MK Dons picked up a vital win in the week, with Chuks Aneke’s 88th-minute goal stealing three points from Rodney Parade against Newport County. While Newport may have had one eye on their mouthwatering FA Cup tie against Manchester City this weekend, the win is by no means less important because of this, mainly because it ended a run of just two wins from seven prior games in 2019.
There were many changes to the MK Dons side that took to the field in South Wales, with manager Paul Tisdale seemingly fed up of the regulars underperforming. It was a brave decision which could have easily backfired but, instead, it paid off. That bravery will be needed again this weekend as the Dons make the mammoth trip to Cumbria to face Carlisle United – a battle between fourth and sixth in League Two with just one point separating the teams.
Paul Tisdale’s Bravery Must Be On Show Again Against Carlisle United
Ringing the Changes
Tisdale made five changes from the weekend loss against Swindon Town. Stuart Moore made his first league start in goal, Callum Brittain was restored at right wing-back after a lengthy spell out, Ouss Cisse and Conor McGrandles came into midfield and David Wheeler started up front.
The right wing-back spot has been a problem for most of the season. It started as Brittain’s, but he suffered an injury at the same time as he appeared to be falling out of favour. George Williams then took over and did well initially but was then needed at centre-back after injuries to Joe Walsh and Jordan Moore-Taylor. Experiments of McGrandles and Ryan Watson in the position didn’t go down well with fans, so restoring Brittain was a logical move.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on Tuesday, though, was the introduction of Moore in goal. The 24-year-old, who signed from Swindon Town in the summer, has been limited to the U23 matches and Checkatrade Trophy games so far, but he took his chance exceptionally with a clean sheet and solid performance. With a confidence-boosting first appearance under his belt, it’s highly likely he’ll be in line to start against Carlisle.
Another brave step from Tisdale was to slightly tweak the formation. He started the season with a 5-3-2, but the Dons’ solid run throughout late 2018 was done with a 5-2-3 set-up. The attacking three were at the peak of their powers in this formation, but the departure of Rhys Healey following the expiry of his loan spell broke this up.
The front three was never quite at its potent self once the Cardiff City man left, and the more they lost the ball in the attacking third because the chemistry wasn’t quite there, the more the midfield pairing of Alex Gilbey and Jordan Houghton was being overrun as the opposition countered.
In the week, though, Tisdale reverted to his old set up, pulling one of the front three positions back into midfield and adding in a more defensive-minded option, such as the unit that is Cisse. The move was probably more designed to see out a draw rather than nick a 1-0 win, but perhaps that was just a reward for having the bravery to do it in the first place.
Will We See the Changes Again?
MK Dons travel to Carlisle this weekend with a lot at stake. They currently sit fourth in League Two with 53 points, while Carlisle are sixth with 52. A win for the visitors could take them to within a point of Bury, but they also face high-calibre opposition in Exeter City. A win for the Dons and the Grecians would be the ideal scenario as it would take Tisdale’s side back to within a point of the automatic promotion spots but, as League Two has shown this season, it’s rare that everything goes the way you want it to.
With so much resting on this game, there must be some intense pressure on Tisdale as he figures out what is best to do. Does he go back to the players that served him so well in 2018? Or, does he stick with those that will have momentum after the vital win at Newport in the week?
It’s certainly a tough one to overcome but, as shown previously this season, momentum will get you a long way in this league. Perhaps it’s time that some of the fringe players continue to build it.