MK Dons’ return from League Two last season was not unexpected given Paul Tisdale was in charge.
The former Exeter boss, a thoughtful and philosophical manager, has great experience of the division and kept everyone calm in a frightfully entertaining run-in.
Victory on the final day against Mansfield saw the club promoted instead of their opponents but that was as good as it got for Tisdale.
He struggled, partly due to a chronic injury crisis to forward players, to get MK Dons firing in the third-tier and the board eventually decided to part ways with their man.
Who should they turn to next? None other than Russell Martin.
The former Norwich defender had been playing for the club at the time of Tisdale’s departure and he has stepped into the breach to do rather better than a lot of people expected.
Here are three reasons why...
It’s not always the case, but sometimes players who become managers find it hard to decide what system they want to play or the style they want their team to employ. Or they can do the opposite and ask their new charges to buy into something that is not in their capability to play or is just too complicated.
Russell Martin has avoided this by making sure he keeps it simple. That’s not to say the team aren’t playing an expansive style, but rather they know their jobs and stick to them.
Martin has selected a tactical system that suits the players already at the club which is really the only way to find success. All too often the expression ‘square pegs in round holes’ is used to describe a side who look tactically awkward, but MK have been able to dominate possession, keep hold of the ball and play out from the back, something the squad appear very comfortable to do.
This has been especially fruitful at home where Martin’s side have won six of their last seven matches.
Russell Martin replaced Paul Tisdale in November 2019
Having strikers help
Sometimes a manager’s fortunes are not just down to the tactics or system but also to a large slice of luck. Martin has been able to reap the benefits of having key forwards returning from injury including star man Rhys Healey.
The former Cardiff man has hit 10 goals in just 16 appearances this season including one in each of the last five games. His clinical edge in front of goal, plus the return of Joe Mason and Sam Nombe, has given Russell Martin’s side a real edge that has helped them pull away from the drop zone.
It’s who you know
Russell Martin is a Norwich City legend and he has used his connections with the East Anglian club to good effect already.
Louis Thompson joined on loan in midfield while the signing of Carlton Morris is definitely a coup for MK especially considering their position in the League One table. He decided to leave his loan spell at Rotherham and join Martin at Stadium MK to get more game time and his contribution has been brilliant. He is a selfless runner who works tirelessly to the benefit of players like Healey, who is reaping the rewards.
It has been a promising start for Martin, and he clearly feels grateful for the opportunity. It will now be a case of continuing this fine work into the summer and making 2020/21 a much brighter campaign.