MK Dons: Sworn to Secrecy

Exciting news incoming…

But more of that in a moment!

Far more importantly (not), I was made aware this week that On The Dot had once again become subject of debate elsewhere in the National Information Infrastructure (Social Media if you prefer). Apparently I’m too sensitive, have lost contact with my sources and write a bog-ordinary-blog no different to any other… lol.

In fairness, some or most of that is probably quite true.

Do you like secrets?

Well, perhaps it’s time I shared mine, but first a short history lesson.

In the beginning was the word. And the word was with Twitter account. And the word (or words) was On the Dot. And the word became Blog.

In other words, I was blogging about the Dons for a couple of years before people started passing me information. I’m not sure why they started doing it really. Perhaps they felt sorry for my apalling efforts at writing or just wanted to put me right.

And then I picked up that strange label “ITK”.

I can’t pinpoint a time or place when I crossed the river of promise into the hallowed land of “In the Know”. I imagined it would be a Narnia-esque place, where the rivers flowed with red wine and beatiful people pandered to your every need.

Sadly, it’s still a battered old laptop on a wooden table in my dining room. I still get nagged to leave the Dons alone, to load the dishwasher, walk the dog or put children to bed. No curious wardrobe filled with fur coats for me…

So what does ITK look like?

It’s a cross to bear if I’m honest.

There are those who buy into it and hang on your every word, anxious not to miss news, rumours and gossip they don’t hear in their local newspapers. But that leaves ITK feeling under pressure to deliver and make sure everyone has their fill.

Then there’s the sceptics. It’s nothing I haven’t heard already. He could have got that from the internet. A lucky guess perhaps?

And finally there’s the haters. He may be ITK or maybe not, but either way we’ll judge him harshly for what he does. Troll him on Twitter or generally assasinate his character.

The secret to being ITK is really quite simple

“Listening and researching”

It was Pierre Levy who was credited with creating the notion that “nobody knows everything but everyone knows something”. His book Collective Intelligence is an interesting read. He says;

“New communications systems should provide members of a community with the means to coordinate their interactions within the same virtual universe of knowledge.”

When I started blogging about the Dons, fans would send me messages adding bits and pieces to what I’d written or correcting my mistakes. I’d maintain contact with them and make sure I credited their information in my blogs. I’d use the vast array of information available on line to corroborate that information and ensure what I published remained accurate, contextual and interesting.

Equally, through social activities linked to the club I started to meet a wide variety of fans and staff. I found myself in the fortunate position of being able to interview people like Martin Allen, Robbo, John Cove and Pete Winkelman.

I was heavily involved with the “Facts of the Move” project, co-ordinating the gathering of documents and writing the article with the support of other fine fans.

And through all these activities I met other fans who had links and associations and each in the words of Pierre Levy knew something.

My enjoyment comes from listening to the Dons news, rumour and gossip, researching them and translating into a blog for anyone who might be interested. And the very best places for doing that is on Twitter and at football matches – chatting to fans in the stand.

Contacts come and go. Some are better informed than others. You lose one and find another. But what I never do is disrespect anyone who passes information on. No matter how small or insignificant, that rumour can sometimes be the missing piece of the puzzle that completes the picture. But there are many respected fans who hear a lot more than I do.

It is easy to become protective and sensitive.

Anyone that writes a blog will know that it attracts a wide range of reactions. I’m not sure that people always think of the impact their words have on social media. Things are said that wouldn’t be repeated in face to face situations. Bullying or intimidation is too often turned on its head with the recipient accused of being over sensitive. Social media creates a false environment where rules of decency and respect are often forgotten. A virtual world detached from reality perhaps.

I struggled for a while with this, but eventually found a way to deal with it. Honesty, integrity, humour and clearly defined lines in the sand. So these days I try and react to criticisms with honesty and with humour but if MY line in the sand is crossed… its goodbye. If anyone follows respected reporter Alan Nixon, you’ll see that he does the exact same thing.

