Don’t Stop Believing - Notes for MK Dons
Friday, 20th Aug 2021 15:00 by TomTheWriter
Ahead of Town’s return to Portman Road to face the MK Dons, TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp.
It has been a slow start to the season for Ipswich Town, with the Blues preparing for their second home game of the league season.
The visitors, MK Dons, were rocked themselves with the departure of manager Russell Martin to Swansea City just before the start of the league season. Despite building a very talented squad, he decided to take the jump to the Championship.
The club will be looking to improve on their results from last season, finishing the League One campaign in 13th place, with 18 wins, 11 draws and 17 losses. Martin implemented an impressive possession-based tactic last season, which was good on the eye but left them barren in front of goal.
Dean Lewington was the pass master at the age of 37, confidently moving the ball across the backline. Matt O’Riley was an inspired winter signing, with Will Grigg following suit on loan from Sunderland. Star man Scott Fraser was deadly in front of the net, but departed for Town at the end of the season.
“I don't think any of us were actually aware of him before the link, but he certainly fits the expected type and seems a good choice. Even if it doesn't work with him, we'll probably (and hopefully) go down a similar route the next time”, “I hadn't actually heard of him, but, having read up about him, then he sounded as good, or better, then the other candidates who were linked with it”, “I really like the idea of the head coach. Liam Manning ticks all of the boxes as to what we were looking for, sound appointment, he worked a minor miracle at Lommel in just one season.”
Taken from the infamous ‘Manchester City Football Group,’ Liam Manning was the manager of Lommel SK in Belgium before being given his first-step into English football management. The ex-Ipswich Town coach and one-time academy youngster has been entrusted with continuing the structure put in place by the departed Martin.
Manning arrives off the back of a successful spell in Belgium, making a name for himself as “a young manager with a preference for possession-based football and developing players”, “Manning has been in charge for 48 hours, but I can already see a more passing with purpose team, than [Martin’s] passing for the sake of it”, “Snakeball is dead, we’re now playing Mannball.”
“I think [Martin] is invested in the 'process' and he strikes me as the type of person who will recognise the faith [chairman] Pete [Winkelman] and co have put in him (including significant investment in the players Russ wanted) and in turn want to stick with the club for a little while longer”, “Really hope it’s not Martin. Losing a manager so close to the start of the season would be a huge blow”, “I don't think Russ will leave”, “God I really, really don't want Russ to leave.”
Former Milton Keynes Dons manager Russell Martin celebrates with Scott Fraser
Just before the 2021/22 season was to be kicked off, rumours were flying around that Swansea City had approached MK Dons to speak to Russell Martin for their vacant head coach role. Dons fans were hopeful that nothing would come of it, but they were unable to keep their man in charge.
“Russell Martin has just confirmed he’s a lying, untrustworthy character and this will come back to bite him”, “Does Russ the Rat work for you?”, “Hopefully he will get them relegated”, “That won’t happen, he’ll be sacked well before that”, “Russell Martin is the Michael Gove of football”, “The recruitment team assembled a good one before Martin left so the new manager has a lot to work with.”
Martin had spent over a year changing the ethos of the club, moulding them into a possession-based side, suffocating the opposition with quick passes across the pitch. However, the results did not match the expectation, but they did lead to Swansea City taking an interest in Martin.
Manning hasn’t made a signing since his arrival at the beginning of August, with Martin doing all the prep work before his departure. Nine players have joined the club, with nine going in the other direction.
“I can only wish him all the best going forward. Thanks for everything you've done for us Scotty. Hope it goes well for you at Ipswich. I'll certainly miss you.”
Top goalscorer Fraser was the biggest departure in the summer for MK, making the move to Town for an undisclosed fee. Goalkeeper Lee Nichols and veteran Cameron Jerome both moved to the Championship, joining Huddersfield Town and Luton Town.
Highly-rated prospect Matthew Sorinola moved over to Europe to join Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. The Belgian side have history with Ipswich, having beaten them 2-1 in a pre-season friendly back in 2016.
Jordan Houghton’s release saw him snapped up by Plymouth Argyle, whilst Sam Nombe and Ben Gladwin dropped down to League Two with Exeter City and Swindon Town.
Compared to the squad that ended the 2020/21 season, six of the starting XI from MK’s 3-0 home defeat to Rochdale remain at the club, with four of the substitutes still signed on.
