Never too high when we win, never too low when we lose, right Danny? That’s the mantra isn’t it?
Stop winning in such bloody dramatic circumstances then. How can anyone wearing red and white not come home from that absolutely buzzing. I want to record a podcast right now. I want to talk up our performance, our desire and the size of that result. I want to scream ‘champions elect’ from a rooftop. However, quite rightly, we must keep our feet on the ground. It is one more game, three more points but nothing has been won and lost.
Is that entirely true though? We haven’t won the league this afternoon, but we have won some momentum, we’ve finally beaten MK Dons at the seventh time of asking and we’ve taken their unbeaten league record. There’s a lot to be said for breaking down barriers, smashing through other team’s records and simply ploughing on.
Anyway, whatever the result it was a superb afternoon of football. The big team news was Josh Vickers’ return, not entirely expected but still very welcome. Josh is a super keeper, a big presence and a comfortable pair of hands. he commands his box well and although I feel bad for Grant Smith, Josh is our number one. What is testament to our squad is a player who started the season as number one at Bristol Rovers can’t get on our bench.
Other than that is was pretty much business as usual. Freck is still suspended and I suspect Michael O’Connor is the player benefitting from that, with Tom Pett pretty much a staple of the first team. Shay McCartan, a wonderful footballer, got a start and sadly Matt Green is still on the bench. I can’t speak highly enough of Matt Green and the depth of our squad, having him on the bench, is incredible. Make no mistake, MK Dons would surely have started with Matt Green today, had he played for them.
I think the depth we’ve got is unparalleled this season. I dare say at no time in history have we had such a rich and varied squad. I know back in the seventies and eighties we had great teams, teams it would be hard to ever talk down, but have we ever had a squad with a bench packed full of players that would play for 90% of our rivals? I think not. There was some discontent at one point this summer that the squad might not be deep enough, that looks hilarious now, doesn’t it?
Anyway, on with the game, we all know what miracles we’ve achieved on what is a competitive budget, but not one unmatched at this level. I thought we came out of the blocks well, playing nice football on the ground, pressing where needed. It was obvious that our opponents knew their stuff though. As we switched play from one side to the other, their defence moved as if on rails, never leaving a gap. It was no less than I imagined Paul Tisdale would demand, but they still have to come and do it. We saw (you saw, I was laid up with my back) the same in the play off semi final last season. I thought it had 0-0 written all over it.
We had a decent chance in the opening few minutes, but then MK started to nudge their way into the game. They have some very good players and I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised to see Dean Lewington looking as fit and agile as he did twelve years ago. I rarely come out and say this, but I admire him greatly. To play for one team for your entire career is commendable, but to still perform to an acceptable level deep into your thirties is impressive.
Mind you, Jason Shackell is still right up there despite being 34. I watched him closely in the first half and he’s such a massive influence in the back four. I think he’s what we’ve needed for a while, not just an organiser and a talker but a leader too. Bozzy is a player who leads by example, powering headers and throwing in tackles, but Shackell brings something different. it’s a knowledge, a know-how that maybe Bozzy has, but that Shackell delivers. Together, they’re quality and perhaps one might argue a better central defensive pairing than Luke and Raggs were.
The best chance of the first half fell to Mk Dons who proved they weren’t here to make up the numbers. A rasping drive from 20 yards looked to be going in, but for an excellent save by Josh. Instantly, you felt calm with him back in the side. That isn’t saying Grant Smith didn’t make you feel that way, but there’s something about Josh Vickers that makes me at ease. When he goes for a cross, he’s going to win it. His save justified Danny’s decision to put him back in the side.
If Flitcroft’s moaning means we get refs of his quality every week, then thank you very much indeed.
It wasn’t as if we weren’t creating chances, but nothing really clear-cut came our way. I’m beginning to think that centre forwards are always going to divide opinion, because I thought Akinde was excellent in the first half. His laying off of the ball was a joy at times and he’s clearly done a lot of work with the wide players. Time and again his little flick or his hold up play allowed us to advance and whilst he didn’t get a decent effort away, he was a real threat all game, certainly more so than Chucks Aneke.
I thought MK Dons were robust, but on the acceptable side of the word. They definitely came wanting to get stuck in, but Stuart Attwell did superbly well. There were two early incidents, one a foul by MK Dons and another where Eardley smashed the ball with his fist after conceding a free kick. Attwell didn’t get a card out for either incident, had he done so we might have seen a shambles of a game. Instead, he pulled out the first card for a cynical trip and booked a couple more before half time, but it never threatened to boil over. If Flitcroft’s moaning means we get refs of his quality every week, then thank you very much indeed.
It does amuse me that we get labelled as a dirty side when once again, it was the opposition racking up the bookings. What we are is a dangerous side and one or two of the yellows they collected were for fouls intended purely to stop us going forward. Fair play to MK, it wasn’t a case of Mansfield-style thuggery, but a managed approach to discipline.
Next Page – Second Half Action