Having said all that, back to the Dons…

My blogging (and tweeting) has evolved over the years. At the beginning I’d think nothing of posting names of transfer targets and club gossip. But then I came to realise that my actions had consequences. As the blog became more widely available (and perhaps more respected), information would reach other clubs. And that had to stop.

Equally, as with any organisation, not everything that happens reflects well on the club. It might be interesting to us fans but do we always want to paint the club in a bad light or air our dirty washing in public. We take enough crap from the scum down in Kingston without creating our own.

So… last summer as an example I was aware of club interest in various players. But I restricted my tweets to emojis the night before signing announcements, just to create a sense of anticipation and excitement. Seven of them in actual fact (so not just a lucky guess).

On 12th August I broke the news about the Dons interest in Rhys HEALEY (without naming him).

On 19th August I broke the news about the departures of NESBITT and MUIRHEAD following issues in Spain

On the same day I provided specific information about the club’s financial position and widescale redundancies at the club

On 23rd August I broke news of several players returning to training and an update on the training ground not published by any media organisations or the club.

But since then, there have been no signings to comment on, the team has performed very well, leaving us in the promotion places and most people have a smile on their faces.

Is there anything happening at the moment?

I’ve heard that there’s been a series of meetings between management and players regarding contract extensions and that Tis has secured the services of all the players he wanted to keep at the club. Specifically I’ve heard that Williams, Gilbey and Agard have put pen to paper.

But the information that most fans seem to be interested in relates to Chuks Aneke. Although I’m still trying to firm up the details, I’m told that Chuks has committed to a contract extension that involves a promotion bonus and a release fee clause. I’ve been told what that figure is but again, am not prepared to publish the figure as it could harm the club’s position.

I’m also told that the club DID have an interest in Stockley (as now confirmed by Tis), but that contrary to the comments in my last blog, the release fee clause was £750,000 and we did meet that figure. I understand that we couldn’t compete in terms of wages, offering £3,000 per week as opposed to £15,000 being offered by Preston.

Finally, I’m told that the financial position at the club (or more importantly the parent company Stadium MK Group Ltd) is significantly improved thanks to various factors including concerts, corporate deals and the Brazil match. I can’t provide exact figures at the moment but the fact we could put together a massive financial package (for league two) reflects the improved situation.

PS: I wouldn’t write off a return by Rhys Healey either. Tis has been very careful with his choice of words and management of expectations.

But please remember that these are all rumours, gossip and 2nd hand information. Do your own research and make your own minds up.

So there you have it…

A blog with a difference this week, and now my secret’s out I’ll expect to see far more Dons blogs starting up. But for now, let’s concentrate on the football. Let’s get behind the players and enjoy the sharp end of the season together. We have a great squad of players and a fabulous manager. COYD.

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MK Dons: Back to the Future

The New Year is usually a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. Following that tradition I looked back through the 2018 blogs, until I happened upon my pre-season assessment of the Dons last summer:

“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!”

Not every name mentioned has been as prominant as expected. But others have brought the strengths and skills so badly lacking in previous seasons.

While fans in the stands are enjoying a welcome return to winning ways and resulting success, I do sense that there’s an underlying anxiety as we enter the January transfer window. Success brings consequences!

It was Claudio Ranieri who once said;

“Every team believes they are better after the transfer window”

Whilst bowing low before a man who has re-written football history and given all fans the magic gift of HOPE, I have to disagree with him on this occasion.

English football tends to rewards players and not clubs, particularly in the lower leagues. If you are part of something succesful, those with larger wallets tend to make offers that cannot be refused. Teams that thrive on togetherness, where each part is essential to the whole can be disrupted and damaged if those players are taken away from it.

Ranieri’s comments are perhaps indicative of someone who has spent his managerial career working at the upper echelons of the game, and not someone like Tis who has made a name in the lower leagues.

Rhys Healey is an immediate example.

Signed on loan from Cardiff on 24th August 2018, he made a slow start to his time at MK Dons with just one league appearance during his first month. Then we saw him grow into a system of three strikers, operating alongside Agard and Chuks whilst developing into a valuable and respected member of the team.

