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

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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

 

 

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.