend and another influential showing against Bury. The way he interacted with young Dylan Asonganyi during the match yesterday, demonstrated the positive influence he brings to the side.

Changes too within the playing staff.

Those hoping for a marquee signing might be disappointed but the Dons appear to have recruited well. There are players loyal to Tisdale, having played for him in the past and others who know their way around League Two and how to win promotion.

There are still issues to be resolved.

Chuks Aneke blatently doesn’t want to be at MK Dons, and I suspect the Dons would prefer him to leave in the circumstances. I understand that despite interest from three clubs in League One and the Championship, none met the Dons valuation, which incidentally is considerably less than the figures banded about on social media.

Paul Tisdale yesterday confirmed that talks continue with another club (Bolton), about the possibility of Bolton signing the attacking midfielder on loan with a view to a permanant signing in January.

I don’t deny that Chuks is a really talented player who would have a massive impact in League Two (if he WANTED to be here). But equally he’s injury prone and displayed a poor attitude at times last season. Some will disagree but I’d rather he left and we used his wages on someone who is 100% committed to our cause.

Then there’s the mystery of Muirhead and Nesbitt.

I was told this week that both players are transfer listed and may yet be subject of interest from Scottish clubs, whose transfer window remains open until 31st August. Either way, their absence from the squad indicates an an unresolved issue. But like Aneke, I don’t see their absence as fatal to our ambitions.

But are we going to sign a striker?

The information I received last week, was the club were considering a loan signing and had their eye on a young player from a Premier League club. Paul Tisdale has to a degree confirmed that further signings are possible depending on players leaving.

In the meantime, a contact spoke to Osman Sow last week who said that he should return to full training in the next couple of weeks.

It was great to return to Stadium MK yesterday.

I love the walk across Asda and into the stadium car park. The anticipation of the match ahead knowing there’ll be ups and downs, disappointment and joy. Catching up with football friends, feeling the atmosphere build and of course the match itself.

We’ve all seen the Dons perform better in the past, but let’s not forget the context of this game. Relegation for the 2nd time in 3 seasons and a return to the EFL bargain basement. A new manager working with a new squad of players. And the 2nd match in a week against a side who themselves were in League One last season.

A smash and grab goal in the 89th minute to secure two wins from two matches is incredibly satisfying. It certainly made my Saturday evening a lot nicer (and probably yours).

A special word for our defence. Anyone who witnessed the shambolic offering from Wootton and Ebanks-Landell last season will be thrilled to see the way Walsh and Moore-Taylor go about their business.

And with Lewie rolling back the years and Williams finding his mojo again, we looked very  solid. It was a delight to see us strong in the air and flinging bodies in the way of shots. One goal conceded in 180 minutes of league action is a testament to the improvements.

We looked disjointed at times further up the field, but there were signs of quality from the likes of Gilbey and Houghton.

Dylan Asonganyi made his debut. He certainly didn’t look out of place and put himself in some good positions. He seemed understandably nervous at times and with more confidence, could have a bigger impact. But that will doubtless come with time.

Credit to Cisse for making an impact in the match and for a decent goal. From a personal perspective he’s going to have to do a lot more this season to put right the wrongs of last.

Initial observations are that the “prima donna” attitudes of last season have disappeared to be replaced by humility, effort and determination. The players appear to be engaging far more warmly with the fans, and seem to be more relaxed under the guiding hand of Paul Tisdale.

So its the first time that the Dons have won their first two league matches in a season. A long way to go in terms of performance, but winning matches can do wonders for confidence which in turn has a positive impact.

Most fans appear to agree that Paul Tisdale has made a good start at Milton Keynes. He certainly has the players more united and fighting for the cause.

Lets hope that revolution breeds evolution which in turn pushes us towards promotion.

MK Dons: The Power of Positivity

A respected blogger once wrote; “Every time you post something online, you have a choice. You can either make it something that adds to the happiness levels in the world or you can make it something that takes away.”