Who can forget his song, belted out with gusto at Stevenage…

9 goals in 21 appearances represented a credible contribution from the Welshman, but it was his attitude, relationship with the fans and work ethic which impressed us the most. To read this week that he’s now training with Cardiff again, leaves a deep sadness that is surely shared by many fans. His departure doesn’t make us a better squad as Mr Ranieri would have us believe.

Contacts who spoke to Rhys before and after the match against Cambridge told me that he definitely wanted to stay at the Dons for the remainder of the season.

Tis made his feelings abundantly clear;

“We’d love to get him back, and before we look elsewhere we’ll be looking to get him back, but he’s Cardiff’s player and Neil Warnock is his manager – they will make a decision on what is right for Cardiff and, after that, we will respond accordingly. Rhys will have a view as well and I’d like to think he would want to stay but, first of all, Cardiff have to agree to it.”

Wales on Line have previously shown that they have a credible line of communication to Neil Warnock. They reported that five or six other clubs were interested in the talented forward whilst suggesting that Cardiff hadn’t ruled out including him in their Premier League squad for the rest of the season.

My own sources tell me that Cardiff refused to discuss Healey’s future before the transfer window opened, are aware of the Dons interest and will respond in due course. I’m also told that he’s not available to buy, having extended his contract to July 2020 in October last season.

Other media sources are indicating that Cardiff want him to make the step up to a Championship or League One side.

Meanwhile…

Two other players have been shown the door by the Dons.

Aiden Nesbitt was brought to Milton Keynes by Robbie Neilson, describing him as a player for the future. There were flashes of talent, with his greatest attribute the pace that he brought to the team. He left with a record of 4 goals from 26 appearances which for me was a pretty ordinary return, but I’m aware there are other fans who rate him more highly.

Much has been made of the lack of opportunity that he received under Paul Tisdale. But when you see the way that Tis has brought players together and united his squad you have to question why he only played two minor cup games this season. I suspect that his departure is best for all concerned and doubtless Robbie Neilson will make him feel welcome at Dundee United.

Wieger Sietsma never really made the grade at Stadium MK. When he was called upon to replace Lee Nicholls at the end of the last campaign, he was woefully lacking in confidence and the qualities needed to succeed in the English game. He seemed a nice enough lad, but is a wage we didn’t need to be paying.

The rumour mill was spinning at full tilt last week in respect of Exeter City striker Jayden Stockley.

I’d been told in November that the Dons were interested in signing the former Aberdeen front man, but that it was dependent on a series of events at Stadium MK with the departure of another striker mentioned in the same communication.

Interestingly, Paul Tisdale has made no mention of the rumours to date. And I question some of the facts and figures being thrown around. For example, there seems to be a general acceptance that Stockley’s release fee was £750,000.00. But where did that figure come from? I can only trace it back to a “rumour” published in a local Exter newspaper last summer.

Why is that figure important?

I’ve chatted the rumours over with a number of respected and well connected fans, and we all feel that it would have been completely out of character for Pete Winkelman to splash out DOUBLE the club record transfer fee on a League Two striker as a League Two club. Particularly in the context of a pre-season shortfall of £3million leading to staff being laid off and measures being introduced to save money.

I’m pretty sure that the release fee was considerably less, but that we were unable to compete with the Championship and League One clubs who entered a bidding war for him. I’m guessing that Tis was using his previous relationship with Stockley and the offer of a long contract to pursuade him.

The future of Chuks Aneke remains a hot topic of conversation amongst fans.

For someone who spent several years neglecting his Twitter account, the former Arsenal trainee has been extremely active posting examples of his striking prowess across Social Media. Information landing in my account suggests that he has developed a good working relatinship with Tis and is keen to stay. Equally, a source from within the club has suggested that he’s gone so far as to agree terms for a new contract.

