MK Dons end the year on a high, but 2023 was one to forget


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Milton Keynes Dons are continuing to carry on the momentum and feel-good-factor inside Stadium MK, securing nine points out of a possible nine over the festive period, despite the awful calendar year fans have had to endure.

Three managers, 54 players used, 60 goals scored, 61 goals shipped, a relegation and three failed cup campaigns. It really does not make the prettiest of reading.

The shoots are there for what both might have been, but also where it could be even worse.

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For starters, the Dons were one point away from playing Championship football in 2023, but after narrowly missing out on getting promoted in the 2021-22 season, they stayed in League One and the unthinkable occurred 12 months later, going from the top of the league table to the bottom and sliding down the pyramid to tier four.

In their plummet, the Dons amassed a meagre 24 points from 23 matches and only secured one win in their final nine games of the season, sealing their fate.

The performances were a lightyear off those that had come in the previous season.

With the head coach having the rug pulled from under him and being replaced by Graham Alexander, the Dons saw an overhaul in the style and setup in which they play, going from a progressive possession-based to one more structured and disciplined, to fit the mould in which Alexander likes to play.

To call the football negative would be unfair, but individuals are now more adept to building out from the back, passing out of danger to evade pressure in tight spaces, than going route one as their initial modus operandi.

So those players brought into Stadium MK alongside those already in the building had to quickly alter and curb their natural instincts to meet their managers’ demands.

This saw the departure of all the loanees and several key personnel following the relegation and the Dons recruited a mixture of experience and youth, those which Alexander felt he could sculpt to player the desired tactic.

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It soon became apparent that this was not working and with his side sitting 17th in the League Two table, the Scotsman fell on his sword, quickly replaced by Mike Williamson, becoming the third hotseat incumbent in just 15 games.

Ripping up the Alexander handbook and returning the Dons to their possession style, known locally as “the MK way”, the former Newcastle centre back has overseen ten matches, gaining 23 points from a possible 30.

Winning seven, drawing two and losing just one, his first, one day after joining and with no chance of a single training session with his new side under his belt.

This upturn in form has the Buckinghamshire outfit sitting safely inside the Play off places with eyes on catching those higher.

The rare moments of success and highs were quickly tempered the realism of where they currently sit in the football pyramid, but you do have to celebrate and embrace any shining lights that come your way.

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Whilst the lows are too many to mention, the positives in the first half of the calendar year were less than regular, the obvious place which to start the celebratory remarks is with the club captain, stalwart and overriding fans’ favourite, Dean Lewington.

The 39-year-old celebrated the record for breaking the EFL record appearances for one side, amassing 771, with the Boxing Day win over Colchester United breaking the milestone.

Having made his debut under Stewart Murdoch in 2004, to equal the record with his 770th appearance 19 years’ later against Morecambe, where Murdoch now works as a scout.

Before the game at home to Crawley Town three days later, Lewington was presented with an award by EFL Chief Executive Trevor Birch and MK Chairman Pete Winkelman to mark the achievement and both sets of players gave the defender a guard of honour.

With the previous record standing for 43 years, it is one whereby the watermark left by Lewington is higher than will be achievable in the modern game.

With the game being more fluid in terms of transfers, less and less players are spending their careers at just one side.

In terms of closeness to Lewington from the current crop of players, Alan Browne of Preston North End, currently has 356 appearances to his name, and with him being 28, he would have to play every match for the next nine seasons just to catch, and that’s without Lewington adding to his tally which he looks set to do just that for a while to come.

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The other positive lights appear to be the development of striker Max Dean and the successful integration of the new head coach in Mike Williamson.

Having mentioned above the pace at which Williamson has hit the ground running, it has been aided immeasurably by the emergence of the 19-year-old.

Having scored six goals and assisted once since the change of leadership, his attacking threat has been a fulcrum and an ever-present under the new regime.

Along with midfielders Alex Gilbey and Jack Payne, the trio have formed an excellent partnership, with the pair assisting all of Dean’s goals and Dean’s assist being for Gilbey.

The shoots are beginning to grow under the new leadership and the Dons will be hoping that how they ended 2023 will be exactly what carries into 2024.

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

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