The Imps have moved to secure the fourth permanent deal of the summer, landing MK Dons midfielder Conor McGrandles on a free transfer.
McGrandles was under contract at MK Dons, where he was named Young Player of the Year in 2018/19, but he’s fallen out of favour with Russell Martin, who agreed to a termination, allowing City to swoop in. He joins James Jones, Lewis Montsma and Ethan Ross as permanent arrivals at the club, in addition to Sean Roughan being handed a professional contract.
McGrandles began his career with Falkirk in Scotland making his debut during the 2012/13 season as a 17-year-old. He made a further 45 appearances for ‘The Bairns’ which attracted the interest of Norwich City, for whom he signed as an 18-year-old in a deal believed to be ‘worth up to £1m‘. He made his debut for the Canaries in a 6-1 win against Millwall before he returned to Falkirk on loan for the remainder of the 2015/16 season, as was standard for them at the time. Sadly, one month into his return to Falkirk, he suffered a leg break which saw his spell back home curtailed early.
He struggled to impose himself on the first-team picture at Norwich, joining MK Dons in 2017. He featured sparingly as they slipped out of League One, but was an integral part of the squad which gained promotion the following year, along with us. He missed the 2-1 win at Sincil Bank early in the season but played as we won 2-0 there is what was perhaps our best result of the campaign.
Last season he appeared twice against the Imps, coming on in the second half as they beat us at their place, and being taken off in the second half as we drew at ours. He had fallen out of favour with Russell Martin, according to an Mk Dons fan I spoke to, which has led to him being available. Don’t think we’re taking a cast-off here though; Sunderland have been credited with an interest, along with Aberdeen and Hibernian.
On his move to the Imps, he said, “I’m really delighted to sign, my agent contacted me and mentioned Lincoln were interested which was something I wanted to explore and find out more about and I’m glad I did.”
He also revealed that the lure of working with Michael Appleton is a key factor in him signing for City.
“I think he has a real plan for how his team play and he has a real plan for myself, which I think will suit my style. Hopefully, with the style we’re going to play, I can also become a better player and make a contribution to the team.”
Michael is also delighted to have landed his target, saying: “Conor is a very talented attacking midfield player, who has a very good range of passing, especially in the final third. I’m very confident he will flourish in the environment we are going to create and I look forward to welcoming him into the squad.”
I’ve spoken to a couple of MK Dons fans about him recently, as we were linked with him by one of those Ex Agent type accounts. I didn’t run a story because they tend to be guff, but this one certainly panned out. Anyhow, one told me McGrandles is a ‘tenacious, hard-working player’, who is ‘versatile and has played DM CM RB and RM’. He also said; “He contributes with goals but hasn’t had much game time due to the form of Houghton and Kasumu. He’s a likeable character and was sponsored by the fans last season.” Another MK Dons fans told me: “He’s a quality player, lots of running and effort and pops up with the odd goal and assist,” although he did question his positioning as a defensive midfielder.
This is what I find interesting. Last season he played much of his football in a deeper midfield role with Mk Dons, only playing in an attacking role for five matches, and only appearing there for over an hour in two of those. He seems to slip easier into the right midfield role, or on one side of the ‘double six’ in front of the back four. Assuming MA wants to keep him there, it would give us some decent competition in both Tayo Edun and James Jones, but the press release hints at him playing an attacking midfield role.
In terms of stats, his passing accuracy is impressive, with 42 passes per game punching an 80.9% accuracy. As you know, I like to compare players from previous seasons, so as comparison Joe Morrell managed 41 per game with an 83% accuracy last time out. I’m interested in this ambiguity around his position too: last season he scored three and assisted five for MK, which is a decent haul, and he created 0.80 shots per game for his teammates. These numbers are of interest because MK were very similar to us in terms of their position and results, so the stats are more relevant than say for James Jones, coming out of League Two.
He’s six foot and wins more than 50% of his aerial duels, although I doubt very much whether that is a contributing factor. It doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of height in the midfield though, and the hints of tenacity and commitment from the MK fans is certainly very positive. He won 66.3% of his defensive duels, making 8.52 per game. That compares with 66.7% from 8.23 duels per game from Michael O’Connor. His stats for passing and defensive duties stack up against two players widely lauded last season.
It may seem unfair to compare him with an attack-minded player in one paragraph and a defensive one in another, but that is due to the versatility he seems to have; will he be a jack of all trades for City, or do MA’s comments hint at a rebranding from what he is assumed to be at Stadium MK? We await with bated breath, but it is positive to see us moving for another player who was seemingly coveted by clubs.
I try not to judge players before they come, either positively or negatively, but what I would say is in McGrandles we are getting another senior professional with almost 200 games under his belt, but who has the benefit of youth still on his side.