Milton Keynes Dons 0-1 Crewe Alexandra Six Things: dogged display sees Alex to victory

Alex Gilbey – @MKDonsFC

Crewe Alexandra boosted their top half aspirations with a 1-0 victory at promotion-chasing Milton Keynes Dons, thanks to Charlie Kirk’s first half strike. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Disjointed MK Dons 

Crewe Alexandra played with more confidence in the first half than a return of one away win all season would suggest, yet the balance for MK Dons was not quite right. With Rhys Healey back at Cardiff for the moment, Peter Pawlett was his ‘replacement’, yet the Scot was more comfortable tracking back than he was pressing in the final third, meaning the system looked more like a 3-5-2 than the 3-4-3 we saw previously. Because neither Conor McGrandles nor Dean Lewington could attack the flank directly, MK Dons either had to cross from deep or wait for wide centre-backs Joe Walsh and Baily Cargill to overlap, which perhaps slowed the tempo of their play. It was not as if the setup gave them extra security, either, because when Cargill overlapped, Lewington did not always retreat accordingly and thus, we saw wide open spaces for the visitors to attack in transition.

Kirk impresses

Luckily for the hosts, Crewe did not quite have the pace up top in Chris Porter and Jordan Bowery to take full advantage of that vulnerability, but they put together some crisp passing moves. After one of them, instigated by the bright Callum Ainley, James Jones rolled wide from the edge of the box, before right-back Perry Ng, a prominent influence on the game, forced a save from Lee Nicholls. Crewe could have gone a goal down on the half-hour mark when Walsh crossed for Peter Pawlett to tap home, only to be ruled out by the offside flag, but after that Crewe scored the opener. After another attractive passing move from Crewe, the vibrant Ryan Wintle set up Kirk, who peeled into the space before tucking home into the far corner.

Alex against The Alex

Alex Gilbey’s injury was a big factor behind last season’s relegation for MK Dons, because he is a spirited character who brings energy to the team on and off the field. Unsurprisingly, it was Gilbey who got them going after the goal; the former Colchester midfielder struck an awkward, bouncing shot within a minute of kick-off when Ben Garratt palmed away, before forcing a close-range stop from Garratt after Aneke’s lay-off. In the second half, Gilbey was the one trying to up the tempo with quick, forward passes and the hosts certainly played with more urgency in that time. However, they did not quite have a focal point in the box.

Subs a factor

On 66 minutes, Paul Tisdale decided to replace striker Kieran Agard, who has scored 13 goals this season, with Osman Sow. True, Agard had struggled to get the better of centre-backs George Ray and Eddie Nolan, who defended superbly, but one might ask whether it might have been more suitable for a defensive player to be sacrificed for Sow. When the forward came on, he showed a willingness to run the channels but, one or two of his crosses would have been perfect for Agard, yet there was nobody there in the box. By contrast, David Artell replaced the hardworking Ainley for Tommy Lowery, who injected fresh energy and vigour into Crewe’s play to relieve pressure on the rear-guard. In the closing stages, it was arguably the visitors who came closest to scoring the next goal, with Ng’s wonderful solo run not quite matched by the quality of his shot and Wintle having an 85th-minute strike disallowed. Still, the closest MK came to scoring was through various penalty appeals, which shows how stoutly Crewe defended en route to a deserved victory.

Tisdale must be backed

MK Dons were dealt a sizeable blow to their promotion hopes. Throughout the afternoon, there was always at least something about them structurally that was not quite right, be that the vulnerabilities in wide areas in the first half or that absence of a focal point, a brave centre-forward, in the second. Tisdale has done a very good job so far this season to repair morale in Buckinghamshire and, for that reason, Pete Winkleman’s response to this run of one win in six should be to give him as much help as possible in the transfer market. Bringing back Healey, as well as perhaps a left wing-back to take some of the burden off Lewington, who made his 600th appearance for the club on Saturday, would be a positive start.

Railwaymen on the right lines?

David Artell has perhaps divided opinion among Alex fans during his reign to date, but he deserves credit for a run of one defeat in six which has boosted their top half aspirations. More tellingly, they outplayed Lincoln in that period and deservedly beat MK Dons – with the latter two sides having long been considered the two best in this division, at least until the rise of Bury, who dished out Crewe’s only defeat in that sequence. Having shown they can play good football in the first half at Stadium:MK, then do the ugly side in the second period, the forthcoming visit of promotion contenders Colchester and Carlisle will certainly not faze them.