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Kings of Anglia Issue 10 Magazine Offer

Meet the opposition: The flat cap fitting, a former Canaries captain and some lofty ambitions

PUBLISHED: 17:00 16 September 2019

Sam Nombe celebrates after putting MK Dons ahead against rivals AFC Wimbledon. Photo: PA

Sam Nombe celebrates after putting MK Dons ahead against rivals AFC Wimbledon. Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Ipswich Town face MK Dons, at Stadium MK, in a League One clash tomorrow evening (7.45pm). STUART WATSON takes a closer look at the Dons.

MK Dons players celebrate League Two promotion. Photo: PAMK Dons players celebrate League Two promotion. Photo: PA

POTTED HISTORY

Formed, controversially, in 2004 following Wimbledon's relocation to Buckinghamshire. Enough has been written about all that and the subsequent rise of phoenix club AFC Wimbledon.

MK dropped down to League Two in 2006, came back up two years later (under Paul Ince) and then, after a few years of knocking on the door under Karl Robinson's management, were promoted to the Championship in 2015.

They were immediately relegated back to the third-tier and Robinson soon departed for Charlton. Another relegation, and return to the fourth-tier, followed in 2018.

The flat cap fits: Paul Tisdale spent 12 years at Exeter City. Photo: PAThe flat cap fits: Paul Tisdale spent 12 years at Exeter City. Photo: PA

THE (FLAT) CAP FITS

When Paul Tisdale decided it was time to part company with Exeter City last summer, following 12 years at the helm and two League Two Play-Off Final defeats, the Dons decided that his (flat) cap fitted.

The former Southampton and England Schools youngster, whose playing career was ended early through injury, achieved what he couldn't manage with the Grecians at the very first time of asking - promotion achieved via the third and final automatic promotion spot.

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Deadly front duo of Kieran Agard (22 goals) and Chuks Aneke (19 goals) did the damage. Both came to the end of their contracts, with Aneke signing for Charlton and Agard signing a new deal.

MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman celebrates promotion from League Two. Photo: PAMK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman celebrates promotion from League Two. Photo: PA

There were no other major exits though, with Tisdale able to strengthen his squad with the additions of experienced attacking duo Joe Mason (Wolves, free) and Jordan Bowery (Crewe, free), as well as young centre-back Regan Poole (Man Utd, free),

SETTING SIGHTS HIGH

Charismatic chairman Pete Winkelman has lofty ambitions.

"I want to be promoted into the Championship, and I won't be happy if we're not, but I have to accept it's a big ask," he told the Milton Keynes Citizen recently.

Dean Lewington has made more than 700 starts for MK Dons. Photo: PADean Lewington has made more than 700 starts for MK Dons. Photo: PA

"The standard is constantly getting higher. We've been away for a year. We've got to find our feet and work out our team.

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"I expect us to get better as the season goes on. Play-offs and I think we'll have done OK. Midtable... I won't knock it but I'd be disappointed because we'd have spent too much money just to be midtable. That will always be my position."

Boss Tisdale responded: "He's right to expect certain things. And why not? How quick is a different matter. I have to say 95 per cent of what he wants and expects I'm aligned with."

Paul Tisdale was appointed MK Dons manager last summer. Photo: PAPaul Tisdale was appointed MK Dons manager last summer. Photo: PA

A GOOD MIX

Dean Lewington is Mr MK Dons. The 35-year-old left-back, a former Wimbledon man who has been there from the start, has made more than 700 starts for the club.

In January, he was joined by another leader in the form of Russell Martin. The former Norwich City captain and Scotland international, now 33, was picked up on a free following spells at Walsall and Rangers.

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At the other end of the age spectrum, academy graduates David Kasumu (20, holding midfielder) and Sam Nombe (20, striker) are being given their chance.

Kieran Agard (front) signed a new MK Dons deal after scoring 22 goals last season. Photo: PAKieran Agard (front) signed a new MK Dons deal after scoring 22 goals last season. Photo: PA

On the influence of Martin, Tisdale said: "When someone has the experience he has, and plays the way he does, it is intangible sometimes, the effect it has. Someone being in the right place to prevent something happening, picking up the pace or slowing it down, sometimes you can't see it, but you feel it as a manager.

"An opportunity arose to sign him, and I knew he was the right type. David Kasumu, playing 15 yards in front of him, you can't quantify the influence that has on a young player."

TWO EX U'S

Alex Gilbey and Brennan Dickenson are both formerly of Colchester United.

Former Norwich City captain Russell Martin is a key man for MK Dons. Photo: PAFormer Norwich City captain Russell Martin is a key man for MK Dons. Photo: PA

Midfielder Gilbey is in his third season at Stadium MK, after a £225k switch to Wigan never really took off, while the versatile Dickenson joined directly from the U's on a Bosman free transfer this summer.

POOR START

MK Dons' start to the season was delayed due to the fact that Bury had been due to be their opening opponents. It required a stoppage-time winner to beat Shrewsbury 1-0 at home the following weekend.

A 3-2 defeat at Wycombe followed. Then, after a nervy 2-1 home win over Lincoln, there were defeats to Peterborough (4-0 at home) and Accrington Stanley (2-1 away) that were described as 'abject'.

Former Colchester United midfielder’ Alex Gilbey in action for MK Dons. Photo: PAFormer Colchester United midfielder’ Alex Gilbey in action for MK Dons. Photo: PA

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A 3-0 win at Stevenage in the EFL Trophy came three days after the latter, Tisdale saying: "We've gone up a league, I haven't had a settled side yet, but there is no great drama yet. Sometimes, you have to find your feet.

"There are 101 things to discuss after Accrington. I asked for something, and we got a response. It's a building block. It's not the football I wanted, or the fluidity, but they gave me what I wanted on the night.

"We have to do one thing at a time. We're not miles away. That needs to step on to the next game."

TURNING POINT

Next up was the visit of bitter rivals AFC Wimbledon... Emotions were high. The pressure was on.

MK responded with a 2-1 victory. They led by two goals inside half an hour and endured a nervy finish after conceding with seven minutes to go.

"These three points were desperately needed," said Tisdale. "We have to settle, and believe in our system. That's two games where we've been competitive and put on a good show - now we need to make it three."

And that they did, with a 3-0 win at Blackpool on Saturday.

"I knew we had it in us," said Tisdale. "We counter-attacked really well. At half time, it was about confidence. We could have just defended, but I saw more there and I encouraged them to take a chance. The third goal showed that with quick passing through the lines.

"There is more to come. My teams will always develop. We're not usually boom or bust. I've warned the players that we needed one of these because we haven't been good enough this year.

"We haven't found our rhythm yet, maybe that's my fault, or their fault, or is it just circumstance? We've done a pretty decent job."

WING-BACKS

There's been a lot of talk in recent days about whether 3-5-2 is a system Ipswich Town boss Paul Lambert might turn to. Well that's the formation MK Dons play.

The aforementioned Lewington, very much a left-back throughout his career, is playing further forwards.

"The 3-5-2 is a very complicated system," he said. "There are lots of things that can go wrong and there are grey areas. Sometimes it all clicks and makes sense, but when you're a little bit out of kilter, it can cause problems.

"We stripped it back to the simplest form, and then we just add on little bolts. We did it twice last year during the season, so we're used to doing that."

LIVERPOOL DISTRACTION

In amongst all of this, MK Dons have won a couple of Carabao Cup ties - on penalties at AFC Wimbledon and 4-1 at Southend. That's set up a third round home match with Liverpool.

The European champions and Premier League leaders come to town next Wednesday. It's the most high profile game in the young club's history and could just be occupying a few minds.

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