Osman Sow: The Forgotten Man With One Last Chance to Prove Himself
Osman Sow has endured a difficult spell at MK Dons. The Swedish striker, once at Crystal Palace, was brought in as the marquee signing of the 2017/18 season, linking up with his former manager at Hearts, Robbie Neilson. Two goals early on in his time with the club had fans thinking they had finally found the 20-goal-a-season striker they had needed since Will Grigg left at the end of his loan. Things have panned out far differently, though.
Positive Start Excites Fans
Sow arrived having played in the UAE Pro League with Emirates, on loan from Chinese Super League outfit Henan Jianye. His debut came five days after his arrival in a League One game against Gillingham and, having started the match, he scored two minutes into the second half. It proved to be the only goal of the game, meaning he was the matchwinner on his debut for the club.
A second goal at the end of September and an excellent performance against AFC Wimbledon had fans excited and thinking they finally had the man they needed. However, a barren run between that game against AFC Wimbledon and the Christmas period saw doubt start to creep in. He had arrived at the club with a niggling injury and without having a proper pre-season (he joined once the season had started) his fitness was becoming an issue, something that has remained a problem to the present day.
Things had been going downhill for Sow, but it all unravelled in the game against Peterborough on December 30th. The Dons were down to ten men after just nine minutes after Joe Walsh‘s dismissal for a last-man challenge but had taken the lead in the 26th minute through Chuks Aneke‘s stunner.
There was another setback on 35 minutes though, as referee Charles Breakspeare brandished the red card once again, this time to Sow, for a high foot. The shock at the decision was palpable – fans booed and Sow pleaded his innocence, but the decision was made. MK Dons miraculously held that one-goal lead until the end, coming out with the three points, even after manager Robbie Neilson had been sent to the stands for comments made towards Breakspeare about both red cards in the tunnel at half-time.
Neilson was on thin ice at the club by this point and a big result such as this one could have been the catalyst for change that he desperately needed. As it was, though, he only lasted a few more weeks and was eventually relieved of his duties after the 2-1 loss to Northampton in late January. The man that was probably the deciding factor in Sow making the move from China had left. Would that be the end of his interest in the club?
Sow featured just three times after Neilson’s sacking; against Walsall, Rotherham and Bury, and was an unused substitute against Bristol Rovers. Dan Micciche had preferred to use Chuks Aneke as a striker instead, probably due to his slightly superior form to the rest of his teammates.
The Bury match was the last of the 2017/18 season that Sow had any involvement in, likely due to his injury problems resurfacing as they had numerous times throughout the season. The inconsistency of his performances due to his injury, unfortunately, were a major part in him not being able to forge together some sort of form. When he did play, he was playing with knocks that made him look slow, lazy and bereft of any ideas on how to help the team.
Fans were always told that his disappearances from the team were because of his injury and fitness issues, but there’s a high chance it was just as much to do with him being no use to the team.
Return to Hearts on the Cards
Once the summer came and the Dons’ relegation to League Two after a calamitous season had been confirmed, Sow was one of the first names to be discussed as a potential departure from the club. Two goals in around 20 appearances for a League One striker was unacceptable for most fans and they wanted to see him gone, replaced with somebody who had experience of League Two.
A return to Hearts on a loan spell looked to be going ahead. He may not have been reuniting with Robbie Neilson again, but a return to a club where he scored 20 goals in 45 appearances could have been the fuel to reignite his stagnant career.
However, just when it seemed everything had been finalised, Hearts pulled out of the move. Having looked at his fitness records and the results of his medical at the club, they decided it was not worth the risk.
This was already late in the summer 2018 transfer window, long after Paul Tisdale had joined the club and stamped his own mark on the squad. If the deal with Hearts wasn’t going through, Sow would remain an MK Dons player for the second year of his two-year deal. It’s something that nobody had expected at the end of the window, but he now had Chuks Aneke, Kieran Agard, Rhys Healey, Robbie Simpson, Sam Nombe, Brandon Thomas-Asante and Dylan Asonganyi to fight for a place.
The Current Season
Healey, Agard and Aneke have established themselves as the starting trio, with Simpson happy to settle for a place on the bench and come on when something different is needed. Nombe and Thomas-Asante have been sent to non-league clubs, Oxford City and Sutton United respectively, to gain experience, while Asonganyi remains on the fringes of the first team.
This left Sow with a slightly better chance of forcing his way into substitute contention and he did just that for the Carabao Cup tie against Bournemouth. It was enough of a shock to see him on the teamsheet, but when he actually entered the pitch in place of Healey on 72 minutes, it was clear that Paul Tisdale had intentions to use Sow, with fitness being the defining factor.
He was then an unused substitute against Swindon and again against Forest Green, before playing the final eight minutes in the top-of-the-table clash with Lincoln. He then had a near two-month gap without making the squad. It seemed that the Lincoln game had been his last chance to prove his place in the team and he had seemingly failed to take it.
The Forgotten Man Returns
The Christmas period was always going to see changes to the squad as the Dons negotiated a huge congestion of fixtures. For the most part, the starting line-up has stayed the same throughout, but substitutions had been made at unusual times to allow important players to rest.
Sow made his return to the bench in the win over Carlise but didn’t enter the action, and the same was true in the Dons’ first home loss of the season, 1-0 against Colchester.
However, his time finally came on New Year’s Day when the Dons thrashed Cambridge United 6-0. With Chuks Aneke already on the scoresheet and the hosts cruising at 4-0, Tisdale removed Aneke on 66 minutes and on came Sow.
He looked a changed man. Suddenly, he was tracking back to retrieve the ball; he looked sharp; he was playing small, intricate passes. He looked part of the team, not the new boy trying to fit in.
His first big involvement in the game, though, was to play the inch-perfect through ball for Kieran Agard to win the penalty that resulted in the Dons’ fifth goal. The ball went straight through the two Cambridge centre-backs into the feet of Agard, who was brought down by Greg Taylor. Agard stepped up to convert the spot-kick.
A Goal to Top it All Off
MK Dons would have been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas once Agard’s penalty was scored, but goal difference could be important at the end of the season and they wanted to take everything they could from this one.
It was only fitting then that on his most positive cameo of the season, Sow added his name to the scoresheet. Dean Lewington picked up the ball on the left and sent a beautiful curling cross to the front post. Sow cut across his marker and diverted the ball underneath David Forde to add the finishing touches to a remarkable display from the hosts.
The relief on Sow’s face as he scored for the first time in over a year was clear to see, and fans were keen to share the moment with him, as he accepted a couple of invitations for high-fives as he ran past the applauding crowd.
There’s every chance that this could be the only golden moment in this season for Sow. It could all go back to square one over the next few weeks, especially if his injuries resurface. However, he just looked different against Cambridge. There was a certain air of confidence about him, something that hasn’t been seen in the 18 months since his debut goal.
If he can survive the January transfer window and still be at the club on the other side, it will be a vote of confidence from Paul Tisdale and proof that he has been given one last chance to become the marquee signing he was always meant to be.