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.