The Eight-Point Plan For Russ Martin At MK Dons

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 04 November 2019, 14:37

Russ Martin has been appointed the new Milton Keynes Dons manager, after Paul Tisdale was dismissed on Saturday evening.

With barely any experience in coaching let alone in management, this is certainly a jump into the unknown for the former centre-back, who inherits a team currently inside the League One relegation battle.

We’ve compiled an eight-point plan for how he should start his managerial career.

1. Avoid defeat at Bolton

A trip to Bolton Wanderers will be MK Dons’ first league game under the new manager and, although they are 15 points above their hosts, the Trotters have three games in hand.

Bolton have just won back-to-back league games and if they continue their current form against MK, there could be a danger of them closing the gap.

2. Keep things tight

MK’s defence has done ok this season.

Jordan Moore-Taylor, a born leader with upper-body strength, more than deserves his opportunity at this level, sandwiched by an accomplished ball-player in Regan Poole and a no-nonsense centre-back in Joe Walsh.

The team needs to maintain its organisation and hope Lee Nicholls continues his 2019-20 resurgence, having made 33 saves this season; the second-most in the division.

3. Stay in touch until January

Pete Winkelman put a lot of faith in the promotion-winning group.

The squad is, he thought, better than the eventual third place suggested due to the high-number of mid-season injuries; now though, Winkelman may regret his modest recruitment policy.

MK will surely strengthen in January, but there are seven league games to play between now and then.

4. Stand up to Lewington

Karl Robinson, Robbie Neilson, Dan Micciche and Paul Tisdale have all incurred blame when results have gone badly – at times, justifiably so.

Lewington, though, is a common denominator in the club’s relative decline; the veteran has started 163 league games dating back to 2015-16.

Of course, ‘Lewie’ was an ever-present in last season’s promotion from League Two, when his leadership, battling spirit and set piece proficiency were valuable.

One questions, however,, Lewington’s ability to cope with the pace and intensity of games above the fourth tier, especially when deployed in a wing-back system used in 13 of the 16 league games this term.

Lewington does not have the pace to attack the flank directly, so he must wait for a centre-back – often Baily Cargill last season – to overlap him.

That worked in League Two, when teams gave MK time to get their wide centre-backs out; the team does not have that luxury in League One and we are seeing Lewington struggle.

It could be that part of the reason he keeps his place in the team is because of his popularity with fans, his strong relationship with Winkelman and general political influence.

Were a non-league recruit putting in some of the League One performances that Lewington has been, they would likely lose their place.

If MK are to move forward, there must be a meritocracy and that means adding a left-back who can replace Lewington.

5. Add the right striker

The current squad does not have a complete striker in their ranks.

Kieran Agard is a proven poacher in the division below, but he offers very little in general play, especially at this level, where the team has struggled to create the same volume of chances.

By contrast, Jordan Bowery grafts hard in the channels but, having been a “one in four” striker at League Two Crewe, he does not offer much of a goalscoring presence in the division below let alone the third tier.

With Sam Nombe likely to be sidelined until 2020, wide forward Rhys Healey also out long-term and Dylan Asonganyi likely to be deemed as little more than an option from the bench, Martin will have to make sure he adds the right front-man in January.

6. Increase the goalscoring potential

The team has netted just twice in their last nine league games – strikers are not solely to blame.

The other issue is a lack of goalscoring nous in midfield, despite Ben Reeves’ return from injury. Alex Gilbey is not shy to have a shot when the moment comes, but he directs his energy towards many other phases of play.

Jordan Houghton is a very disciplined midfielder, who typically scores once in 20 games, David Kasumu has started three games as an attacking midfielder but for his pressing rather than technical contributions.

Boateng has only scored three goals in his career, Conor McGrandles has only bagged once in the league since 2014 and Ryan Harley, though a capable technician in his day, now looks past his best at 34.

The team has taken on average 10.1 shots per game, the second-fewest in League One, as well as just 5.4 shots from inside the area per game, the third-fewest; of the 10.1 total efforts, only 2.7 per game have hit the target, which is again the second-fewest.

Martin must change that.

7. Trust in youth

Although MK Dons are in a relegation battle, they should not forsake their identity.

On paper, it seems safer to trust experience in a dogfight yet in practice, it has arguably been the younger players who have been the more impressive.

Kasumu has brought energy and dynamism to the midfield, Callum Brittain has at times linked up nicely with George Williams and Nombe, pre-injury, ran in behind with raw enthusiasm, as we saw against AFC Wimbledon in September.

8. Show the passion

Tisdale was overall a success at Stadium:MK and his overriding legacy will be last season’s promotion.

Tisdale’s tendency to remove himself from the emotion of a situation was undoubtedly a strength last term, but it can sometimes become a weakness.

One of the reasons Martin has been given the job is because he is such an effervescent, lively character who loves talking to other people; perhaps he can bring fresh energy and re-invigorate supporters.

Pressure on Winkelman

The 33-year-old’s lack of experience makes him a risk, much like the appointment of Dan Micciche was during the 2017-18 relegation season.

Equally, Winkelman has handed the likes of Roberto Di Matteo and Karl Robinson their first managerial jobs, with some success.

More recently, the chairman has struggled to make the right appointments and the post-Robinson era has probably been a case of one hit and two misses.

As the club fears a third relegation in five seasons, it may need fresh leadership off the field. That was not so important under Tisdale, who has such a control-exuding aura himself, so used to overseeing a club’s long-term development at Exeter, that he almost does not need a strong chairman.

Russ Martin, though, does not have the same characteristics or experience and if MK continue to favour young managers, they will need firmer guidance.

That may mean either a changing of hands from Winkelman, or the introduction of a Director of Football because otherwise, we could see a political vacuum.

Put simply, results must dictate that Winkelman has got this decision right; his legacy depends on it.

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