Football League Round-Up: More misery for MK Dons and Micchiche

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 17 February 2018, 19:28

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) picks out five talking points from the latest wave of Football League fixtures, with a focus on the clash between Karl Robinson's former club MK Dons and current club Charlton.

Micciche’s MK misfire

If every a game encapsulated the lack of confidence at MK Dons, it was their 2-1 home defeat to Charlton Athletic.

What preceded the opener for their visitors was a 10-minute spell of MK Dons pressure. Wing-backs Callum Brittain and Josh Tymon flied down the flanks with gusto, while Kieran Agard and Robbie Muirhead linked play well, with the Ousseynou Cisse’s header straight at the goalkeeper being their best opening.

Unfortunately for Dan Micciche, Conor McGrandles was caught dallying on the ball and was punished mercilessly by Ahmed Kashi. Confidence drained from the veins of MK, who were

too slow both to close down in their defensive third and to get the ball forward when they did turnover possession.

That trend didn’t change until Charlton’s second goal on the hour mark. Some poor marking from Dean Lewington – whose lack of pace made him unfortunately a liability all afternoon – allowed Josh Magennis to steal in at the back-post.

Midfielder Aidan Nesbitt, evidently well-liked by the fans, entered the fray a minute later to inspire a mini-revival from the hosts. Nesbitt’s relentless chasing of lost causes down the left allowed Tymon and others to get more involved again in a 10-minute period, which saw MK Dons play with far more urgency and intent. George Williams flicked on Robbie Muirhead’s left-wing corner to find Kieran Agard, who ended his two-month goal drought.

That though, along with the performances of wing-backs Brittain and Tymon, were the only positives for the Buckinghamshire outfit, who didn’t apply the late crescendo of pressure that their bright spell hinted at. Defeat sees them six points adrift of safety and, for Micciche and everyone associated with the club, the pressure is on.

Charlton take control

Charlton Athletic had to withstand two 10-minute spells of pressure in their 2-1 win at MK Dons on Saturday, but the surrounding 70 minutes saw them dominate conclusively.

Ahmed Kashi stole the ball to strike an early opener against the run of play, but what will most please Karl Robinson upon his return to his old stomping ground, will be the way his players managed the game.

Charlton knocked the ball around at will, picking their moment to attack the final third. While the classic 4-3-3 would see two wide forwards either side of Josh Magennis, who ran the channels superbly, the Addicks deployed a narrower system. Sulley Kaikai and Ben Reeves acted effectively as narrow 10s and the latter, another former MK Dons associate, relished his role of pantomime villain.

Reeves ran rings around the opposing midfield, beating the goalkeeper all ends up with a powerful strike that sailed narrowly wide just before half-time. Midfielder Joe Aribo grew in prominence in the second half and after a fine counter-attacking move led by Magennis, Aribo hit the post, so close to experiencing the kind of joy one might associate with his name.

Partner Jake Forster-Caskey also put in some excellent deliveries, including one for the second goal on the hour mark, as the excellent Magennis eluded his marker to steer the ball home at the back-post.

Charlton had been guilty of dropping points from winning positions lately so when Kieran Agard reduced the areas, fans were right to be nervous. Karl Robinson though showed impressive tactical nous, introducing Harry Lennon at left-back to push Jay Dasilva further forward, thus stemming the tide.

While the capital club are known for their possession play under Robinson, they also kept a sturdy shape out of possession which was key to the protection for centre-backs; the hard-hitting Patrick Bauer and the ball-playing Ezri Konsa.

Their reward for a roundly controlled display that sees them climb to sixth in the League One table – on this evidence, they are not too far away from producing a Championship calibre side.

Jose parks the car at Oakwell

We naturally associate Barnsley – to an extent the town itself as well as the football club – with unity in adversity. The absence of financial advantages – be it in the battle against Thatcherism or big-spending Championship competitors - means that success demands collectivism and other strong human qualities.

18 months ago, they had a core of characters who exemplified this. Chairman Patrick Cryne and handy man Norman Rimmington, both sadly no longer with us, were Barnsley born and bred, as were captain Marc Roberts and manager Paul Heckingbottom. The latter duo have since left for Birmingham and Leeds respectively to give way to a change of regime that might also change the way outsiders view the South Yorkshire club.

