MK Dons: August In Review

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Today sees the end of MK Dons’ first month as a member of the Sky Bet Championship, and not only have they surprised other clubs, they’ve probably surprised some of their own fans too.

However, even with this fairly successful month in tow, an easy season remains only in the wildest dreams of staff, players and fans, but they have shown in the games that they have won, and glimpses in those that they have not, that they are able to compete at this level. Two wins, one draw, and two losses, as well as a further two wins in the cup, mean that the Dons sit 11th in the table going into the international break, and surely not many can complain with that?

Game 1 – Rotherham 1-4 MK Dons

It couldn’t have been a better start for Karl Robinson and his side. It was almost as if their form from League 1 had been carried straight over the summer. Rob Hall tapped in the first of the season after just 5 minutes at the AESSAEL New York Stadium, with Matt Derbyshire’s equaliser just 8 minutes later being the only blotch on the record that day.

The Dons used their usual style of passing to ultimately outplay a poor Rotherham side, who went 2-1 down when Jordan Spence’s cross was deflected into his own net by Danny Collins, and a calamitous mistake at the back allowed Dean Bowditch to make it 3 before half time.

Carl Baker’s excellent solo goal near the end capped off the perfect day for the Dons, in a game that was simply won by the better team. They didn’t allow Rotherham time on the ball in midfield, tirelessly working to regain possession, and it paid off as it meant they could launch more attacks, obviously leading to more goals.

Game 2 – MK Dons 2-1 Leyton Orient (Capital One Cup)

Despite getting the win and advancing into the next round, the performance here couldn’t have been more different to the one seen in Yorkshire. There was a lack of cutting edge to the passing, the ball being given away too much in midfield and the forward four were seemingly too scared to have a shot.

Closing down Orient attacks was also a problem that the defence couldn’t deal with, and that’s where the Dons fell behind as Dean Lewington sliced Dean Cox’s cross into his own net.

Yet, this failed to spring the Dons to life as they continued to give the ball away, and new boy Cristian Benavente struggled to get into the game. Orient came close again in the second half as they hit the side netting and the post as the unfit back line struggled continuously.

Just as the second half was drawing to a close, Mathieu Baudry headed Ben Reeves’ cross past his own keeper to finally give Dons what they wanted, but not deserved. And then 2 minutes into stoppage time, Leyton Orient hearts were broken as Carl Baker slotted under Alex Cisak to complete the most unlikely of turnarounds.

After 1 league game, 1 cup game and 2 wins, it was a very positive start from the new boys. However, they were to be brought back down to earth in their next game…

Game 3 – MK Dons 0-1 Preston North End

Much had been expected of this game as the two closest promotion rivals from last season’s League 1 campaign went head to head for the first time since Preston’s 2-0 win at stadium.mk looked to take them up automatically.

The performance wasn’t the best from MK. Most fans I’m sure would agree it would be in the middle of the performances against Rotherham and Leyton Orient.

Ben Reeves, potentially the biggest threat to Preston that afternoon, was kept well out the game by John Welsh, as he and Daniel Johnson worked tirelessly to limit the Dons possession in midfield, not allowing them to get the ball forward to Sam Gallagher, even in the air to utilise his height.

As seen in the Orient game, defending was becoming a big worry for fans as they watched their players back off rather than make the tackle, and that’s what allowed Paul Gallagher to slot home the only goal of the game mid-way through the first half.

A slightly better showing in the second half still wasn’t enough. Preston tired and that allowed the Dons to get forward more, but they still couldn’t properly test Jordan Pickford (who was arguably Man Of The Match). Even the red card for Preston’s Hugill didn’t spark anything into an overall poor performance from the home side.

Game 4 – MK Dons 1-0 Bolton Wanderers

An improved performance saw the Dons grab their first Championship win at stadium.mk courtesy of Daniel Powell’s second half goal.