I remain open-minded about the reality of the situation. Personally, I can’t see Chuks turning down the opportunity of playing at a higher level but I suspect that the decision isn’t as clear cut as it was previously for him. A succesful season with the opportunity to add a promotion to the CV may be a compelling reason to stay.

But I take confidence from the strength in depth of the squad.

From an attacking perspective we have Chuks Aneke, Keiran Agard, Osman Sow, Robbie Simpson and Sam Nombe at the club with Thomas-Asante due to return from Sutton United later this month.

The defence will be all the stronger for the impending return of JMT who will slot in seamlessly alongside the superb Baily Cargill and Mat Baudry who has made an impressive return to football after recovering from his injury woes. Lewie is having an outstanding season whilst Williams seems to have recovered from a shaky start to the season.

Peter Pawlett will add strength to the dynamic midfield duo of Gilbey and Houghton as well as the increasingly influential McGrandles. Personally I feel sorry for young Ryan Watson who has played little part in the team despite regularly impressing. But at least we have cover when needed.

In terms of incoming players…

Chris Camwell has been on trial with the Dons. The 20 year-old Coventry City defender made his one and only league appearance in April 2017 and has been struggling to secure a place in their u23 side. A product of the Jamie Vardy Academy, Camwell has been widely praised for his technique but has never made the break through into a senior side.

Wales on Line appear to believe that we are linked with another Cardiff City player. James Waite is a 19 year-old forward who regularly plays as an attacking midfielder. Although small in stature he’s described as being “a clever and tricky player” and played alongside Rhys Healey on a number of occasions last summer in the pre-season.

Waite has been in decent form for the Cardiff City under 23 side. Playing alongside Gary Madine against Colchester United on 17th December, Waite came away with a well deserved hat-trick which followed on from goals against Ipswich and Charlton. He could well be an astute replacement for Healey.

I’ll finish this blog at the same place as I started… looking back…

2nd place in League Two

Best goal difference

2nd tightest defence

I brought a couple of guests with me to the match against Cambridge United. One of them commented about the change in atmosphere round the place since he last watched a match two seasons ago. Before we’d even kicked off he had noticed that the players were warming up with more focus and enthusiasm, the ground looked better and everything seemed more professional.

As you can imagine, he went home feeling like he’d got value for money. But I think he’s noticed somthing that may have passed us by. In the same way Martin Allen took the club to a new level when we were last in League Two, Paul Tisdale has had a positive effect on our club and is perhaps taking it to a level we’ve not seen before. I still have confidence that he will bring even more good times in the months ahead.

COYD

MK Dons: The Best Revenge is Massive Success

I’ve been writing about Milton Keynes Dons in one guise or another for around eight years now, and as regular readers will attest, I’ve always been honest with my opinions. Sometimes those opinions have been controversial and at other times I’ve (perhaps regretfully) allowed my emotions to rule my head. But hopefully I’ve reflected the feelings of fans who follow the Dons week in and week out.

Stand-by for some more emotions…

Unusually for Dons fans, there was a fair amount of pessimism floating around social media at the start of the season. Despite the arrival of Paul Tisdale, there were many who feared the worst following the debacle of the previous campaign. The buzzword was “consolidation”, the forecast “mid-table” and the fear “relegation”.

Close your eyes with me and remember how you felt back then. Recall the feelings of frustration and anger as we reflected on a season where we capitulated without any sense of pride or unity. Feelings doubled in intensity by the gloating, taunting comments of the hypocrites down at Kingston.

Now travel with me (Tardis like) to Saturday 8th December 2018. Carlisle United are the visitors and the Dons announce a starting line-up with several changes including players asked to start out of position.

The surprise and delight to see the sheer professionalism of the players as they set about their task with purpose, direction, style and skill.

Carlisle United were expected to be a stern test. A club who had lost just one of their last eight matches on the road. But what I saw was a Dons side confident in their abilities and most importantly, a side that were briefed, prepped and with a clear plan.

There were times when Carlisle were reduced to chasing shadows under the glare of the Stadium MK floodlights. As centre-backs forged forward in attack, midfielders dropped back in cover. Forwards inter-changed between the wide spaces and the centre of the park as wing backs motored up and down the pitch.