Chien Lee is an American-Chinese investor, Billy Beane has been played by Brad Pitt in the film ‘Moneyball’ and now, the new head coach they have appointed is Jose Morais, who has been a close colleague of Jose Mourinho.

Morais, who joined the club on Friday, won’t have come on the cheap. He can understand seven different languages, he has a wealth of experience and will bring with him an extensively useful contacts book following his time as an assistant with Porto, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea.

In fact, the only question surrounding Morais is the small matter of whether he can actually manage. Johnny Georgopoulos from says of the 52-year-old’s time with AEK Athens:

“He had a poor record of 3 wins, 8 draws and 3 losses… but numbers sometimes are not saying the truth! Morais took over AEK in hard times but he managed to organize tactically the team. AEK played under his guidance better football. They had a plan, he used youngsters and he tried to build a decent team. He was very respected and players liked the way he worked, even captain Petros Mantalos said that under Morais all the players were improved.

If Morais was well-liked in the capital then, it begs the question as to why results went awry.

“They were very unlucky. A lot of almost certain goals ended up to the crossbar! He was unlucky because of many injuries also. He knows how to prepare the team before games but he is not so efficient during the matches to make the right changes. Morais was a gentleman. A very kind and generous man. Even when he resigned he took responsibility.”

Providing the Lisborn-born leader can learn lessons from his time at Athens, it appears Barnsley have potentially a very good head coach on their hands. Even if they don’t however, Morais’ arrival at least signifies that the Tykes now have the ambition and possibly the wherewithal to compete as high up the English football pyramid as possible. No longer plucky underdogs – stay up and Barnsley could become a force to be reckoned with.

One F in Fulham

There’s only One F in Fulham, if the club’s unofficial fanzine is to be believed. Anyone who has watched the Cottagers since Christmas – in which time they’ve taken 23 points, more than any other side – would say that F stands for ‘fantastic’.

In that time, Ryan Sessegnon has scored as many as seven goals, after his opener in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa. Bear in mind that the academy graduate, only 17, was predominantly a left-back competing with Scott Malone for most of last season and we can see remarkable development.

He showed signs of weakness in a back-four earlier in the season but since moving to a more advanced role, he has shown the clever knack of getting into goalscoring positions that one might expect from a primetime Louis Saha.

It doesn’t half make things easier for an attacking player though when their teammates play with the freedom that Fulham do. Ryan Fredericks, in this blog’s view the best right-back in the Championship, made a surging run to the byline to reach Floyd Ayite’s inch-perfect through ball, before Sessegnon bended his run into the space to slot home.

Ayite was then confidence personified: he took advantage of Sam Johnstone’s miskick to shoot into an empty net from as far out as the centre-circle. Aleksandar Mitrovic, who had a quiet first half, came alive after the interval and began occupying Villa’s centre-backs, almost rewarded with a third goal from close-range, but for Johnstone’s save.

The Villans’ Second City Derby victory last week felt defining, yet their defeat this week, which saw them overtaken in the promotion race by Cardiff, proves there’s a long way to go. Fulham, who unleashed a serious statement of intent with their victory and second half display, have established themselves as part of that equation.

Sarll’s Stevenage finally celebrate

It has been known for a few weeks now that while Stevenage accrued enough points pre-December to secure their EFL status, a run of just three league wins since November has put pay to any play-off hopes.

The most pertinent question at The Lamex therefore is not so much what division the club will be in when 2018-19 dawns, but who the man in the dugout will be. While good performances and wins, like the 4-1 triumph over Yeovil, won’t define the way their season is remembered – an underwhelming one – it will at least build some confidence, and trust in Darren Sarll.

The 35-year-old was given a lift on 16 minutes when one of his mid-season signings, Luke Amos, capped off a brilliant team move by striking home from 25-yards. Another midfielder, Jonathan Smith, added a second with yet another impressive hit from outside the box, after recently returning from injury.

Striker Danny Newton bagged his 10th home goal of the season (12th in total) just a minute after the break following Ben Kennedy’s cross, before the latter showed great footwork in the box before firing past Jonny Maddison.

Yeovil’s Ryan Seager denied Boro a rare clean sheet but ultimately, this performance once again highlights the potential in Sarll’s side, who have hit three or more home goals on six occasions this term.

The question is whether they do so on a regular basis. There is reason to think the current squad, which now sits in 15th place, is still underachieving, but more performances like the one on Saturday will build faith that consistency can be found.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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