Bolton were the better team in the first half by quite a distance, getting past the two weaknesses the Dons had in Samir Carruthers and Dean Lewington, and should have been two or three-nil up by half time. Zach Clough went closest, producing a wonderful save from David Martin as the latter tipped his powerful half-volley onto the bar.

The second half really saw the Dons come alive, with much crisper passing and some neat 1 and 2 touch football being played out on the wings. And they deservedly took the lead when Samir Carruthers’ inch perfect pass was slid home by the pacey Dan Powell.

Bolton had chances towards the end as the Dons ran out of energy in the final 10 minutes, and knowing they couldn’t risk any injuries before Saturday’s game at Reading.

Emile Heskey twice game close, but both times he was denied by the excellent Martin.

Game 5 – Reading 0-0 MK Dons

Having more possession away from home tends to warrant a good performance, and that’s what the travelling fans got as the Dons went to Reading for the first ever league match-up of the two.

However, you’re going to be very lucky to score with 3 shots and 0 on target. The closest MK came to finding the net was when Simon Church turned on the edge of the area but struck the post against one of his former teams.

Reading had chances too, but David Martin produced fine saves from Hal Robson-Kanu and Oliver Norwood to keep the score at a deserved 0-0.

Game 6 – MK Dons 2-1 Cardiff City (AET) (Capital One Cup)

A massive improvement from recent weeks saw MK reach the third round of the cup after coming from behind to beat league rivals Cardiff City.

The Dons were much more assured in possession, however were still reluctant to shoot, so goalkeeper Simon Moore was never really tested.

What was clear through-out was that Cardiff had done their homework, and pressed high up the pitch when the Dons were playing it around the back, often catching out the defence as keeper Cody Cropper played his goal kicks short to them. Despite that and a few other heart-in-mouth moments, the Dons went into the break happy with 0-0.

Cardiff did take the lead against the run of play, taking advantage of the one Dons weakness on the night, the unfit former Watford defender, Lee Hodson at left back as Alex Revell brilliantly volleyed a cross into the top corner with the outside of his right foot. However, Hodson, having not played much of pre-season or the whole previous season, did play well to an extent, but it was clear he has been lacking game time.

MK did finally get what they deserved, but they left it late again. Rob Hall’s shot was palmed out by Moore, and Carl Baker was on hand to rifle in the re-bound and take the game to extra time.

As in the second half, Cardiff were out played in extra time, and in the second period of it the Dons produced their best goal of the season. Rob Hall and Samir Carruthers played some fabulous one-two’s to get into the Cardiff penalty area, and the ball found its way to debutant Josh Murphy who thrashed in his first goal for the club.

Game 7 – MK Dons 0-2 Birmingham City

This is a defeat that will be hard to take for the fans and the players, as two goals against the run of play saw the Dons fall to just their second defeat of the season.

The Dons looked much more like their old selves as Birmingham allowed them lots of space to play their usual passing game, and that led to the best chance of the first half, but Samir Carruthers could only find the side netting when he really should have scored.

The games turning point came when Stephen Gleeson fired home a terrific strike against his old club, angering the home fans as he celebrated against a team where he was loved.

MK still continued to be the better team, but once again it was the lack of shots that was their downfall, recording zero on target for the second league game in a row. Sam Gallagher’s wayward header was the closest they could come in the second half, and sure enough Birmingham went and rubbed salt into the wounds by scoring a second through Jacques Maghoma, who slid under David Martin after being played in by Clayton Donaldson.

Despite the massive reality check against Birmingham, the Dons should be extremely happy to the start they have made in an extremely tough league. Getting through two rounds of cup football as well as playing 5 league games with only 1 loss is something even the best teams in the Championship can’t boast about.

This is something they can’t get carried away with though, as September promises to be one of the toughest months of these players careers with trips to Middlesbrough and Burnley, as well as visits from Southampton in the cup, Leeds and Derby. Picking up even just a point from those four league games would be seen as excellent, but who knows where a couple of wins could leave them in the table?