MK Dons beat Accrington Stanley with an injury time winner, but how does their squad look heading into the run in?


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Milton Keynes Dons came back at the death to snatch a come-from-behind 2-1 victory at home to Accrington Stanley on Saturday, keeping them well inside the Play off places and on the right tracks for a promotion push come May.

With the Transfer windows finished for the rest of the season and the squads all but locked in place, how does Mike Williamson’s team look going into the final four months?

The first big move inside Stadium MK came when there was a change between the posts.

Having moved on goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray to Stevenage on loan and recruited Filip Marschall from Aston Villa to replace, Williamson is building the nucleus of ball-playing players he can call upon.

Making the tough choice to change the man between the sticks, it is an early statement to make, yet the statistics are there to vindicate his decision.

The 30-year-old who only joined in the Summer from Burton Albion, averaged 39 touches of the ball in possession, but in comparison averaged five more long balls/clearances per 90 minutes to his predecessor from the last two seasons, Jamie Cumming.

With a success rate of just 29% when a pass in attempted beyond 30 yards, it means he loses the ball on three or four more occasions than Cumming.

When it is the keeper giving the ball away in a possession-based system, it usually means that the passes are closer to the goal, rather than halfway inside the opposition half.

Conceding the ball with the proximity closer to goal is going to lead to the recruitment looking at alternatives.

This is not to say MacGillivray underperformed, in his 24 league games, there was only one error which led to a goal, and his xGA, expected goals against, for the season sits at 29.8, yet 31 goals were shipped, meaning he has conceded more than statistically he should have for League Two.

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What are the Dons getting in Marschall, that they were not from MacGillivray? The loanee, ten years junior, is highly regarded within the Aston Villa youth academy and enjoyed two fruitful loan spells at Gateshead under the stewardship of his current head coach, Mike Williamson.

His development has seen a sharp rise, to the position of number two and understudy on the bench to Emilio Martinez, World Cup winner last campaign with Argentina.

Being able to call upon such a seasoned professional as his teammate to learn from can only have stood the youngster in good stead. Marschall has this season also started for the Villains in UEFA Conference League action when they beat HŠK Zrinjski Mostar in December.

For Milton Keynes to be able to call upon such a prospect in fourth tier football, it can be considered quite a coup and highlights how well trusted the head coach Williamson is by those higher in the football pyramid.

Since his arrival, Marschall has played in five matches and not looked completely at ease with what is being asked of him. Conceding in a poor fashion in three of his five games has not endeared him to the supporters as he would have initially hoped.

When you appear unable to command your penalty area and look uncomfortable with the ball at your feet, it is certainly not the ideal recipe for a successful goal keeper.

The youngster has a lot to work on and to flourish he will be dependant on a number of solid displays, which need to come fast.

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Williamson has also recruited two players he has previously worked with at Gateshead, Kyren Lofthouse and Stephen Wearne.

The former, a wing back by trade arrived at Stadium MK on loan from Barnsley and was thrown into the deep end for his debut, starting away at Tranmere despite being named amongst the substitutes.

It was only when Ethan Robson suffered an injury, as the teams lined up in the tunnel. In his opening five matches, the youngster has started three and came off the bench against vociferous rivals AFC Wimbledon for an injured Cameron Norman.

His most recent performance, at home against Accrington Stanley saw him pick up the Man of the match award as he was an ever-present threat to the visiting defence.

Excluding his display against Stanley, the early signs have shown that there is pace to burn in attacking areas, taking control the ball as wide as possible and targeting the opposing player, running directly towards the penalty area before cutting back to a midfielder, creating an overlap for the roaming playmakers in the side like as Daniel Kemp and Jack Payne to provide crosses, or play the pass back inside around the box for onrushing players to shoot.

What Dons fans will be hoping is that there can also be more of an end product, seeing assists off his crosses, something Norman was not able to produce, hence the recruitment of Lofthouse.

In his 25 matches so far this season, Norman only managed to assist three goals.

In a team dependant on the wing backs to create opportunities and be a major factor within the attacking third, a better outlay is imperative.

For contrast, the options for the left wing back birth are Daniel Harvie and Joe Tomlinson. Between the pair, they have amassed eight goals and five assists.

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Wearne, a central midfielder who has had spells inside the football league before dropping to Gateshead where he shined in recent months.

Having arrived at MK with a niggle that has seen him side-lined since Boxing Day, it was off the bench that he made his debut, at home to Gillingham, coming on for the final quarter of an hour.

He then followed this with another substitute display, again at home, this time to Accrington Stanley two weeks later.

The fans inside Stadium MK are only beginning to see what Wearne can produce on the football pitch and given the embers displayed so far, there appears to be a lot of positives.

In addition to the three aforementioned, Williamson has seen Lewis Bate, a combative central midfielder arrived through to door on loan from Leeds United for the remainder of the campaign.

Having spent last season on loan at Oxford United and featuring in 28 games, he was kept in and around the Leeds first team by Daniel Farke when he joined in the Summer. After failing to breakthrough and stamp his mark on the pitch at Elland Road, the 21-year-old moved to Buckinghamshire, supposedly turning down offers with clubs in League One, to join a club lower in the football pyramid, but one which mirrors his desired style of play more closely.

With his contract expiring in five months’ time and with his parent club showing no desires at extending, the remaining 20 games of the current campaign could well be an active audition at securing something more permanent at Stadium MK.

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With wingers Jonathan Leko and Ashley Hunter departing Stadium MK in the week, the make-up and depth that Williamson is looking for in his squad has all but finished in taking shape.

Adding on deadline day Emre Tezgel on loan from Stoke City, a young and promising forward to their ranks counters the departure at the eleventh-hour of Mo Eisa to Exeter City.

Also to depart was Conor Grant. With Grant failing to make a matchday squad since New Years’ Day and making just the eleven appearances all season, it was no surprise that the club and player both felt their trade was better plied elsewhere.

What may be a shock was that the midfielder rose up a division, moving to League One Barnsley, with the option of making the move permanent in the coming summer.

With an abundance of options across the pitch, Williamson should not find himself delving into the free agency market with a settled squad looking to keep their promotion push on the right tracks.

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

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