With Martin’s business looking very impressive before his departure, MK Dons fans have already found their strongest area. “Our attack is exciting. We're going to score a lot and concede a lot this season”, “We are more direct and attacking than last season”, “Three good options now for the two spots, with [Charlie] Brown as an extra alternative. That's a very good attack for League One standards.”
However, as with every team, there will always be spots in the side that aren’t looking the strongest. “There's no glaring weakness to the squad - except maybe understudy goalkeeper and one more left wing-back. And maybe one more striker if the injury to [Max Watters] from Cardiff proves a lengthy one”, “Defence needs a LOT of work”, “Some absolutely comical stuff from our goalkeeper and defence.”
MK Dons 2-1 Charlton Athletic
“It's early days, but there is so much to be excited about with this squad. We needed and deserved that”, “If the majority of tonight is anything to go by, Manning has taken the best of Russ-ball, tightened things up a little playing out the back and pushed a real urgency with our attacking play”, “We do need to stop starting so slowly, [we] won't be able to overturn a deficit every game.”
“[Troy] Parrott in particular is absolutely fantastic. Combines the technicality of Fraser with the goalscoring instincts of Jerome”, “Parrott is one hell of a player”, “Parrott's goal was superb and I'm liking what I've seen of [Mo] Eisa so far, the first time we have a real poacher in the box for a very long time and maybe even ever had one.”
MK started in their favoured 3-5-2 formation, with five summer signings featuring from the off. Ex-Blues loanee Parrott and Mo Eisa scored for the home side on Tuesday, coming from behind to beat a Charlton team put ahead by Jayden Stockley.
MK Dons 1-2 Sunderland AFC
“Fell asleep sometimes at the back but really thought we were good for a point, shame we didn’t get it”, “We were quality in the second half. We only lost due to some awful defending and a goalkeeper mistake”, “I thought we played really well after half-time against a team that I'd expect to be in and around the automatic spots come the end of the season.”
“That Parrott also looked very good”, “Troy Parrott is not the player I was expecting. More physical, more determined and one heck of a worker off the ball”, “I think the Spurs loanee on the evidence I’ve seen will top the scoring for the Dons this season, he looks a fairly complete player, with strength on the ball with quick feet.”
The first game at Stadium MK ended in defeat for the home side as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Sunderland. The club have kept a very consistent side through their first three games this season, making only one change to their starting XI.
“Can’t help but feel part of the issue with the defence today was the sheer lack of confidence in [Laurie] Walker”, “Walker's kicking and passing is atrocious”, “He's a lot better than he was the last time I saw him. That loan spell [at Oldham Athletic] has worked wonders for him.”
Walker started MK’s first league game of the season away to Bolton Wanderers, but recently joined Oldham Athletic on a seven-day emergency loan.
Number one Andy Fisher completed the most short passes by any goalkeeper in League One last season, over 400 more than Mike Cooper of Plymouth Argyle. His ball retention is very impressive and will need more of the same this season.
“[Franco] Ravizzoli had a pretty good game but still far from convinced.” Martin’s second signing of the summer was Eastbourne Borough’s Ravizzoli, a 24-year-old Argentine goalkeeper. “Ravizzoli does not look ready at all, and I'm not convinced by Walker either”, “They must have confidence in Franco to be the number two keeper or they wouldn't have signed him.”
“Harry Darling showed a great deal of promise last season but thus far he has consistently looked like a disaster looking for [something] to happen”, “He’s not afraid to bring the ball out when the time is right, very rare in young centre-backs, he’s good in the air and has an eye for a pass, long or short”, “He’s still developing and we need a bit of patience, but he will go on to greater things and add to the clubs coffers when that time comes.”
Signed in January of 2021, Darling made the step up from League Two seamlessly. Part of the Cambridge United side that was in the top two last season, Darling’s ability on the ball attracted the attention of MK.
“Slow on the ball, poor distribution and lacks any pace for recovery”, “I didn’t think [Zak Jules] was completely bad today, I just think he is a weak link in the defence. His passing is really poor and so slow. He’s not at the same level as Darling and [Warren] O’Hora”, “He reads the game defensively very well, made good interventions and tackles today but his touch and distribution is poor.”
