Here we go again, another Tuesday, another game, another game against a team in the lower half of the table. Same priorities as before, three points and everything else would be forgiven. And we just about managed that in a game which saw us take the lead early on then progressively surrender territory and possession (the BBC stats showed us on 30% for the game) but maintain defensive discipline to see the game out. It was rather like Peterborough without the clangers and the other pertinent stat was we had three attempts on target to their four, Amos did what he needed to but was for once well protected against a team which played football but was unable to turn decent positions into clear goalscoring chances.
We knew we’d be without Maatsen for the game, with Bowyer having indicated that fit or not he’d be given a rest and Purrington brought back in. And this proved to be one of four changes from Saturday, with Shinnie coming in for Williams and the front two changed. Washington and Stockley started, with Aneke and Schwartz on the bench, where they were joined by the returning Watson (plus Pearce, Morgan and Williams, and Aneke and Schwartz, with no sign now of either Bogle or Smyth, further evidence to assume that he is on his way back to QPR). What wasn’t clear from the details was whether it would be a basic 4-4-2 as we began on Saturday, with Millar and Shinnie taking the wider midfield berths, a diamond as we went for in the second half, with Millar as the point, or a front three, with Washington and Millar either side of Stockley.
It proved to be the basic set-up and in the early stages, despite another pudding of a pitch, Millar was making his presence felt down the left side. The only surprise was that he ended up scoring as the result of a ball in from someone else. After an even first period, before 20 minutes were up and just after Washington and Pratley had nearly combined for an opener, Washington put in a cross from the right that Stockley nearly collected but instead ran to Millar. He was in acres of space but still had a keeper and a couple on the line to get the ball past, which he did with a well struck low shot.
MK Dons not surprisingly upped their effort and we were getting put under pressure. But we got the break for once as a corner of theirs to the near post saw a flicked header come back off the foot of the woodwork. That was as close as they came before the break, with plenty of effort being put in to deny them space in our final third.
It felt very strange to be winning a game at half-time, for the break not to see changes made. As it happens our first change came not long into the second half as Washington went down with an injury and was replaced by Schwartz. And although MK Dons were dominating possession we were having the better chances. A Forster-Caskey free kick curled just over, and after their advancing centre-back had his pass intercepted Schwartz played it on to Millar only for him to get a little too close to their keeper, who managed to smother it.
Going into the final 30 minutes and we were still just about coping, although Oshilaja seemed to be caught out once and Amos came to the rescue. Aneke came on for Stockley and Morgan for Shinnie, with no changes to the formation but we were finding it hard to keep the ball now or to find an outlet. We weren’t hanging on but were being tested, with Millar doing as much work now around our box as theirs. A couple of free kicks were conceded in dangerous positions but either the wall made the block or the shot was off target, or in one case deflected over. We did manage one breakaway, only for Aneke to be unceremoniously taken out.
Just ahead of four minutes of stoppage time Pearce was introduced for Millar but we were to be spared the heartache of the last-gasp equaliser, not least as MK Dons continued to try to work the ball around, right up to the last.
So tonight the plaudits go to the defence, even if Millar’s was the standout performance. We kept a clean sheet against Bristol Rovers recently but that was largely due to their poor finishing. Tonight we maintained discipline where it mattered and were rewarded with the points. The game won’t live long in the memory, and no doubt MK Dons will feel rather aggrieved at having lost, having had so much possession. But it will very much do for now.
Amos – 7/10. Did all that was asked of him without having to make any outstanding saves (there was one shot which resulted in a corner which he may have been responsible for).
Matthews – 7/10. Much better display than on Saturday, even if there wasn’t much chance to get forward.
Gunter – 7/10. Good game, helped to keep their front two under wraps pretty much throughout the game.
Oshilaja – 8/10. As for Gunter and a little more, robust against an experienced opponent.
Purrington – 7/10. Slotted in well, no complaints – except perhaps that Millar was required to make some telling interceptions in his area of defence.
Shinnie – 7/10. Decent game in a slightly unfamiliar role on the right side of midfield.
Pratley – 7/10. Another consistent performance in a game which put a premium on competitiveness against a five-man midfield.
Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Not much chance to shine going forward but also put in a shift.
Millar – 8/10. Probably man-of-the-match for the second game in succession. Always a threat, scored the goal, effective in defence, might have been a perfect display if he’d scored with the second-half breakaway.
Washington – 7/10. Was involved in most of our better moments in the first half, including the goal.
Stockley – 7/10. Still getting up to speed, no problems with the commitment and work rate, not much chance to shine in terms of opportunities.
Schwartz – 6/10. Difficult to come on as a forward in the second half when we were playing pretty much on the break.
Aneke – 6/10. The same, hard to make an impression.
Morgan – 7/10. More involved and played his part.
Pearce – Only on for stoppage time.