If you’re true to yourself, especially as a fan of MK Dons in recent years, the pendulum tends to swing to the negative side of happiness. However the beauty of a pendulum is that it will eventually return to the opposite side, and I for one am hoping that we experience a better season ahead.

So in an effort to promote that admirable Law of Karma – the Power of Positivity, I’m going to make a big effort to happy clap my way through this blog. But make the most of it, because it doesn’t happen often.

Lets start with the fact that we have a new manager.

He may have sailed away on the high seas whilst his bunch of merry men were playing head tennis in Sunny Spain, but Paul Tisdale has brought style to the Dons. He’ll be delighted to see that his beloved Ted Baker was 0.36% up on the FTSE 250 today co-inciding with news that the company is to build a swanky new HQ in Kings Cross.

But you have to admit that he brings an air of mystery to the New City.

Born on the historic island of Malta and brought up in the Roman centre of Aquae Sulis, Tisdale is a man of mystery and standing. Someone who ranks English actor Andrew Lincoln (him of Love Actually and The Walking Dead) as one of his best friends.

He’s probably the complete antithesis of Karl Robinson. Not just in the way he presents himself as a style guru but in his choice of words.

Following the 1-0 win against Oxford United;

“There has been a step up in the last two weeks, in terms of the way the team has competed, the connection on the pitch and the proximity of our play. We had some drive about us. We haven’t over coached it but I’ve been asking them to think with a bit of freedom and intent.”

Not a man who feels the need to tell everyone he has a plan, but clearly he does. Not someone to dictate to the players and create enemies in the camp but someone to be respected all the same.

On the absent Chuks Aneke;

“Chuks has bridged the gap between not training and training – now we just have to train him for a while. There has been a step made there but in terms of selectability, clearly you have to train before you can play”

Carefully chosen words, answering the concerns of fans whilst playing down a rumoured crisis between player and club. Apparently securing the future commitment of someone who could be sensational in League Two.

If we have a new manager lets also reflect on the new squad.

It’s no co-incidence that the bookies and fans are backing the Dons to come good next season. There’s some strange vibes coming from our own support. Fans who are deliberately playing down our chances and finding weaknesses but I still sense a tangible excitement under the surface.

From the old guard, the likes of Alex Gilbey, Joe Walsh, Peter Pawlett, Chuks Aneke, Kieran Agard and Osman Sow have played and succeeded at a far higher level of football.

Then you look at the incoming players.

24 year old Jordan Moore-Taylor is an outstanding aquisition who will doubtless be an ever present this season. Jordan Houghton won the FA Youth Cup with Chelsea and was captured from under the noses of League One clubs who wanted him. Mitch Hancox signed following promotion with Macclesfield during which he won many plaudits.

Others already impressing are Ryan Watson, Lawson D’ath and Connor McGrandles.

Now put the two together – manager and players. Players divided between themselves will not unite as a team. A manager who can’t create respect amongst his staff is unlikely to shape a winning mentality. But when you bring together talented players with the right manager the results can be sensational.

Big question… can we?

In Hercule Poirot style lets examine the clues…

Clue 1: We ‘ve conceded 5 goals in 6 pre-season matches. The arrival of Moore-Taylor coupled with the return from injury of Joe Walsh contrasts brightly with the efforts of now departed defenders relied upon last season.  I like the emphasis on a solid foundation at the back, and the arrival of Matt Baudry adds much needed depth in strength.

Clue 2: The heart of the team looks far more balanced with the arrival of Houghton. Someone who can take the Potter role, allowing the more attacking players freedom to express themselves. The return of natural leader Gilbey boosting moral whilst Pawlett and McGrandles are starting to show their class.

I know you have concerns up front…

But other League Two sides will fear the attacking power at our disposal should we keep players and keep them fit. Chuks Aneke, Kieran Agard, Robbie Muirhead and Osman Sow supported by Sam Nombe, BTA, Dylan Asonganyi and Robbie Simpson.