Another winter signing, Jules arrived at MK Dons from Walsall in League Two, but didn’t hit the ground running like Darling did. A versatile option across the back-line, Jules will be battling Dean Lewington for the left centre-back spot this season.
“Aden Baldwin looks very good. Physically a beast, composed and made an outstanding tackle”, “The last thing I want is to be negative about a signing but hard to imagine a player that's made four appearances in League Two having any impact or improvement on quality in the squad”, “I trust [sporting director] Liam [Sweeting] and Russ to know what they’re doing, on paper it does seem a strange signing, but I’ve never seen him play, but they obviously have and see something in him.”
Arguably the least inspiring signing, Aden Baldwin’s arrival from Bristol City was met with mixed reactions. He adds steel to the backline, but with a chequered past due to injury, it is unknown how much of an impact he will make.
“That is easily some of the worst defending I have ever seen from a MK Dons player, I cannot believe how bad that was from him”, “I think [Tennai Watson] has been a really good signing so far despite many fans, myself included, not being overwhelmed when we signed him”, “Regarding Watson, I think that he’s much better defensively than [Josh] Martin so I think he’ll start against the top teams this season.”
Reading’s Watson spent a few weeks training with MK in the summer before being snapped up a free transfer just before the season started. Will play on the right of the midfield five this season.
“Who needs pace when you can read the game so well?”, “Very good season for the skipper. Just like the rest of his career, his pace doesn't matter”, “Lewington was exceptionally good at winner headers and therefore we had a better chance of retaining possession.”
At the grand age of 37, Lewington rolled back the clock last season, completing the most passes of any player in League One. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in his understanding of the game.
“The defence is missing the experience and calmness of Lewington.” After Martin’s departure, Lewington stepped in as interim manager before Manning was appointed. “Finishes his long reign as both our worst manager ever (zero per cent win rate) but also our only ever undefeated manager”, “I'm not the type of person who goes in for all this legend crap, but he's handled both himself, and the club, impeccably.”
“I don't think O'Hora looks anywhere near as confident in the central role compared to Darling”, “We are clearly experimenting with O'Hora at centre-back and Darling on the right”, “Making the O'Hora deal permanent for a nominal fee, whilst selling George Williams for an undisclosed free despite six months left on his deal was another decent deal.”
Loanee-turned-permanent addition O’Hora’s successful six-month loan deal from Brighton was made permanent in January 2021. Another centre-back who has impressed with the ball at his feet, O’Hora will be looking to cement his place in the starting XI.
“O'Hora's tackle in the first half when Walker passed the ball to their forward right in front of goal - that was a terrific piece of defending”, “O’Hora is technically a better footballer and more comfortable on the ball with more potential to improve and to play at a higher level, but admittedly not quite as close to the finished article that those players were when they departed”, “Warren O’Hora looks like he has spent some serious time in the gym.”
At only 22 years old, O’Hora has a lot of room to grow. He has already shown his capabilities on the ball, which will put him in good stead for the future.
“[Matt] O'Riley had a cracking game, I'm beginning to really rate the guy now.” Signed in January, O’Riley had been training with MK for a few months prior to putting pen to paper. “What a great player O’Riley is [and I’m] really glad he's signed, quality player”, “Maybe he looks to cut inside from the right and curl a ball into the far post a tad too often, but it definitely works.”
“It goes without saying that [David] Kasumu is quickly becoming an outstanding player. One which we'll be lucky to keep a hold of”, “Kasumu is integral to how we play. Can anyone else do that role? Plenty tried last season and none had his ability to turn defence into attack in an instant”, “Hamstring injury, out for six-to-eight weeks.”
David Kasumu in friendly action against Bournemouth
Academy graduate Kasumu has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Dele Alli for his impact at Stadium MK as a homegrown talent, but has been hampered by injuries across his career. Currently out for a few months with a hamstring problem.
“Signing confirmed. Brilliant news. One of the most important signings I feel”, “[Josh] McEachran looked so classy on the ball when he came on - sooner he's fit to start the better”, “Agree with the comments of others, probably the best signing of the summer. He looked real quality when he signed last season.”
Ex-Chelsea midfielder McEachran joined MK Dons on a six-month deal back in January, before agreeing to an extension this summer. Another technically impressive midfielder added to the deep ranks at the club.