The passing was crisp and the movements sharp and inventive.

It seemed that the players grew into the match, discovering new spaces which they had no right to find, so finely demonstrated by the elder statesment of the side in the second half.

The sight of Dean Lewington flying up the wing as he latched onto a sublime through ball from Ouss… the pinpoint cross and a Ronaldo-esque finish from the predatory feet of Keiran Agard. It was a sight to behold, a moment to treasure and summed up everything that was good about the team performance.

The dynamic Chuks Aneke out injured. The ever reliable Joe Walsh out injured. The outstanding Jordan Moore-Taylor out injured. Brittain, Baudry and Harley joining them in the treatment room. Surely this would put at risk the unbeaten run of games at Stadium MK.

Not at all…

What I witnessed on Saturday was the most complete performance of the season. And even when the time arrived to substitute players, the quality of the replacements was unrelenting for a withering Carlisle side.

Osman Sow, Peter Pawlett and Ryan Watson.

The squad that Paul Tisdale and his staff have put together or simply coached back to form is frightening at this level. Imagine being able to call on four strikers of the quality of Aneke, Agard, Healey and Sow.

In the same way that Martin Allen recruited outstanding players such as Keith Andrews and Sean O’Hanlon the last time we were in League Two, Paul Tisdale has managed to bring in some outstanding additions to this Dons squad.

Baily Cargill (23 years), Jordan Moore-Taylor (24 years) and Jordan Houghton (23 years) are destined for succesful careers at a much higher level than League Two.

But their arrival has provided a platform for existing players such as Alex Gilbey (24 years) and Connor McGrandles (23 years) to flourish amongst the old guard of Pawlett and Lewington.

You only have to read through the post match comments made by the local Carlisle newspaper to realise that my view is not biaised:

The division’s best team…

Cameos of deft interplay…

Their possession game was superior…

They exhibited quality…

Nobody has a divine right to win anything, and there is still a long way to go this season. But there comes a point when we as fans have to bury our fears and recognise how capable this squad and the manager are of delivering promotion.

Two defeats in the first 21 league matches of Tisdales time in charge, the meanest defence in the EFL (and National League come to that), and 11 clean sheets all combine to represent a remarkable turn around in fortunes in Milton Keynes.

Meanwhile…

Astonishing scenes down the road at Kingston as our hypocritical cousins continue to self destruct on the alter of self righteousness.

Plans for their new stadium are thrown into chaos as they realise that its location has a postcode of SW17 and not the holy grail SW19. Eric is duly dispatched to plead with the Council to get it changed.

Fans are disappointed to read that their shiny new stadium won’t be quite as shiny as they were promised. There will initially be one (unfinished) permanant stand with the remainder of the ground served by temporary stands. Money is apparently tight down at Kingston.

Meanwhile, they decide that enough is enough and dismiss Neil Ardley (the man who supported the move of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes), with AFC languishing at the foot of League One. To replace him with Wally…

Suddenly the “holier than thou” mob, decide that their principled call of “never forget” doesn’t suit the recently deleted posts of a man who appears to have the principles of an Alf Garnett (for those old enough to remember).

But enough of all that…

Let me close this blog by taking you back to that dark place we shared last summer, when all seemed gloomy and AFC gloried in our failure. It’s the words of Frank Sinatra that seem most appropriate in the context of the season so far:

“The best revenge is massive success.”

COYD

MK Dons: Points v Prizes – A Cup Dilemma

With three defeats in all competitions during November, it would be understandable if fans had some concerns about the Dons recent form.

It would be equally acceptable to challenge the performance of the defence after shipping three goals, three times in four matches.

But then you stop and take stock of the reality. Two of those matches were in cup competitions. And as far as the league is concerned – played 4 and won 3 (top of the league) with 10 goals scored and 3 conceded. An outstanding return for November.

