The need for a little beauty sleep (well, nearly everything is relative) after the return from Milton Keynes and a few work commitments mean that I’m probably last to post thoughts on last night’s game. For once this means checking out the club report and trying to make sure some of the ‘facts’ included are correct, or at least clear howlers are minimised. And to begin with let’s clear up any doubt. I hope our goal remains credited to Kermorgant, but it was right in front of us and it came back off the post before hitting the keeper’s leg and going in. If the dubious goals committee get their mitts on it, it will be an OG.
How you feel after the final whistle is usually a fair guide to a game – and last night I was more than happy with the point. From the opening minutes it was apparent that MK Dons were a cut above any other team I’ve seen us up against to date. They were comfortable on the ball, from back to front, had threat down the flanks, possessed the pain-in-the-neck Morrison who was annoyingly effective in holding up play, broke with nasty efficiency, and in Chadwick had the stand-out player of the first half. He tended to bypass our midfield when supporting their front two, which seemed to encourage Stephens and Holland to hang back for fear of being caught out. Through the first half we saw precious little of the ball, gave away possession too cheaply, didn’t get anything going out wide, and ended up managing one shot in anger. I counted five efforts on goal from them before they went ahead with the penalty; it was a soft one in that their guy saw a leg stuck out and went for it (I thought the leg belonged to Solly, but the reports say Taylor, who I mistook for Wagstaff on Saturday), but in the context of the modern game there was no doubt that the leg was there to go over.
That’s not being over-critical. MK Dons were at home and after four games without a win were clearly up for it – to the extent of some cynical game-disrupting fouls which were not punished sufficiently by the ref and one disgraceful lunge which didn’t even get a yellow. The onus was on them and perhaps we were reasonably content to try to see off the storm in the first period before upping the effort in the second. And the penalty aside, their attempts on goal, while well dealt with by Hamer, only involved one good save. The others were routine. More worrying was their ability to get into scoring positions and our failure to create.
The break was necessary for us and the second half was to prove a different affair. In fact it was open, pretty even, and could easily have produced a hatful of goals. Good fare for the neutral, but they had too many openings for comfort – and this time Hamer’s saves were of a different nature. He undoubtedly earned his corn. The same cannot be said of their forwards, who somehow failed to score, especially with a few clean headers and a one-on-one. But this time we created a similar number of our own, with the midfield while not in control at least competing on equal terms and with equal effect.
Although our team continued to pick itself, there’s no doubt we carried much greater threat after the two obvious changes were made. Wagstaff had an indifferent first half and in the second it was still a struggle as he wasn’t able to go past his man and his crossing again let him down. One from a good position just hung in the air in the centre of the goal for their keeper to collect. To his credit he stuck to the task and was getting more involved before giving way to Green. Not long afterwards Kermorgant replaced Hayes. Hayes had a decent game, but our new Breton added much more of an aerial threat, even if the direction of his headers was just a bit askew.
The equaliser proved to be a thing of both beauty and farce. The ball was played down the right to Green with his back to goal and their defender in close attendance. A superb flick one side and turn away the other and he was clear away. The cross was sublime, just asking to be buried. If Kermorgant had put it in the net unaided it would have been a goal of the season contender. But again it did come back off the post (and with two other headers from good positions Kermorgant won the ball in the air but didn’t find the net).
Of our chances, one ball flashed across the face of goal without getting a touch, one squared to Stephens (I think) saw the shot fly just over, their keeper pulled off a couple of good saves, one cross to the far post saw Jackson for once mistime (and misdirect) the header, and at the death a ball in the box didn’t quite get the connection it needed and dribbled through to their keeper. We could easily have scored three in the second half, but so could they; and they could have been out of sight at the break.
So let’s concentrate on the fact that we’re still unbeaten, the impression that the team did well not to buckle when under pressure and to show enough courage and conviction to get a hard-earned point, and move on to Sheffield. No point in worrying about what Preston are up to either, we have to just focus on ourselves. And for once Sir Chris will have some thinking to do when it comes to picking the team for Saturday, given the impact that Green and Kermorgant had. Personally, without any consideration of Sheff Utd’s strengths and weaknesses and player fitness (will Wright-Phillips be fit after picking up a knock last night?), I’d be inclined to start the game with the same X1. Green may not yet be ready for a full 90 minutes and Wagstaff does have the defensive qualities he may lack for an away game, while Hayes played well enough last night before giving way. Kermorgant may well prove to be a key signing (not surprisingly I hope he does) but having him to come on may for now still be the best choice. The good news is that with these two – and hopefully soon Alonso (who has to be a star, having read his programme interview and myself having been a philosophy graduate) – ready and available we have more options now.
Before we do move on, you’ve got to laugh a little at MK Dons. Their stadium is quite splendid, but far too big for them. Their programme was also impressive, but suffered from the content. Their manager’s column had the headline “we will not underestimate the task ahead of us tonight”. Leaving aside the pedantic comment that by definition it is a mistake to underestimate anything, the fact that we are top of the league and had won every away game to date sounded like Mans City saying they would respect Bayern Munich. That followed the wonderful statement from chairman Pete Winkelman – “in recent years we have had some memorable night games at stadiummk”. Beyond recent years you didn’t have any night games at stadiummk.
Hamer – 9/10. Did everything asked of him, especially in the second half.
Wiggins – 7/10. Far tougher match than the recent home games; stood up well and more effective getting forward in the second half.
Solly – 7/10. Was going to be a 6 until I saw it wasn’t him that gave away the penalty. Was asked a lot of questions last night as MK Dons had a winger (Balanta) who was strong and fast. In that context he had a good game, seldom getting exposed.
Taylor – 6/10. Has to lose a mark for the penalty (apparently); more worrying for me was their ability to win free headers in the box.
Morrison – 6/10. Perhaps harsh, but fact is they created enough chances to have scored 3 or 4.
Jackson – 6/10. Much more effective in the second half when we worked the ball forward, but did miss that header from a good position.
Stephens – 6/10. Fact is through the first half they played the ball around in midfield much better than us. Chadwick seemed to unsettle both him and Hollands with his movement.
Hollands – 6/10. As for Stephens, the midfield didn’t really function in the first half.
Wagstaff – 5/10. Harsh mark, but he didn’t have a good game and seemed a little out of sorts in the first half. Was improving before taken off.
Hayes – 6/10. Not his most effective game, but I’m disconcerted by some fans dislike of him. A lot of intelligent work seems to go unnoticed.
Wright-Phillips – 6/10. Didn’t score. But was instrumental in us getting back into the game as when we pushed them back he always looked a threat; failed to get a shot away from a decent position late on with the challenge possibly meaning he’s picked up a knock.
Subs – Green (8/10 – really didn’t do much and saw little of the ball, but his moment that led to the goal was sublime); Kermorgant (7/10 – some may have given a higher mark as you could argue his introduction changed the game; fact is he had three headers from goal-scoring positions and didn’t put one between the sticks; but a great start); Hughes (oh come on, he was on the pitch for all of five minutes).