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.
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.”