Die-hard supporters who follow their clubs regardless of league position will often tell you that they care not if their clubs are knocked out of cup competitions. If you’re lucky you may pick up a high profile match against a Premier League side or in the case of the Checkatrade Trophy, an away day to Wembley.

“It means we can concentrate on the league.” 

An unlikely source of a quote in this context comes from Heybridge Swifts manager Jody Brown after going on a cup run of their own last season;

“We’re fighting for promotion and this is becoming a dangerous situation – it’s going to hamper us massively. As much as I want to win these games, you’re now starting to look at it and thinking ‘I’m looking forward to being out of the cup competitions’. I think it’s going to have a huge negative impact. Psychologically that’s no good for you – it could destroy our league campaign.”

A cup run may generate additional revenue for club bosses trying to balance the books, but it takes its toll on squads already playing a huge amount of matches. It commits clubs to playing more often and exposes players to the risk of injury and breakdown.

The Dons have played in no less than 26 matches since the start of the season – an extraordinary amount of fixtures in just 4 months. Is it a wonder that the medical staff are now fully employed trying to repair players such as Osman Sow, Matt Baudry, Chuks Aneke, Joe Walsh and Jordan Moore-Taylor.

And those injury problems are not unique to the Dons either. On Tuesday evening, Morecambe travelled to Stadium MK  with Rhys Oates, Zak Mills, Aaron Wildig  Barry Roche, Andy Fleming and James Sinclair all on the absent list. Arguably five of their best players missing through injury.

In his post match interview, Paul Tisdale seemed positively overjoyed at the prospect of a 10 day break from competative football. He spoke of players and management resting and injuries having time to heal. A weekend off in the midst of the hurly burly of a League Two season will do wonders for morale and the well-being of his squad.

Whilst on the subject of the Checkatrade Trophy…

This is a competition that I despise and boycott. It is of course a matter of personal choice, but for me it sets a dangerous precendent.

When a club like Chelsea can send an incredible 29 players out on loan, and fill a Checkatrade trophy squad without so much as blinking it makes you realise how Premier League Clubs have soaked up all the young talent who should be plying their trade and learning their craft in the EFL.

It is a competition that takes us one step closer to the introduction of Premier League B sides in the EFL, a move which widens the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”.

And in one set of matches in October, no fewer than nine Premier League senior players took the pitch for their Trophy side in a competition supposedly designed to develop young English talent.

I read a report last week which highlighted serious concerns that the EFL have with the Trophy. Many EFL clubs are sustaining a loss when holding these matches due to low attendances, and these losses are being re-imbursed from EFL central funds. The EFL have sent a memo to all clubs participating in the competition, asking them to canvess the views of fans.

Question for MK Dons: When will you canvass our fans?

As we now move towards the January transfer window, thoughts turn to squad changes. It’s a fact of life that high performing clubs (and players) in the lower leagues will be targetted by under perfoming clubs in higher leagues.

Taking a look at those likely to come under scrutiny…

Osman Sow has contributed little since he arrived at Milton Keynes. Two goals in 15 months playing as a forward is frankly apalling and his injury woes have been well documented. Throw into the mix his flirtations with Hearts last summer and I struggle to see a place for him at the club. He’ll be out of contract in the summer and I suspect the Dons would let him go in January for nothing to save a wage – but would anyone take him?

Chuks Aneke is a little more complicated. Having had issues with both the management and the fans last season, the former Arsenal youth player made huge moves to secure a berth at Bolton. With his contract due to expire in the summer, and having shown a rich vein of form this season, common sense would tell you to expect a move away from the club. But… I suspect the Dons would hold out for a substantial payment for his services and in any case would he really want to leave a top performing club in League Two for a struggling club in the Championship?

Rhys Healey is due to return to Cardiff City at the end of his loan spell in January. He has been at outstanding player within the squad and in terms of potential has to be up there with Harvey Barnes. When he arrived at the club he said; “I’m hoping to show the manager, the players and the fans that I’m here to help them achieve what they want to achieve.” Well I for one sincerely hopes that he stays for the rest of the season to do just that.