As the lads would say – Behave!

If any two of these players maintain fitness and hit form, the results will be spectacular.

Over the years, fans of the Dons have bemoaned two things. The lack of contracted players coupled with an over reliance on loan signings, and the failure to sign young talented players from the lower leagues. Well we now have 30 players contracted to the Dons on pro-contracts, with many of them coming from League Two and even the National League.

On Saturday we face Oldham Athletic in our first match of the season and for the first time in a long time I feel enthused. Like most of you, I’ve been working out which away matches I can get to and checking train prices for the best deals. I’ve been reading all the news and sharing gossip with my pals. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something feels different this season.

I’ll finish with the quote at the start of the blog, but edited especially for our players;

“Every time you pull on the Dons shirt, you have a choice. You can either make it something that adds to the happiness levels in the world or you can make it something that takes away.”

See you there and COYD

MK Dons: Jordan, Ryan, Lawson, Mitch and…

It seems appropriate at the time of a World Cup to start this blog with a quote from the Elder Statesman of the great competition – Edson Arantes do Nascimento – otherwise known as Pele;

I am constantly being asked about individuals. The only way to win is as a team. Football is not about one or two or three star players

The four signings made by the Dons this week have really generated some interest. None of them are star “names” and yet each has a little something about them that makes you think that Paul Tisdale (with the assistance of Liam Sweeting) is recruiting to a plan.

Interesting as well that three of the four (Watson, D’ath and Hancox) were only offered one year deals, although I suspect that there will be an option on each of them. But here we have three players of similar ages (24, 25 and 24) who are going to be hungry to perform and secure their futures at the club. They will want to play for their manager.

And that’s where Pele’s quote is so relevent.

Last season we saw clubs (like Shrewsbury and Exeter) who weren’t predicted to achieve, operating at the top end of their respective tables. No star names and squads put together on a restricted budget, but they performed as a team… for their manager.

Conversely, the Dons were among the early favourites for promotion, but were clearly dysfunctional both on and off the pitch. Rumours of dressing room fall outs and fractured player/management relationships have been well documented.

Are these signings an early indication of intent?

An area of positivity coming from fans concerns the early timing of signings. It was a constant concern among supporters that Robbo and Neilson were apparently slow to secure signings. I see that Robbo is again making excuses, blaming the World Cup for the lack of movement at Oxford United.

Another positive vibe comes with the type of player being signed. How often have we chased after marquee players, only to end up panic buying when they prove to be unattainable.  How many times have we envied Peterborough United snapping up young talent from the lower and non-leagues?

Well here we go… League Two and National League

And if anybody is having doubts about signing unknown names, this tweet from Dons fan John Flanagan is worth repeating;

I remember the negativity when we signed Swailes and Navarro from Macclesfield – both ended up pivotal players in our promotion

Of course we shouldn’t run away with ourselves. These players will need to prove themselves before we can properly assess their value to the squad.

I don’t really want to get bogged down in a life history of these lads. The club and Toby Lock have given us plenty of background reading. So just an interesting fact that gave me pause for thought… JMT and Hancox (both defenders) scored more goals between them last season than Sow and Agard (12 v 10).

Moving on…

Loads of rumours flying through my inbox in recent days. As I’ve said before, if its credible information about an impending signing I don’t publish names.  The last thing I want to do is compromise anything for the club. Equally, you’ll see rumours and information published in newspapers, blogs and social media at every EFL club in the country during the summer months so the club can’t expect complete silence.

Lets start with a couple of snippets about injuries. Starting with Alex Gilbey who was initially reported to be out with an injury until January 2019. Then on 12th June it was reported that the midfielder was back running on grass and that his return to the squad had been brought forward to November 2018. I’ve been led to believe that his recovery has been nothing short of sensational and there’s a possibility he will become available for selection significantly earlier than November.

