I will be making the short train journey into Buckinghamshire to watch Bury take on Paul Tisdale’s MK Dons. Although both teams won on opening day, the hosts are undoubtedly the favourites, and certainly looked more dangerous than the Shakers in their respective matches, even though Ryan Lowe’s charges were up against the nine men of Yeovil Town for the last quarter of their encounter.
Not everything went Tisdale’s way during their trip to Oldham Athletic, however. No fewer than four players sustained knocks or injuries, forcing them to see out the final few minutes at Boundary Park a player light themselves.
Bereft of several starters, the strategy is unlikely to change all that much, the emphasis still firmly placed on keeping possession, only looking to play riskier balls in the final third after working it between the more advanced midfielders. Lee Nicholls favours throwing the ball out in open play, which is a good fit for the setup. Even without Callum Brittain, there’s a good balance to the back four; captain Dean Lewington will get forward when he can, although his speed is understandably not what it once was. Joe Walsh is also left-footed, and will look to pass to his central defensive partner Jordan Moore-Taylor to make more refined use of the ball. George Williams could start out on the right, and will use his aerial prowess to compensate for his lack of height, as well as getting up the pitch to support the wide man on his flank.
Jordan Houghton will anchor the midfield, and he will need to keep tabs on Danny Mayor’s drifting runs inside. Ryan Watson will act as the go-between in the centre of the park, keeping things ticking over. Alex Gilbey dictates the tempo, and his early return to fitness after a protracted spell on the sidelines is a major plus. Unafraid to get stuck in to win the ball back, he then will gallop into the final third where he has several options: Kieran Agard peeling off his marker, Ryan Harley on one side and Chuks Aneke on the other, or he can shape to shoot, as he’s apt to do from range, and accurate to boot.
Harley scored on his debut last week, making an unopposed run to the back post after some intricate build-up. He probably won’t find Bury’s defenders quite as accommodating, but he too is a threat in the air as well as on the dribble. Aneke has been the subject of continued speculation linking him with a move away from stadium:mk, but at the time of writing, he remains in situ. Without Peter Pawlett, he could start on the right, he will look for Agard’s runs to create space for him to run into, and he most certainly can out-muscle his marker and that power translates to his shots.
Agard needs plenty of support from his teammates to be productive in a lone striker role. He doesn’t tend to create chances for himself, but his impressive agility and work rate should ensure that if some of his supply is cut off, it will be hard for Lowe to devise a method of doing it completely, even if he’s faced with three centre backs.
I’ve talked extensively about the 5-2-2-1 in a tactical article I published earlier today, and I see no reason why Lowe will suddenly change it, even if by not doing so, he’s playing into the hands of Tisdale’s possession-heavy strategy. Chris Stokes and Tom Miller will have their work cut out on the flanks to get forward with any purpose, and the defensive line should sit fairly deep to counter Agard’s pace.
That said, the rest of the team cannot afford to do the same. Gilbey will find time and space in between the lines and have the Shakers chasing shadows if they’re not carefuul. He in particular must be pressed into at least making hasty decisions on the ball, if not mistakes. Neil Danns is the likeliest candidate to do that if the XI that started last Saturday remain the same. Callum Styles, in his first game officially on loan after moving to Barnsley, will need to pick his passes carefully to Mayor and Adams, as both he and Danns will be at a numerical disadvantage in midfield.
Mayor will need a consistent supply on the floor to get the better of Williams. Even if he beats his man, he’ll probably have at most two in the box to aim for. Nicky Adams should use Lewington’s reluctance to join his side’s attacks against him, crossing from different angles and areas to try to draw him out. If Lowe persists with Chris Dagnall, he needs the inside forwards to remain high up in close support. Gold Omotayo or Dom Telford are better fits for the system MK employ; the former because he’ll cause concern with his physicality, the latter because his pace and direct running would increase the gap between the backline and Houghton.
As for a prediction, I’m going for a 1-0 win for the home side. Even without some of their best talents, it’s hard to foresee how Bury can hurt them if Lowe sets his side up as he did in the opener. The defence looked solid against Yeovil, and will surely be tested to a far greater extent. Avoiding falling behind early will be crucial to head home with a positive result. In some ways, this is the clichéd ‘ideal time’ to be playing against MK Dons: a new manager, a long list of unavailable players, and the ones who are present are still adapting to Tisdale’s philosophy and in some cases, their new surroundings… but does the novice manager in the away dressing room have the nous to make the most of that ‘opportunity’? I have my doubts.