Paul Tisdale has already indicated that the future of Mat Baudry is under consideration. He was signed on a one year contract last summer and has contributed just 7 minutes of football in return for his weekly wage. Whilst we are currently in need of central defenders, the manager commented; “We’ve got a month now until January to look at things like Matty’s fitness and we’ll make a judgement.”

Aiden Nesbitt is another player subject of recent comments by Paul Tisdale. I understand that Nesbitt was told to find another club in the summer for reasons that must stay between the club and the player. The club even offered to buy out his contract at one point – but this was refused. I would be surprised if he doesn’t leave the club in January.

I suspect that the future of Wieger Sietsma will also be under consideration. He has struggled to establish any sort of role at the club following his struggles at the end of last season, and do we really need three keepers in the squad?

In other news, I expect the Dons to publish their latest company report early in December and will review the facts and figures in my next blog.

Very little news on the training ground. There was a meeting of Newport Pagnell Town Council in August where the Deputy Clerk gave a brief update on the status of the Tickford Fields development site. It was anticipated that an outline planning application would be submitted sometime around November this year.

In the meantime, we can look forward to December with much optimism. The Dons are top of League Two and Kingston are bottom of League Two. Long may it continue.

MK Dons: The Speed of Change

6 matches since my last post…

2 goals conceded and 10 scored

16 points from a possible 18

2nd in the league, just one win from top

As we shiver our way into November, even the most ardent misery in our fan base has to acknowledge the transformation in fortunes brought about by Paul Tisdale and his loyal staff.

Some of their signings appear to be as astute as those made by Martin Allen when the Dons were last in League Two.

But the key to his success so far is perhaps the way he has successfully blended new blood with players disgruntled from previous seasons of discord and failure.

His interviews are a joy!

A complete absence of bullshit. No false promises or morose hand offs to journalists. Calm, cultured and thoughtful comments. Constantly managing expectations whilst being honest in assessments.

Rarely one to glorify a particular player, preferring to show appreciation for the team effort. Not making excuses for a poor performance but not hanging players out to dry either.

Winning always helps of course. But to win and be successful comes from strong management, togetherness and determination.

Last summer fans of MK Dons endured a barrage of mockery and hatred from Kingston via Social Media.

How quickly things change!

I can’t help but feel slightly smug as the AFC spin machine is ruthlessly exposed.

The harsh realisation from fans that they’re a small club, failing to sell out the home allocation in a 4,850 capacity stadium.

Fans who once begged the football world to boycott Milton Keynes Dons now announce they will boycott their own matches, because of failure.

Hatred and vitriol towards their captain Deji Oshilaja simply because he appreciated a top goal by a pal at MK Dons.

Players sold and not replaced as the financial burden of a new 10,000 capacity stadium bites deep into limited coffers.

A club in free fall, hurtling back towards League Two, no longer able to claim victim status or to rely on the temporary motivation of out doing MK Dons.

And isn’t it extraordinary that a so-called ‘fans club’ allows so little influence by the fans over the direction of the club and its decisions!

Events at Leicester over the weekend have provoked much thought and reflection.

Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, members of his staff, a pilot and his girlfriend ripped from this world in a tragic incident that nobody would have foreseen.

The Dons and our fans have rightly added condolences and sympathies to Leicester City, their fans and the loved ones who have lost family members.

Vichai was a rare breed in football. An owner who cared passionately for his club, but also the fans and the community of Leicester. Someone who brought success but shared it with others and not just himself.

Part of me wonders if we shouldn’t show more appreciation for our own friends, families, fellow supporters and indeed owner of our own special football club. Sometimes (and I include myself) we take life for granted.

And in that context, amazing news that the Dons will be hosting an international between Brazil and Cameroon.

Its extraordinary to think that some of the most exciting and talented players in the world will be performing for their countries in our town and our stadium in Milton Keynes.

But in the meantime I shall look forward to watching our own team fighting for the badge and once again fighting for the goal of promotion.

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.

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