Milton Keynes Dons 1-1 Stevenage Six Things: Stadium:MK stalemate

Paul Tisdale – bbc.co.uk

Milton Keynes Dons and Stevenage were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at Stadium:MK on Saturday, after Ilias Chair’s first half strike was cancelled out by Chuks Aneke’s second half finish from close-range. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Cagey start

Stevenage began brightly and showed their threat with diagonal balls from the likes of Johnny Hunt and Mark McKee to two tall forwards, Kurtis Guthrie and Alex Revell. The former flicked the ball on for the latter to poke straight at Lee Nicholls, before Boro then retreated into a more disciplined shape to allow their hosts more possession. Unfortunately for MK Dons though, the link between defensive and attacking units was not quite there in the first half as they struggled to create in open play.

Chair lifts Stevenage

By far the most eye-catching performer in the first half was Ilias Chair. Although the QPR loanee is not quick over long-distances, his low centre of gravity allowed him to accelerate incredibly quickly in tight areas and that made him a serious threat; no opposing player wanted to risk challenging him and thus, he so often held onto the ball in the final third whilst improving his side’s position. It was fitting, therefore, that Chair bagged Stevenage’s first half goal when invited to shoot from outside the box, as his well-placed, if not particularly powerful, effort, found it’s way past Nicholls.

The Cuthbert and Nugent double-act

Scott Cuthbert and Ben Nugent furthered their reputations as being among the best centre-backs in League Two. Cuthbert was the aggressive battler, forcing opposing forwards into wide areas away from goalscoring positions, while Nugent held the fort, heading away balls into the box to deny clear-cut chances. Although, Stevenage’s excellent defending was very much a team effort; it felt like every player at one stage or another – even Chair – dropped back in the box to head a cross away, such was the collective determination that Dino Maamria has ingrained.

Simpson the focal point

In the first half, MK Dons had needed a quicker striker to make the most of forward passes lacking in accuracy. After the interval, they swung in several crosses, with Jake Hesketh and Callum Brittain growing more involved down the right, the game called for a target man with the physical presence to attack those deliveries. The 59th-minute introduction of Simpson, however, made a huge difference in terms of occupying defenders. After Russ Martin had forced an excellent stop from Paul Farman, their best chance came on 77 minutes, when McGrandles’ right-wing corner was flicked on at the near-post by Alex Gilbey, with Agard unable to convert. Then, on 83-minutes, Simpson’s presence allowed Chuks Aneke to ghost into a left-sided cross and fire home from close-range . Stevenage though arguably finished the stronger, with Chair’s free-kick and long-range effort going just wide, either side of Joel Byrom’s shot, which flew off-target following Luther Wildin’s counter-attacking cross.

Progression for Stevenage

Ordinarily, a point away to one of the automatic promotion contenders would be a good result for Stevenage, who would not have had the defensive organisation to avoid defeat in this type of game last season. While it represents a step forward in terms of progression under Maamria as a whole, it is perhaps a small step back in terms of their hunt for a play-off spot, with the Hertfordshire outfit now five points off with eight games to play – although, they do have a favourable run in and can take confidence from this display.

Dropped points for MK?

Thanks to a spirited second half display, MK Dons certainly addressed question marks about the intensity and drive in their performance, because they had all the territorial advantages after the break. For various reasons, their playing identity does not appear quite as refined as it was earlier in the campaign and there were moments of hesitation in the final third, which suggests that a point was about what they deserved. Although they move one point clear of fourth, with neither Mansfield and Tranmere in action, this arguably represents two points dropped in terms of the automatic promotion race – home victory over Yeovil next week is now essential.