Milton Keynes Dons 1-0 Bury: Review

  • I’m normally disinclined to comment on the atmosphere and crowd at a match I attend, but I feel it’s necessary to point out how surreal it came across to me on Saturday. It was my third visit to Stadium MK, but the first where it was so quiet in the stands, almost resembling a pre-season friendly at times. The stated attendance of just short of 7,000 seemed a gross exaggeration, drawing incredulous reactions from Bury fans all around me, and the biggest cheer from the home supporters prior to the dying embers of the encounter was for a ball chipped from the seating area over a player, waiting to take a throw-in.

 

  • Regarding the action itself, Paul Tisdale opted for a back five in the opening period, which had the knock-on effect of ensuring most of the battles were fought in midfield, and neither side had the creativity to get in behind packed defences. I counted just one occasion in total, and it came in second half stoppage time, with the Shakers piling forward for an unlikely equaliser. The change of tack to a flat four during the interval did help MK come into proceedings a touch more, nullifying some of the freedom Danny Mayor and Nicky Adams enjoyed in the process, and giving Jordan Houghton more options from his holding role to aim for, instead of his teammates hitting it long to debutant Dylan Asonganyi.

 

  • The pace of Asonganyi and Kieran Agard in attacking areas certainly gave The Shakers’ rearguard food for thought; the strategy to go on the outside of the wide centre backs was reasonably effective, particularly down their right, insofar as it ensured that they had to stay quite deep and hit it long more often than not, and Will Aimson was the most guilty of wasting his passes under little to no pressure. Adam Thompson isn’t the speediest, but he normally had a few yards’ head-start on his man, more often than not shepherding the hoofed ball out for a goal kick or to Joe Murphy. Again, this tactic morphed during the second half, sometimes resulting in the men in white and gold swapping positions or holding up play at the edge of the ‘D’, with greater numbers coming up in support of them than had hitherto been the case.

 

  • A notable and frequent occurrence throughout the match were the quick, short free-kicks taken by Bury. The two sides both had very well organised defences, so it was certainly understandable for Ryan Lowe to instruct his charges to attempt to disrupt the time the hosts had to reset their shape. This didn’t have the desired outcome for two reasons: firstly, there was a noticeably comparative lack of pace in dark blue to make the most of the set pieces. Secondly, the communication wasn’t quite there yet between the taker and intended recipient, so you’d see a good pass hit into one of the flanks without it being read early enough.

 

  • An injury around the 40th minute to right wing-back Tom Miller left Lowe with a quandary. The bench, whilst appearing strong and experienced, only contained one defensively-minded outfield player – Callum McFadzean, who operates on the other wing. It left him little choice but to switch the formation, opting to bring on Gold Omotayo to partner Chris Dagnall in attack, and shifting Adams back into the position Miller had inadvertently vacated. The knock-on effects were twofold – Adams was evidently unsure of which positions to take up when defending, and it also negated his effectiveness against the slow Dean Lewington. I also think it played into Tisdale’s hands to a degree, as Houghton only had Mayor to contend with from then on, and this almost certainly precipitated the tactical changes from a home perspective soon after.

 

 

  • Callum Styles was appearing for the first time since immediately being sent back to Gigg Lane on loan from Barnsley; the encounter proved to be a telling snapshot of where he is in his development. What was plain to see is that he has indeed added some muscle to his short frame, and he was able to win a few more challenges than he might have done at the same point last year. He always looks to receive a pass to feet, very rarely wastes the ball when he does get it, has a good range of techniques to ensure his own pass reaches its intended target… but the tempo does signficantly slow down when he’s in possession. That isn’t always a hindrance, but I’m not sure if it’s the best match for what Lowe is trying to emphasise in 2018/2019. He doesn’t have the right personnel either behind him (anyone at all) or in front of him (a more direct playmaker and/or a striker who plays on the shoulder of the last defender) to fully accentuate all the positive attributes he does possess.

 

  • Dom Telford’s cameo wasn’t the best first impression I’ve had of him in the flesh. Whilst Chris Dagnall predictably toiled when alone up front in the face of three centre backs and wayward long balls, he does have the requisite first touch and experience to at least bring others into play when he does manage to get hold of possession, even if it comes at a cost of being penetrative with it. The former Bristol Rovers loanee looked lost; his partnership with Omotayo hasn’t reached beyond the embryonic stage, and both were guilty of being positionally poor, costing Bury dearly when mounting attacks. Each of the two had a half-chance to score; Omotayo’s header was too close to Lee Nicholls, and Telford’s turn and shot was far too tame. It’s difficult to foresee either dislodging Dagnall if Lowe persists with a 5-2-2-1, based on that evidence.

 

  • One very welcome part of the match was Jay O’Shea’s introduction from the bench. Talk of high wages aside, he offers a different threat behind the forwards than either Adams or Mayor, although both starters had good games and were unfortunate not to score: the former had a free kick that rattled the post, the latter had a goalbound effort headed off the line by a defender with Nicholls beaten. Mayor will start on the flank and bring the ball inside at a right angle to the penalty area. O’Shea is much more direct, and will run straight into the 18 yard-box on the dribble. I think he should be afforded more minutes tomorrow evening against Nottingham Forest, and is a more than capable alternative to the current starting pair.

 

  • The winner for MK was harsh on their opponents, coming as it did from the one lapse in concentration I can recall them making. A cross-field pass was played to the right, and the superb George Williams (my personal choice for man of the match) was unmarked, and he controlled the ball with one touch. Oussenyou Cissé, the towering substitute who had challenged Chris Stokes for the aerial ball, immediately drifted inside the area. Stokes remained in situ to try to cut any attempted pass, but Cissé was unmarked when he guided it into the far corner, leaving Joe Murphy no chance.

 

  • In summary, both managers can be satisfied that they had set up their defences well. This is a particular filip for Lowe, as the current unit look as though they fully understand their responsibilities. The concerns are further up the pitch; both sets of attackers appeared quite blunt, and the invention from midfield was missing something. I liked that Bury weren’t cowed in any way by their opponents, and, despite their starting formation, definitely didn’t come to Buckinghamshire seeking a point. If they can retain their solidity in the league (the game against Forest is tantamount to a ‘free hit’), there’s every reason to suggest they can kick on and achieve a respectable standing in the table. Tisdale will also be a mixture of relieved and encouraged that MK Dons have taken two wins from two against fellow relegated outfits, without having played spectacularly well, and in the latter match, missing some key players.
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