MK Dons Defensive Issues on Display Again Against Tranmere Rovers

MK Dons Defensive Issues on Display Again Against Tranmere Rovers  -
MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND – APRIL 06: Milton Keynes Dons‘ Joe Walsh during the Sky Bet League Two match between Milton Keynes Dons and Lincoln City at Stadium mk on April 6, 2019 in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. (Photo by Andrew Vaughan – CameraSport via Getty Images)

MK Dons were dealt another blow in their bid for automatic promotion yesterday as they lost 2-1 at Tranmere Rovers. Goals from David Perkins and Connor Jennings came either side of Kieran Agard‘s equaliser. The win puts Rovers just one point behind Paul Tisdale’s side in the League Two table and only two off the automatic spots.

MK Dons started the game with a back four but only had three recognised defenders on the pitch – Jordan Houghton filled in at centre-back due to injuries, something he has had to do already this season. How, though, has a team with eight centre-backs in their senior ranks allowed this to happen?

MK Dons Defensive Issues Displayed Again Against Tranmere Rovers

Saturday’s Centre-Back Problem

Joe Walsh was the latest centre-back to drop out of the MK Dons line-up this weekend, meaning Jordan Houghton moved from midfield into the back four. Manager Paul Tisdale had other options that he could have explored, but with Houghton having done little wrong in the position before, he got the nod.

Yesterday, though, was arguably the first time Houghton indicated his lack of understanding in the position. He was partially at fault for the second goal, completely leaving his man to allow Connor Jennings a free header that restored Tranmere’s lead in the second half.

Perhaps the Dons could have done with a more dominant force at the back instead of Houghton, who is hardly an imposing figure at 5’11”. Ousseynou Cisse played the position during his time in the French leagues and, at 6’3″, is certainly a more solid figure.

Another option would have been taking the risk with George Williams. The Dons academy product made the trip to Prenton Park and was seen warming up with the squad, but wasn’t part of the matchday 18. While this could have easily backfired on Tisdale had he chosen that route, it would certainly have been a bonus for MK Dons to have another recognised defender in the squad against a team that boast the best home record in the division, as well as possessing the current League Two Player of the Season.

The Ongoing Issue

MK Dons’ defensive solidity in the first half of the season came down to a having a consistent trio of centre-backs. Jordan Moore-Taylor was the anchor in the middle while Joe Walsh and Baily Cargill would support the wing-backs with underlapping runs. Moore-Taylor eventually succumbed to injury, only being able to make a couple of appearances afterwards before having to drop out again.

He was replaced by Mathieu Baudry, who joined the club in the summer whilst being injured. He put in solid performances against Northampton Town and Cambridge United, but recurrences of his previous problem have left him out of the side for much of the second half of the season, playing only sporadically. Since the win against Cambridge on New Year’s Day, his two appearances have come on February 23 and March 16.

Replacing Baudry in the side, mostly, has been January signing Russell Martin, who has pretty much remained an ever-present since his arrival. His experience has been vital and he even popped up with the late winner at Forest Green Rovers last month. However, he is not a long-term option and once the defence from earlier this season is able to return, it’s likely he’ll drop out to become a rotation player.

Wing-Back Becoming a Problem

On the Right

The injury to Williams has left Callum Brittain as the club’s only viable option on the right side of defence. The youngster broke through into the first team last season and has enjoyed an encouraging start to his career, but there are still elements of his game that need honing and his lack of discipline is proving detrimental to the Dons’ promotion push.

The cross which resulted in Tranmere’s second goal yesterday was easily preventable had Brittain made any attempt to stop Ben Pringle from crossing the ball. He was beaten far too easily by the winner and had a tough time against him all afternoon. He was beaten to almost every header that came to him and was ineffective going forward.

That’s not to say he has suddenly become a bad player overnight, but some of the issues have been far too prevalent this season – perhaps why he spent some time out of the squad in place of Williams earlier in the campaign.

One of the choices Tisdale need to make for next season is where he wants to play Williams. If he chooses right-back, then he had two good options. If he chooses centre-back though, he runs the risk of leaving Williams out of the side too often and would need to go into the transfer market for a more experienced option to balance the options.

On the Left

Every year is predicted to be Dean Lewington‘s final year as the regular left-back, but every year he proves people wrong and this one was no different. Mitch Hancox has barely had a sniff at first-team action and with him currently on the sidelines anyway, it’s left the club captain as the only option in that area.

With next to no football under his belt this season, Hancox is more than likely to leave the club in the summer. This would be the prime chance for Tisdale to bring in a long-term replacement for Lewington; somebody young with the chance to grow. This would mean Lewington could see out his career by still playing semi-regularly but also allow the next generation to come through and learn from him.

The Youngsters

Oran Jackson and Finn Tapp both made their first appearances of the season in the 3-0 Carabao Cup loss to Bournemouth earlier in the season, with Jackson later being loaned out to National League North side Brackley Town.

He hasn’t been a regular feature even at that level, despite Karl Robinson previously handing him his debut in the Championship back in 2015. It would have been interesting to see what he can do at this level, especially after being trusted against such a big side so early in the season.

Tapp, meanwhile, has remained at the club throughout the campaign and been part of the youth set-up. At 19-years-old, that’s not a huge issue, but why couldn’t he be a breakthrough player this season like Brittain was in the last? Trust in young players has always been a key part of the club’s philosophy, but if these players along with the others on the fringe don’t break through soon, the club could lose a big part of its identity.