We came, we sat on those comfy seats which ride up your arse every time you stand up, we left.
It wasn’t the worst game in the world, but in comparison to our expectations of what a visit to MK Dons should be, this didn’t even hint at being able to match them.
Of course much of that is our own fault – you can’t help but build up a picture in your mind of how each match is going to pan out. With the fantastic news received on Thursday, and the streams of Sky Blue fans who usually travel do to Milton Keynes, we were all overly-primed for party time.
I arrived comically early with the impression that getting a ticket on the gate could be an issue. There was no queue, no issue, just a sweet lady at the ticket booth delivering the news that they only had upper tier tickets left. After some initial disappointment I reasoned that there’d be a huge walk up and I wouldn’t be missing out on any excitement. Unfortunately it seemed mostly lifeless in the upper tier, but as it transpired, nobody in the stadium really managed to gee themselves up to necessary excitement levels so I needn’t have worried.
The game felt like a lengthy duel, with brief moments of interest, but even fewer moments of quality.
The first half was everything that we’ve come to expect from a first half at MK Dons. We controlled the play for short periods, offered some tentative symbolism of what sort of team we’re trying to become, but MK Dons showed better quality in attacking areas to slot balls through the lines and into threatening places. Our defence was nicely positioned for the most part and actually showed signs of being a cohesive unit, but there were still some individual lapses which caused unneccessary trouble for ourselves.
Behind them Allsop was able to get his body in the way of everything that came towards goal, but is still worrying the fans with quite a reserved demeanour and tentative control of his box. As a club that’s gone from the ultimate Westwood and super-gob Murphy, it’s quite an adjustment for us to adapt to.
This was my first real-life look at Ryan Haynes since his debut, and he has many attributes which are already at the level of a first teamer. He’s got a lovely touch, an eye for crossing, and is mostly pretty sensible in possession. He seems wary of taking on his marker or taking too many risks even when the opportunity presents itself, which is understandable, but you have to continue to question the wisdom of allowing Blair Adams leave when you have system which seems so suited to his natural tendencies. That’s by no means a criticism of Haynes, he’s doing a very good job – I just wish we still had Tony.
As an attacking threat, there wasn’t too much incisiveness. Jim O’Brien has an impressive stride to him and showed that he’s going to be an important player if we pursue with this shape. Our main attacking incidents tended to involve him carry the ball much farther than we managed if we tried to pass our way through. Swanson struggled to get involved – he’s similar to Fleck in stature and technique but doesn’t quite seem to deal with pressure on the ball as well as Fleck. He came off at half-time in place of Conor Thomas who worked hard but always felt on the periphery.
Jordan Clarke is showing some decent attacking instincts in his new wing=back role, drifting into the box at the right moment without getting noticed – but was unfortunately unable to show the same proficiency of finishing with some fairly ordinary attempts at the back post.
While it was a reasonably solid 0-0 performance, it’s hard not to notice the difference in individual quality between the attacking players this year and those who performed so well in troubled circumstances last season.
Wilson, Moussa, Clarke, Baker and Fleck all have some stand-out qualities in League One. Wilson with his pace and strength which can be absolutely devastating; Moussa with that control and ingenuity when running with the ball; Clarke and his general presence, link-up and know-how; Baker with those incomprehensibly sticky-feet and quality around the box; and then Fleck with his vision and composure.
I know we have to forget, but as far as gauging the quality of our line-up this year, it’s hard to believe that can come close to playing in the same manner (as an attacking unit) as their predecessors, so it looks like we’re just going to have to find new ways to win.
The numbers are now at an acceptable level for our strikeforce, and they clearly bring some new qualities. They all had some time on the pitch at the weekend but one thing which was prominent was the struggle when asked to hold the play up and link up with the the players around them – a huge part of our game last season.
The clean sheet was pleasing, even if the game was pretty disappointing. There was a drab feeling to the match and the fans were clearly waiting for the spark on the pitch to set them into life. It never really felt capable of setting alight however, with the liveliest moments coming in response to a referee who seemed intent on picking up on the innocuous (against both sides), preventing Marcus Tudgay re-entering the pitch for an inexplicably long amount of time, and generally presenting himself as a bit of self-righteous prat. His performance didn’t cost either side ultimately – but it did spoil the spectacle for the poor buggers who’d paid to watch it.
With a new stadium and new impetus about us, with that should also come a new expectation. We’re a different club now, overnight. We’re a big club in this league again, with a good manager and some good players and a strong fanbase. Listening to Shaun Miller after the game, I was most encouraged to hear the players thinking in the same way.
The first step to success is always the intention, the ambition to achieve. I’ve always felt that’s been the hardest part for us as a club over the years as we’ve constantly looked for reasons to defer it, but it’s a crucial aspect of our culture which I really feel like Pressley is trying to fix.
Get that side of it right, then there’s just the small matter of the implementation to come. But I firmly believe that he’s capable of overseeing that too.