“Ethan Robson looked very good in midfield again, whilst some of us thought he was brought in to make up numbers, he had big David Kasumu-sized boots to fill and he has more than impressed”, “Blackpool fans on Twitter saying that he's a very good player but just couldn't get ahead of some talented in-form options at Blackpool last season”, “Decent signing. Would think he may have been bought in as a squad player.”
Robson joined on loan from Blackpool at the beginning of the window, and has already shown his composure and drive in the midfield. A bit-part player in Blackpool’s unlikely promotion, he will be looking for more game time this season.
“Great to see [Hiram] Boateng getting on the scoresheet after not even having a squad number last week”, “So he was probably on the verge of moving, wasn't even given a squad number, but with Russ gone, could he have a future here?”, “I think he deserves a chance under the new manager. He was involved in the goals for the early pre-season games, had a good spell at a promoted Cambridge side and was highly-rated at Exeter before he came here.”
The player benefitting the most from Russell Martin’s exit is Boateng, returning from his loan spell at Cambridge. Out the door a couple of weeks ago, now an important member of the first-team squad.
“A good signing for a League One club, but obviously Russ's Norwich connections and our style of play and history of providing beneficial loans helped with that.”
Norwich City’s young winger Josh Martin has joined MK Dons on loan for the season and already looks an exciting prospect. “Not exactly sure where he'll play but very pleased with the signing. If he's to play the wing-back/winger role then I think it's a perfect type of signing”, “Another highly-rated young player who had options in the Championship but opted to join the Dons because of the style of play.”
“[John] Freeman looks a decent prospect, but probably needs a loan for a few months of regular football”, “Expect the likes of Freeman and [Jack] Davies to spend a lot of time away from the club next season as well as the usual one or two we offer pro contracts to from this year’s batch”, “Freeman could do with a loan.”
One of the many talented youngsters coming through the MK academy, Freeman spent part of last season on loan at Woking. Probably looking at another loan move this summer.
“[Dan] Harvie also looked very good and incredibly passionate - rollicking the guys after Sunderland's second”, “Harvie doesn't have much of an end product, takes on players but little comes of it”, “We’ve seen that Harvie’s crossing is well above average for this level.”
The scorer of Ipswich Town’s first conceded goal in the league last season, Dan Harvie has made the switch from Scotland look effortless. Battled Sorinola for the left midfield spot last season, but looks to have it nailed down this season.
“We need two players on each side genuinely capable of playing wing-back. We currently only have one, in Harvie”, “Harvie and Watson would both be solid as full-backs”, “Harvie being first choice left wing-back with one of Jules/Lewie/Ilunga as cover.”
With Sorinola out the door, Harvie will have the spot to himself. However, MK fans have identified this area as one of their weaknesses, understanding that they need another body to put pressure on Harvie.
“Talented prospect and a good age for potentially developing further and selling on for a profit”, “Reading up on his abilities I think he might have been identified as a [Ben] Gladwin/[Andrew] Surman replacement within the squad, seems good at collecting deep and driving forward with the ball”, “A combination of his age, us beating off competition, the ‘long-term' deal and Sweeting suggesting he was our main target for that role just fills me confidence.”
One of the most impressive transfer deals this summer was Scott Twine’s move to MK Dons from Swindon Town. A player with an eye for goal and a right foot to match. Exciting talent, that has a very high ceiling.
“Twine is a real threat from free-kicks, we haven't had that for years”, “I thought Twine was outstanding last night by the way”, “The solid core of our team is still mostly intact and Twine looks about as close to Fraser statistically as we could hope for.”
With Fraser making the move to Ipswich, MK needed to identify their replacement, and they did with Twine. He was their first signing of the summer, and joined in expectation that Fraser would be leaving at some point.
Sold for Peanuts?
“Lots of energy and enthusiasm, as normally seen with young strikers wanting to prove themselves”, “I'm guessing [Charlie] Brown will be the fourth choice, so we'll be trying to arrange a loan for [Jay] Bird”, “I do feel a bit for Brown. Must have joined from Chelsea expecting a bit more game time and now this season has Eisa, [Max] Watters and Parrott ahead of him. Thought he has always looked useful when given a chance.”