I’m also told that Osman Sow has been carrying an undiagnosed injury which has hampered his performance for some time. This injury which affected him through the entire season has now been diagnosed and Sow has had (or is due to have) an operation to sort it out. Staff are hopeful that this procedure will result in us seeing a completely different player in the future.

Fans have been asking if there’s any news about departing players.

I’ve asked around about the Cisse to Leeds rumour and can’t find anything other than laughter so I think that one can be binned. I have heard that there’s been an enquiry about Chuks Aneke from a League One club, and another about young Nesbitt from a club in the SPL but I don’t know how far they’ve got.

Finally, I know that the club are still looking to recruit, and are trying to bring in a quality striker. For reasons given already, I’m not going to mention the (several) names that have come to me from a variety of sources. But I will say that IF there is any truth in them, we are setting our sights high for League Two.

That’s it from the Dons rumour mill this week. Please remember that these are ONLY rumours and as such should be treated with caution. Thanks to everyone who’s shared bits with me in recent weeks.

Changing the subject completely…

I popped down the Arena on Monday to watch the England match and was very impressed with the setup. Big screen with quality sound system, the Errea lorry selling Dons merchandise, games for the kids to play, a kiosk selling hot food and some surprisingly efficient bar staff keeping us all watered.

It was equally surprising to see so many people turning out – I’m told it was well over a thousand. Lots of complimentary comments from people living in the community who aren’t Dons fans but were grateful of somewhere to watch the match with other England fans. Had to laugh at the Millwall fan who was getting the arse that so many people were wearing Dons shirts… what did he expect?

Events like that really will benefit the club and cement its role in and value to the community.

I got chatting to a few people around the club at the Arena and the most surprising piece of information was news that Season Ticket sales are doing remarkably well. In fact the Dons had sold more ST’s by mid June than at the same point last season and the Championship season.

Finally, the fixtures were released today and that always seems to bring the new season closer. I expect you’ve been scanning the fixture list like me and working out which matches you can make and those to look forward to. The away days I’m looking forward to are Lincoln in September (there’s always a good atmosphere there), Newport in December (a new ground for me) and of course Exeter City which really will have an edge to it after recent events.

I’ll let Dons fan Nick Hedges have the final word…

Tis knows this league better than most. I’m surprisingly optimistic, compared to a week ago

Yeah so am I…

Cmon England and cmon you mighty Dons

MK Dons: Tis a fresh start at the Dons

Ah the drama…

As Pete Winkelman entered the press room, he could barely contain his joy.  The grand unveiling of his new manager, a moment in the direct glare of TV cameras, surrounded by friends and family.

As the You Tube feed failed, Dons fans were sent scrambling for an alternative Twitter link and suddenly there it was… a premature Tweet announcing the arrival of the latest Saviour of the Dons.

The opening comments from the Chairman betrayed his excitement;

“Cor, look at all the…. I love the microphones everybody…”

All the usual cliches spring to mind don’t they? A kid in a sweetshop, fever pitch, licking ones lips. You can’t help but love his passion and excitement can you.

As the words “You’re live on Sky Sports News” resonated across the room, Paul Tisdale noticeably shifted in his seat and sat a little straighter.  Despite his experience and six promotions with Team Bath and Exeter City, the new manager will have realised by now that his new role will bring a higher profile than he’s been used to.

8,000 capacity St James Park will be replaced by 32,000 Stadium MK. Average attendances will double (and more) from the 4,000 that turned up to watch Exeter. A club representing a City of 130,000 people will be replaced by a growing connurbation with an estimated population of 350,000.

MK Dons might be the club that fans love to hate but the story constantly keeps the club in the spotlight. And as the early years of Karl Robinson’s management testify, that spotlight can quickly elevate the status of a manager who aspires to better things.

And so it was that a cool and collected Paul Tisdale was announced to the world as the new manager of MK Dons.

Pete Winkelman spoke of the pain that he had endured over the last 12 months, but for Dons fans I’d say the last three seasons have been particularly difficult.

