Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League One - 23rd (relegated); W 11 / D 12 / L 23 / F 43 / A 69 / Pts 45
Certainly showed me up! The issues at stadium:mk last season from an outsider’s point of view were threefold: long-term injuries to key players, poor management and huge question marks over the mentality of some of their more exciting talents. Robbie Neilson started the campaign confident of improving over 2016/2017’s forgettable effort (in fairness, he was only in charge for the latter half). They shook off an indifferent opening to accrue a sizeable points tally in September, before once again sliding badly, only triumphing once in the last three months of the calendar year in the league. Neilson was still afforded the majority of the winter transfer window, but his fate was sealed after the Dons fell into the bottom four after a 2-1 reverse against Northampton Town.
Dan Micciche was subsequently appointed – his only previous managerial role was with England U16s, so he was certainly a choice out of left-field for a struggling team. He failed to win a single match in his first seven in the dugout, and when they did hit a small patch of form, it wasn’t sustained. Much like trap-door rivals Bury, they then turned to a third man, Keith Millen, who was placed in temporary charge, but he couldn’t prevent the seemingly inevitable from occurring. A decade after their last spell in the basement division, the team most lower league fans regard with contempt* are back, having taken their time to appoint Paul Tisdale in the close season.
Top Goalscorer: Chuks Aneke (9 goals in 26 starts/2,391 minutes)
Top Creator: Chuks Aneke (7 assists in 26 starts/2,391 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Paul Tisdale; never a regular as a pro, the Maltese-born midfielder got into management whilst still in his 20s at Team Bath, leading the university team to an incredible four promotions, and an even more memorable run to the first round proper of the FA Cup in 2003. Three years later, he took over then-Conference side Exeter City, which was the start of a tenure that lasted well over a decade, an extremely rare feat in the modern era. He guided The Grecians to successive promotions, and, in 2010/2011, equalled their highest ever finish, narrowly missing out on the play-off places in League One.
Renowned for his fashion sense, Tisdale did suffer relegation, but the board kept faith with him, full in the knowledge that he was doing the best he could, working under a strict financial model that revolved around developing young players from within and without, and selling them then on for handsome profits, most of which would go straight back into improving the infrastructure off-field and keeping the club as a going concern. His last act as manager, other than becoming the longest-serving boss in the top four divisions, was to lead Exeter to the play-off final, only to lose to Coventry City. He couldn’t agree terms with the board, and perhaps seeking a fresh challenge with fewer constraints, made the journey eastwards to another side that seem a close match for his philosophy.
Ins: Robbie Simpson (Exeter City), Mitch Hancox (Macclesfield Town), Lawson D’Ath (Luton Town), Jordan Moore-Taylor (Exeter City), Ryan Watson (Barnet), Jordan Houghton (Chelsea U23s) & Ryan Harley (Exeter City).
Outs: Scott Wootton (Plymouth Argyle), Ben Tilney (Larne), Ed Upson (Bristol Rovers), Giorgio Rasulo (free agent), Hugo Logan (free agent), Connor Furlong (free agent) & Nigel Reo-Coker (free agent).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Custodian Lee Nicholls has no major weaknesses to his game, being tall, light on his feet and adept at setting up counter-attacks with his accurate throwing. Tisdale has brought with him three players he knows very well; Jordan Moore-Taylor can operate on the left or in the centre, and can dictate play from the back, picking out teammates with raking balls forward and is also a creator of chances from long throws. George Williams also possesses plenty of positional flexibility. His jumping is second to none when you consider his height. Age is catching up with captain Dean Lewington, but he has competition for his spot with the capture of Mitch Hancox. His lack of pace could catch him out, but he ought to have the wherewithal to keep those instances to a minimum.
Despite his team’s demotion, Callum Brittain is still under close watch by a slew of scouts. He has the technical skills and consistency in his play to make the grade in more vaunted surroundings, and will rove with purpose if chosen at right-back. Jordan Houghton sits in front of the back four and uses his short passing skills to recycle possession and supply his compatriots ahead of him. He could be half of a double pivot if Alex Gilbey can be ready in time for the new season.
Conor McGrandles will shuttle between both boxes, and whilst he isn’t the most convincing in the tackle, he will give his opponents no peace. Ryan Harley could become the first choice set piece taker, using his free kicks to add guile to the craft Dons fans are likely to witness once more under their new manager. An immediate on-field issue for him will be coaxing the best out of Chuks Aneke. His attitude was woeful at times last season, and whilst few would dispute his talent, he needs to be focused and consistent in his actions. Nominally on the left, he will drift close to Kieran Agard when they have possession in the final third. What he doesn’t have in speed, he makes up for in almost every single other area of importance.
The agile Peter Pawlett is strong with both feet and can play anywhere in advanced midfield areas. His dribbling will unlock defences in tense encounters. The aforementioned Agard is not wholly persuasive as a target man, and looks better coming off the wing or with someone alongside him to feed him through balls to break offside traps set by their opponents. Osman Sow is more comfortable in this role, but as with several others, is beset with injury problems.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion; there is some anxiety amongst the supporters that Tisdale’s relatively late appointment in an abridged close season might scupper any pretensions of a major tilt at the title or automatic promotion back to whence they came, before they’ve even begun. Whilst it’s certainly plausible, one factor in his favour is that the retained list only went out a week after he was in post, so he would’ve exerted at least some influence over the names on it. They are probably still short of at least one more striker, either to aid Agard or to usurp him. Tisdale is a canny operator, and should get the best from his charges. It might be a slower start than he himself would like, but I’m going to stick my neck out for MK once more and say that they should be there or thereabouts!