Straight out of the Ipswich Town academy, Charlie Brown was snapped up by Chelsea in 2016 for around £600,000. He impressed greatly for their youth sides before taking the decision to leave the Champions League holders for pastures new. Has strong competition ahead of him, but impressed at the back end of last season.
“In hindsight, this is a very good signing, could easily bag 10-15 with good service and with the likes of Fraser (hopefully he stays!), Twine, Martin, O'Riley and Kasumu feeding him he'll be getting a better supply than at Crawley”, “Other than him scoring for fun at Crawley at the start of last season I know very little about him”, “Depending on the severity of Watters' injury we may need another striker too.”
Cardiff City’s Max Watters had the spell of a lifetime at Crawley Town between October and January of 2021, scoring 13 goals from 15 games. A seven-figure fee followed, but has joined MK Dons on loan for the 2021/22 season. Out with an injury currently.
“Let's hope he lives up to the hype.” Mo Eisa has Peterborough chairman Darragh MacAnthony to thank for his high expectation this season, after joining the League One side from Posh in a high six-figure deal.
“Obviously has goals in him, but what excites me most is his mobility, type of quick and tricky player up front that we don't often bring in”, “Let him settle in with less pressure. No need to draw attention to large sums of money being spent in this difficult financial climate.”
“Looking forward to see what he can do finally. A lot of faith shown by the management as I think under previous regimes he’d have been shown the door”, “Plenty of potential, deserves to stay another season”, “Bird has trained really well but likely to get a loan spell if they can find the right club.”
Like Freeman, Bird progressed through the MK academy. At only 20 years old, Bird will be looking for first-team football somewhere this season.
“Parrott looks a tidy player”, “Parrott [is] very talented, reminded me a bit of Scott Fraser the way he wriggled through players”, “Parrott can do a bit of everything. He looked equally comfortable dropping deep, and playing as the main striker after Eisa went off.”
Another loan move for the Tottenham striker, after failing to impress at Millwall, and struggling for goals at Town. Two goals for the Blues last season saw him recruited by Martin for the season, but has excelled under Liam Manning already.
“With a bit of confidence, I think he'll score a lot.” Once described as the next Harry Kane, Parrott has a lot of expectation on his shoulder for the future. It didn’t work out at Ipswich, but he will be hoping for better at the Stadium MK. “Mo Eisa and Parrott have looked exceptional”, “Troy Parrott specifically mentioned Russ wanted him in January and him being the reason for joining.”
MK Dons fans on ITFC
“I'm expecting Ipswich to do well. I'm wary about each new manager being given the expensive opportunity of building an entire new squad - given how short the average span of managers at each club is - rather than employing managers who can work with most of the assembled squad already in place”, “Cook seems to have rebuilt well - and added quality for this level - and has a good EFL record, so I'm expecting Ipswich to be up there challenging”, “If Ipswich don't win the league, let alone get promotion, then on the pitch will be just as much of a travesty as they are off the pitch.”
“They've had a slow start results-wise, probably due to their huge turnover of personnel and still adding players now - two in the last two days. But they've certainly assembled a squad that should be achieving automatic promotion by the end of the season”, “Ipswich have now added another highly-rated West Brom youngster, Kyle Edwards, to the ranks. This team on paper is something else, if they don't walk this league they should be ashamed and give up”, “Anything less than promotion could really jeopardise their finances, you'd have thought. Their owners are really splashing the cash, there must be some Financial Fair Play penalties if they don't get the increased revenue from promotion?”
“With the young age of the squad and our high quality but high-risk style of play, I'm expecting us to continue to be inconsistent like we were last season. But we have a good enough squad to finish similar to last season and should be aiming at a top-half placing”, “Second in a close battle with third with great end-of-season form but well clear will be a first-placed runaway leader”, “There's a few teams I definitely expect to be above us - Ipswich, Wigan, Charlton.”
“I think we'll be battling for lower play-off spots as well but, with so many other teams in the mix, we may just sneak in or just miss out”, “If we keep Russ, then sixth”, “Second for me”, “eighth”, “17th in my opinion”, “With Wigan's money and the presence of several big clubs, even sixth would be a major achievement. So, I'm going for first!”
There is only one forum for a diehard MK Dons fan, and that is The Concrete Roundabout. A detailed account of all things MK Dons, but also one of the largest forums in League One this season.
Photo: Action Images
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