MK Dons: Four factors behind the club’s slump under Paul Tisdale

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 15 October 2019, 08:32

After a run of five consecutive league defeats, Milton Keynes Dons are down to 19th in the League One table.

What are the factors behind this downturn?

We investigate...

Lack of final third bravery

When MK won promotion from League Two last season, the key was their bravery in the final third.

The team would play neat passing exchanges within a rigid framework, then once they got into the advanced areas, a wing-back – possibly George Williams or Dean Lewington – would cross low for numerous onrushing players.

This year, the players are not as brave in the final third and instead, a lot of their chances have come about from counter-attacks – as we saw in the 3-0 win at Blackpool – or through balls in behind – like the 2-1 victory over AFC Wimbledon.

Those types of attacks do not work so well against compact, well-organised opponents, which Southend, Burton and Bristol Rovers have happened to be.

Dearth of strikers

After Rhys Healey scored a delightful strike against the Wombles in September, he looked like being a very important player but alas, the Cardiff recruit – so influential in the first half of the previous campaign – picked up an injury.

The lively Sam Nombe has also had some good games in the early weeks, but the academy graduate picked up an injury in October and he will be out until 2020.

Kieran Agard, who put in a selfless centre-forward’s display at Blackpool in mid-September, missed the 1-0 loss at Bristol Rovers last time out, leaving Jordan Bowery as the only available striker.

Bowery, capable but inconsistent in League Two, was arguably slightly fortunate to get a League One move and although the one-time Aston Villa trainee works hard, he tends to graft in wide areas to create space for other players.

If there is not another striker on the pitch, with young Dylan Asonganyi being the only other option at times, then MK Dons can produce as many crosses as they like but they still will not have that strong, goalscoring presence.

Missing Aneke

There were five games last season in which MK Dons performed somewhat below-par in general play, but still managed to win with Chuks Aneke scoring their first goal – Cambridge away, Notts County, Macclesfield and Oldham at home, Newport away.

Granted, two of those goals were penalties, but Aneke also could slip between lines, use skill to get away from defenders and produce a defining moment of quality.

When MK’s wing-back crossing game was not working, they had Aneke’s individualism to at times fall back on.

Aneke moved to Charlton in the summer and it does not appear as though, with Healey sidelined, there is somebody in this current squad who can do something similar.

Callum Brittain and Hiram Boateng, who started just off Bowery last time out, are not going to replicate Aneke’s brilliance and while Harley can be a decent technician, his fitness levels are not always in sync with the pace of the games – and that was the case a division lower.

Ben Reeves’ return from injury could give the club a lift.

Improved organisation

The positive to take from the 1-0 loss at the Mem last time out, would be that they were better organised than we saw against Burton.

Baily Cargill is a centre-back with huge potential and brings a lot to MK Dons, in terms of both his positioning and his ability in possession; the 24-year-old loves to make overlapping runs down the left channel which can benefit Dean Lewington, who is unlikely to attack the flank directly.

Cargill’s return from injury could be a major plus as MK look to steady the ship.

Must stick with Tisdale

Any question marks over Paul Tisdale’s position at this stage would be very premature.

After two relegations in three seasons, the club was in a mess on and off the pitch.

Tisdale brought clear-headed leadership that allowed them to not only solve the problems from the 2017-18 campaign instantly, but also ride through a mid-season injury crisis to win promotion from League Two at the first time of asking.

In the following summer, it is not as if the club has spent with the direct expectation of challenging for another promotion; recruits like Bowery, Boateng and Brennan Dickenson have spent much of their careers in the division below.

For that reason, this is very much a transitional campaign, giving Tisdale a year to assess his squad at this level for the first time and find out the necessary tweaks for them to move up another gear in 2020-21.

Of course, the former Exeter manager is not infallible, but the idea that they should even consider his position based on an injury-inflicted bad run is grossly misplaced.

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