By nature I’m an optimist and have tended to adopt each new manager with renewed optimism and excitement. That has perhaps led me to get frustrated with those who don’t share that positive view. And then of course, when failure follows it has been difficult not to react with a sense of deep disappointment.

So the promise to myself this season is to be more detached. To reserve judgement and go with the flow, rather than getting emotionally involved. Which brings me back to Paul Tisdale.

He’s a very different beast to those who’ve graced the managers office at Stadium MK in previous seasons. His quotes tell a story by themselves;

“I’m an oddity. With what I wear, how I speak, with the choices I’ve made. I’m an oddity in how I view my players. I really don’t mind the perception. It actually gives me an edge.”

“I’ll go out early and be stood in that technical area, with my silk scarf, feeling the bollocks. When you walk out, you’ll look at me, and know if I feel it, then you’ll feel the nuts too.”

Tis has been described as the most stylishly dressed manager in football, his attire reflecting his role as a lead ambassader for fashion label Ted Baker.

Do not underestimate the storm created by his move to Milton Keynes. To fan-owned clubs, MK Dons is the very worst alternative that they can imagine. It’s recently been the populist trend to promote fan-owned clubs as the moral and ethical answer to modern football’s problems.

In recent weeks and months Paul has publically aired his dissatisfaction with decisions made by the fan owned club, the constant battle to balance the books with little external investment and the power of the collective fans to negatively influence the direction of the football club.

Perhaps not is all so glorious in that utopian vision after all!

A question for you Dons scholars. Is this the first time that MK Dons has recruited an entire management “team”?

Paul Tisdale has been appointed alongside Matt Oakley (his assistant manager at Exeter) and Mel Gwinnett (goalkeeping coach at Exeter) who will become the first team coach. There were concerns that Paul Heald’s position would be under threat but I understand he’ll continue in his current role.

Lots written about Tis but how about Matt and Mel?

Matt Oakley is 40 years-old and was born in Peterborough. A former England under-21 player he started his career as a midfielder with Southampton before spending time at Derby County and Leicester City where he captained both sides. He finished his playing career with Exeter City before taking on the position of Assistant Manager to Paul Tisdale.

As a player he spent 12 seasons in the Premier League, 6 seasons in the Championship, 2 in League One and 5 in League Two and therefore has a wealth of experience across all levels. A glimpse of his coaching strengths came from an interview he gave when he joined the coaching staff at Exeter;

“I will look at who we are playing next and do the pre-match analysis and, when time allows, I also do the post-match analysis. We work on a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t see behind the scenes. It gives us a little bit of a structure and a little bit of a focus. I like the psychology side of things as well though. That is the route I see myself going down as I see psychology as a massive part of football. And if the younger players can see a little bit of what I have been through and I can pass it on through knowledge of psychology then that will help them.”

Moving on to Melvyn Gwinnett (to give him his full name) who was born in Worcestershire in 1963. Another Peterborough link as he started his Football League career with Posh in 1981, however he spent most of his playing career as a goalkeeping understudy at clubs like Hereford United, Bradford City and Exeter.

Having retired from playing, he secured a role with Exeter City as Youth Football Director before becoming goalkeeping coach from the 2008-09 season. Any keen cyclists will be interested to learn that Mel was the director of a company called Bike UK between 1994 and 2013 which operated a chain of cycle stores.

There are some question marks for me. With six promotions and play off finals under his belt, Tisdale clearly brings experience and a winning mindset. However, by his own admission he leant heavily on Steve Perryman (Director of Football) at Exeter. There will be no Perryman and no DoF this time round, Oakley has little experience of coaching and Gwinnet’s backround is youth football and goalkeeping. On balance I’m enthused by the appointment but time will tell.

Some interesting information I received over the last 48 hours is that the number of players leaving MK Dons this summer is likely to run into double figures.

We know that Ed Upson has already departed for Bristol Rovers with his contract due to expire this summer.

Late Friday evening we learned that Ben Tilney had signed for Larne FC in the 2nd tier of Northern Irish league football.

