How has Mark Jackson got a tune out of a silent MK Dons squad?


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MK Dons have turned what seemed to be a disastrous season with relegation inevitable into one which is ending with shoots of positivity, given their performances throughout March and into early April.

By no means are they out of the threat of relegation, sitting precariously only three points outside the drop zone with six games left to play, but having dragged themselves out of the mire, where at one point they were 23rd in the league with a deficit of nine points to make up, all credit must go to Mark Jackson for the mid-season turnaround in fortunes.

Jackson, having arrived from Leeds United, taking the gamble at making his first foray into head coach/manager at a team sleepwalking into the fourth division, has galvanised a beleaguered looking squad.

Having stated on arrival his commitment to playing a 4-3-3 formation, it became apparent that the squad he inherited did not have a squad depth capable of playing such setup.

Quick to arrive were additions to the centre of midfield to bolster the ranks, alongside wingers to allow for the change as his Dons squad did not include anyone suitable for such roles given the squad build to play 3-5-2.

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After the initial attempts at operating with two centre backs, combined with several key injuries, it was soon clear that a third body in the centre of defence was needed.

Reverting to three centre backs coincided with the return from injury of key experience in veteran Dean Lewington and loanee Anthony Stewart.

The upturn in form can easily be attributed also the solidity in the backline, allowing those further forward to trust their backline more than previous and not have to cover to add insurance, meaning the threat greatly improves in the opposing final third.

Whilst it is important to be tactically astute as a head coach, it is also imperative that you can also inspire and improve those players already in your squad, coaching them to make better decisions, be more comfortable in the higher-pressure moments, remaining composed and able to benefit the side more productively.

All of these are something that can be found in Conor Grant’s recent performances.

Having arrived at Stadium MK in the summer of 2022 fresh off the back of winning the League Two Player of the Year award, it seemed to all and sundry that a real gem had landed in Buckinghamshire to replace Scott Twine, who had departed to Burnley.

However, it soon become obvious that there was trouble in paradise as under the previous head coach, Liam Manning, Grant’s displays fell miserably below the desired level and after just a handful of games the midfielder was not even close to making the matchday squads.

Fast forward six months and a change of leadership, Grant is now one of the first names on the team sheet, putting in stellar performances and oozing confidence.

In his last four matches, he has delivered two assists and put in arguably two player of the match displays.

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What lies ahead for Jackson and his Milton Keynes side to not allow their levels to drop towards the end of the campaign.

Within their final six matches, they face stern competition against two sides challenging for the playoff places and three teams sitting comfortably in the middle of table.

Having played all their relegation rivals, except Burton Albion who they face on the final day of the season, they will not be able to take points from other so will have to rely on others faltering to help their cause.

In their most recent match against Portsmouth, the Dons rallied back from a goal down to earn a 1-1 draw, thanks to a good finish by Mo Eisa.

The South coast side did shoot themselves the foot just before halftime when midfielder Joe Morrell inexplicably punched Daniel Harvie a corner kick, earning him a red card for his troubles and leaving his side a man down for the remainder of the tie.

Taking into consideration the way other results from around the League fell on Good Friday, the Dons sit 19th three points ahead of the parapet.

With a huge match against Derby County on Easter Monday just on the horizon, it is imperative the Jackson’s men carry on their good form and fortune in the fixture at Pride Park.

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Jackson’s modus operandi for the next month looking ahead must be to assure themselves of avoiding relegation first and foremost, then within each match carry on building the cohesion and partnerships that can be carried on into the 23/24 campaign.

With only three players of their 25-man squad out of contract, it will be likely that next season’s side will be of a similar makeup, just with a couple of additions here and there.

No matter what the coming months and next season may look like, the priority is always the next fixture, so all eyes are pointed to Derby.

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About Author

Covering Milton Keynes Dons football, Northants Steelbacks Cricket and the England International side also.

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