MK Dons Season Preview: playing out from the back

mk donsMK Dons won 27 games in the 2014/15 season and just nine the year after. What changed in that time was the division, of course, and the attacking quality available. What did not change was their expansive style of play, which will remain a constant as long as Karl Robinson is manager. This year, they are back in League One and will expect to win more games – but has the attacking quality improved? Supporter Joe Rider (@kingcarruthers7) speaks to The Football Lab.

MK Dons went down last season, scoring just 38 goals. Given that key attacking players had moved on, was relegation largely down to a lack of quality in the final third?

Yeah obviously if we wanted to stay in a division we had never been in before then goals were always going to be needed and we didn’t deliver last season. Losing Benik Afobe, Will Grigg and Dele Alli was always going to be tough and replacing them was going to be even harder as we found out. Simon church came in a scored 3 goals in half a season led to him being loaned out to Scottish side Aberdeen, Nicky Maynard came and did average for us for most of the season with him being our top goalscorer with only 6 goals which sums it all up really. Alex Revell scored 4 in the second half of the season and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scored 0 in the few games he had. With our biggest win being 4-1 on the opening game of the season shows that consistency was no where to be seen when it comes to high scoring games.

You tended to play out from the back in an open, possession-based system last season. Did you become more prone to defensive errors as a result?

Yeah Karl Robinson has a particular style of football which at times can be a joy to watch and it’s great to see us have a manager who knows exactly what he wants his players to do. The negative side about this is that way too many goals over the last couple of years has come from this style of ‘pass it out the back’. Even when our fans know that we shouldn’t pass it out because maybe there is a man-on or it’s in the last minutes of the game but we’ll still try and stick to this one way of playing football and it cost us very much last year.

Karl Robinson has been there since 2010 and is one of the longest serving managers in England. Do you think his mistake last season was not playing with two strikers more often?

The only problem with us playing two up is that we didn’t have a third striker if we needed to switch one of them up. We have makeshift strikers in Daniel Powell and Dean Bowditch however they aren’t natural strikers and in a league that they are inexperienced in it would probably wouldn’t have worked however when we went to two up-font in certain games, we looked a different team which makes us think that if he had of played 2 up-front for the whole season and brought in another striker on the bench then possibly we might may stayed up.

Alex Revell has moved onto local rivals Northampton. Given that the target man has thrived under managers who favour a long ball style of play, do you think he struggled in a more possession-based system?

Yeah obviously no one was happy that he moved to Northampton especially how he did so well for us in a short period of time. He wasn’t the most technically gifted player but he did he job really well at holding the ball up and spreading it out wide, he showed great determination to do his best in a style of play that he wasn’t used to and that was highly appreciated. He had good competition with Maynard as he knew how to play our style of football but he still managed to be played over Maynard which shows how well he did in an unfamiliar philosophy.

You’ll be playing AFC Wimbledon in a league match for the first time ever. Is that something fans are excited about? And is the sense of rivalry shared by all fans?

AFC is the game that everyone is looking out for, the passion of both fans will create an amazing atmosphere. As you say it’s the first time we play them in the league but we’ve played them 3 times now and we have them 2-1 at the moment. The first game was special, it still gets talked about today with “the heel of god” that won us the game. The second time was in 2014 in the capital one cup first round and we beat them again 3-1 which took us into the next round against Manchester United and everyone knows how that turned out. The final last time was in the JPT, they beat us and credit to them as it meant a lot to them that day. Our fans are buzzing, this game affects us more than the players themselves. We’ve never really had a derby before except for Peterborough but this means so much more to everyone involved with the club. I’m good mates with a certain player and I’ve talked about this fixture with him and I know this game means a lot to him.

Goalkeeper David Martin put in some strong performances for you last year. Did you struggle in his absence?

David Martin’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, I think he got about 9 clean sheets last season and he deserved player of the year but to miss him for the most crucial part of the season where we were on a good run of form before he got his injury was a massive reason to our relegation. We had Cody Cropper as a back-up, he was at fault for some of the goals that we conceded and he wasn’t the most confident either which didn’t help. When we thought things couldn’t get worse, unfortunately it did when he then got suspended and injured during the last games of the season. All we had left was 20 year-old Charlie Burns who made his debut against play-off finalists Sheffield Wednesday and kept a clean sheet which looked promising as we neared relegation but his best efforts couldn’t help us. Dave was superb throughout the 2014/15 season and he’ll be looking to do it again this year round.

You shipped a lot of late goals last term. Why do you think this was?

Late goals sent us down last season without a doubt. Huddersfield, Blackburn, Ipswich, Middlesbrough, and a classic Antony Kay 87 minute own goal against Leeds cost us too many points for us to stay in a demanding Championship that we couldn’t keep up with. We switched off before the games were over, we were inexperienced in the league and wasn’t expecting the games to fight to the end but we never learned our lesson we kept losing focus.

Centre-back Paul Downing was criticized at Walsall for defending quite timidly. Fair to say this isn’t the most exciting signing?

No set of fans dream of hearing that they have signed a centre back and this was no change for us. However the signing of Paul Downing was good news for Dons fans as Antony Kay had already gone and Kyle McFazdean was on his way and now has left for Burton Albion. Paul Downing is a decent signing for us as mistakes are usual from centre backs at Stadium MK however he has potential to be a good signing and so far he has been solid but we will have to wait until the first game of the season.

Dean Lewington has been at the club from the beginning. However, does the signing of George Williams suggest his place at left-back could be under threat?

Unfortunately Deano is coming to an age where he will have to think about retiring. I think the signing of George Williams is for back to Lewie as he won’t be able to play every game this season and George will also need experience for future years and this is a great way to get started.

Samir Carruthers showed flashes of creativity last season. Are you looking for more consistency from him and new signing Ed Upson?

Yeah personally I’m a massive Samir Carruthers fan and last year it was a pleasure to see him get a great run of games and to play consistently well through a tough season and with the signing of Ed Upson they can form a great partnership together. It makes me wonder about Darren Potter as he is vice captain so he may get started ahead of one of the other two which could potentially ruin the chemistry between Samir and Ed but also could mean that Samir could play further forward.

Your first three signings this year being on free transfers, two of which defenders. Should the club have spent big on a forward or two?

As of yet we have spent no money, four free transfers of two defenders, one midfielder and a striker. If we want any chance of going back up, we need to spend money and we to buy big players such as a striker and a few wingers. If we keep buying players on a free it’s not the end of the world but money will need to be spent before the start of the seson. Money has been limited for our club since the beginning, Pete Winkelman’s dream came reality until now when our dream has come to a stand still as the money isn’t enough to compete to sign the best players. As money is getting more and more involved with players decisions to join certain teams and we are struggling with being able to sign the best players and compete in the championship.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

League one is as tough as ever this year. Charlton, Coventry, Peterborough, Bradford, Walsall, Sheffield United and of course us all going for automatic promotion places. All those teams have quality players and play great football and I’m obviously going to say that we are the favourites but everyone has a chance and it will be interesting to see who will it. We seem to struggle against Bradford, they always put on a good game and I hope that continues.

Where will you finish?

I generally believe that we will finish 1st, league champions 2016/17.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

MK Dons did not have enough quality in the final third last season and summer business does little to solve that problem. They are in danger of missing out on the top six. 7th