I’m reliably informed that 20 year-old Connor Furlong has also been released.

Scott Wootton is out of contract this summer and unlikely to remain at the club.

I’m also told that the future of Giorgio Rasulo is in the balance with a decision yet to be made on his future. I understand that a new contract will depend on assessments to be made by the new manager.

I heard a rumour at the end of the week that Oran Jackson (or his agent) had been in contact with Sunderland although it now seems that he’ll be staying at MK Dons.

One rumour I can’t corroborate is that Cisse was of interest to Leeds United – although it did promote a fair amount of hilarity among Dons fans.

It’s very easy to get frustrated when players we rate or believe have potential leave the club in circumstances such as these. However there are a number of factors at play:

Wage Cap – Football League clubs are working under what might be described as a soft wage cap, the Salary Cost Management Protocol, whereby clubs in League Two must spend no more than 55% of turnover on wages.

Relegation Effect – Like it or not, the club has been relegated twice in the last three seasons and performed poorly in the third. Negativity breeds negativity and there has to come a point where players are cleared out and a new start made.

New Management – Paul Tisdale is an educated and organised man who will have a clear idea of what he wants to do at the club. There have already been strong indications from him and Pete that successive transfer windows will be needed to re-build the squad.

Some good news emerging this week. Joe Walsh and Alex Gilbey look set to play key roles next season which is a real positive. Both players are young, hungry and are capable of taking League Two by storm. They’re calm under pressure, show leadership and can inspire those around them.

What will be particularly interesting over the coming weeks is to see the type of player that will be signed by the new regime. That should give us some clue about the direction of the club and the style of play this season. I remember Martin Allen making some fantastic signings in League Two. Players who ultimately got us promoted and took us to the top of League One. More of the same please.

I asked a couple of Dons fans for the sort of players they would like to see at Stadium MK. Dan and Jon came back with a list that included;

Macauley Bone – 22 year old forward with Leyton Orient who scored 25 goals in the National League last season. Has one year left on his contract which the O’s are desperate to extend.

Jayden Stockley – 24 year old forward with Exeter City who scored 25 goals under Tisdale last season. Was signed a year ago for a club record fee and with time left on his contract would need payment of a significant fee to secure his release.

Jordan Moore-Taylor – 24 year old defender from Exeter City who came through the youth system and captained the side last season.

Hiram Boetang – Despite posts to the contrary, the 22 year old midfielder is contracted to Exeter City for the 2018/19 season. He has caught the eye at St James Park for some excellent performances in a breakthrough season for the youngster.

Mohammed Eisa – 23 year old forward from the Sudan who scored 25 goals for Cheltenham Town in League Two last season. Long contract until 2020 so would cost serious pounds.

Erhun Oztumer – 27 year old midfielder out of contract at Walsall this summer and wishes to leave the club. With 17 goals from the centre of the park is unlikely to drop down a division.

Gboly Ariyibi – 23 year old winger who scored 7 goals during a loan spell at the Dons last season. Still contracted to Notts Forest who’ve said that he’ll be released on loan next season.

Some of these may be unattainable and others are aspirational but I wonder who you’d like to see playing for Milton Keynes next season?

Finally, lets have a look around League Two…

Paul Scholes has emerged as a favourite for the vacant managers job at Oldham after Richie Wellens was sacked. Meanwhile Notts County have been active in the transfer markets signing youngsters Tom Crawford from Chester and Will Patching from Manchester City.

Bury have managed to secure a big pre-season friendly away to Rangers at Ibrox. Forest Green Rovers have been busy in the transfer market with the latest of four signings, attacking full back Joseph Mills from Perth Glory. Frank Nouble has been signed by Colchester United following the expiry of his contracct at Newport County.

So there you have it…

Standby for some more departures, the unveiling of the new kit and the release of next seasons fixtures later this month. Lots to look forward to and plenty of things to discuss in the coming weeks. Have a great week.