Tennai Watson: the backup option now shining from the off


Embed from Getty Images

Tennai Watson has never put a foot out of place in his first season at Milton Keynes Dons and has fully capitalised on the opportunities when they rose.

In recent weeks the utility wing-back has become a pillar of consistency in the Dons playing eleven, but his career in Buckinghamshire has been anything but straightforward.

The perception of any player who arrives following a trial, sometimes unfairly, the supporters tend to judge that they may not at the same level as those who transfer without the need for match assessment.

Watson is a player who may have fallen into this category, but whenever he has been entrusted with the starting shirt, he has delivered. Able to comfortably cover either wing-back position, the former Reading defender has earned his place.

Embed from Getty Images

The challenges were always there for the 25-year-old, moving to a new team and immediately facing stiff competition from a returning starlet, Peter Kioso, who nailed down the starters roll after impressing in the opening fixtures.

Having first appeared for Reading, his previous employer in 2016 and playing three times that season, the Londoner had only taken to the field for a staggeringly low 28 games throughout the rest of his six-year professional career, with 24 of these coming in 2019 whilst on loan at AFC Wimbledon.

It is clear Watson has understood and accepted his chances may be slim, so after his release from the Royals last summer, it would have been easy for the wing-back to join a side lower down the footballing pyramid where regular football was guaranteed.

Instead of accepting the slightly easier path, Milton Keynes Dons, then under the tutelage of Russell Martin offered Watson an avenue just one division lower. Upon signing and being rewarded with the number ‘2’ shirt, it left supporters slightly underwhelmed given his career achievements, or lack of, to date.

Embed from Getty Images

Playing in such an incredibly high-intensity position in the modern game means that rest and rotation plays a crucial role in keeping squads fresh and able to perform week-in, week-out.

Although Watson may not have been starting, he was getting opportunities for cameo displays off the bench, something that saw the right-footed defender flourish and very quickly begin to demonstrate his skill-set to the Dons supporters.

It was not long before substitute chances became starting berths. Able to competently operate in all three thirds, Watson has on several instances delivered when required in the final third, assisting once and scoring twice in his 25 games played this campaign.

Whilst the statistics may seem fairly ordinary, the number two has created endless chances for his striking teammates and been heavily involved in the creation of a number of goals also.

Being heavily instrumental in the build up to a goal does not see yourself personally credited within the statistics, but many a player at MK Dons can count themselves just as fundamental as the player supplying the finish.

Seven of the Dons’ 61 goals this season have come at the end of sublime 20-or-more pass routines before scoring and Watson was on the field and contributed towards six of these.

Whilst the statistics make pretty reading for Watson’s performances, his place in the side has never been cemented.

Following loanee Kioso’s departure from Stadium MK in early January after Luton Town activated his return clause, it opened the door for Watson to capture and keep, but the Dons on deadline day loaned Kaine Kesler Hayden from Aston Villa, who has himself looked in impressive touch.

With both men now vying for the starting position it gives the free-agent acquisition another teammate to battle it out and challenge in training.

Embed from Getty Images

With first-choice left wing-back Daniel Harvie having recently been suspended for two matches thanks to accumulating ten yellow cards this season, Watson was accomplished when filling in and manfully performed in the dominant victories away to Charlton Athletic and at home to Bolton Wanderers.

Harvie then suffered a straight red card and dismissal on his return to the side away to table-toppers Rotherham United, guaranteeing three more starts for the wide pairing of Kesler-Hayden and Watson during crunch matches against Cheltenham Town, Wigan Athletic and Cambridge United.

With the Dons impressively putting Cheltenham to the sword winning 3-1, Watson was key in the creation of the opening goal by Troy Parrott, supplying a devilish pass to the edge of the area, finding midfielder Matt Smith who turned to set up the aforementioned Parrott.

With a solid display in the bank ahead of a crucial promotion-deciding fixture at the weekend, Watson was substituted midway during the second half after taking a knock, initially as a precaution given the points were already secured.

All parties will be hoping it is nothing more serious, especially given the magnitude of the game fast-approaching at home to Wigan this weekend.

This more than anything highlights the trialist’s importance among the ranks, proving he has come a long way since the season began.

Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt


About Author

Covering Milton Keynes Dons football, Northants Steelbacks Cricket and the England International side also. https://twitter.com/themalicat

Comments are closed.