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.