Having managed to be both physically and psychologically detached from the past two games, I return to find us looking nervously over our shoulders, rather than the counting the gap between us and the play-offs. Football changes quickly.
I wasn’t fully convinced that the upturn in form following Tony Mowbray’s departure had seen us become a genuinely good team, the past few results have confirmed that feeling. We’d managed a decent defensive record with a defence that looked to have errors in it. We’d been scoring a fair few goals without looking to have a clear idea in attack.
For a number of reasons – from his position on the board of directors, his lack of past managerial experience, to his pre and post-match comments – Venus has struggled to win over the fans, regardless of the actual results, but the past few games have confirmed to many why Venus isn’t a long, medium or short-term option. Another defeat in this upcoming game against MK ‘Dons’ could well make his position almost untenable for the majority of fans.
When Venus first took charge, stability in player and tactical selection led to an improvement in results. The past four or five performances have gotten almost progressively worse due to Venus tinkering with the line-up and tactics. The past two games have seen him start with a back four, switch to a back three and then return to a back four. It’s exactly the same failings that Tony Mowbray had in his final months in charge.
Having Andy Rose available for selection would be a massive boost for Venus as it would allow him to play with a midfield three in the same way he did during the recent good run of form. Without Rose available – and it seems like it will be a close call – the call will be whether to stick with the 4-2-3-1 which almost got us a point on Tuesday night or the 3-4-3 that’s only really worked for the under-23s this season.
Jamie Sterry’s suspension should mean a start for Dion Kelly-Evans at either right-back or right-wing back – the latter’s lack of height may push Venus towards the 3-4-3. With Marvin Sordell also suspended, it could well be a chance for Jack McBean, although his target-man style of play could make it difficult to shoehorn Dan Agyei – who Venus doesn’t seem willing to drop – into the same side.
Last Time We Met
Well, when we last played MK ‘Dons’ we were in a somewhat similar situation to now, in a state of managerial limbo and needing a win to boost our prospects of survival. After a run of seven games without a win Steven Pressley had just been sacked and our opponents were hunting down promotion to the Championship. Football did its trick of defying predictability as the Sky Blues raced out of the blocks thanks to the pace and directness of Dominic Samuel in attack to take a two-goal lead within the opening 12 minutes. The final 78 minutes of the game were pretty much one-way traffic, but we managed to scrape a vital and unlikely 2-1 victory.
How Are They Doing?
Having gone on to secure promotion to the second-tier, MK ‘Dons’ lacked the resources to compete at a higher level and were swiftly relegated last season. Many thought the combination of a decent squad and the stability and pedigree of Karl Robinson in the managerial dug-out meant they would compete for at least the play-offs this season, but, just like in our last game against them, things haven’t panned as expected.
In retrospect, it’s easy to point out that MK ‘Dons’ were fired to promotion from League One two years ago thanks to stand-out performances from Dele Alli, Benik Afobe and Will Grigg, having been a mid-table side in the couple of seasons beforehand. However, they still had a strong squad for this level heading into this season and shouldn’t have been anywhere near the relegation spot they currently occupy.
That they are shows that it’s probably more important at this level to have at least two or three star players in your side than spreading the quality out more evenly. Ed Upson, Ben Reeves and Samir Carruthers in central midfield would get into most teams at this level, Kieran Agard, Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell are all useful attacking players. However, they isn’t really anyone in their squad who’s capable of winning a game all on their own with one moment of magic.
Winger Ryan Colclough is the closest MK ‘Dons’ have to that kind of player, the Wigan loanee can be a fairly inconsistent player but his level of directness is something that a side coached to play patient, possession-based football lacks. Right-back George Baldock offers energy and directness from full-back, with the sturdy and reliable Dean Lewington on the other side. Former Arsenal youngster Chuks Aneke could be a real wild-card having gotten to full fitness following his summer arrival from Belgian side Zulte Waregem, the giant attacking-midfielder was a force to be reckoned with at this level a few seasons ago while on loan at Crewe.
Another undoing has been defensive errors, as well as a lack of a physically imposing figure at the back. The signing of Walsall’s Paul Downing to replace the defensive leader Kyle McFadzean has not worked out at all with Downing currently on the substitutes’ bench. Joe Walsh is a mobile and composed central defender but is someone who would look a lot better with a commanding and reliable defensive partner alongside him.
Although MK ‘Dons’ have had a poor season, they have the division’s sixth-best away record and have squad still teeming with quality. With only two home games between now and the start of the next calendar year, there is extra pressure for us to get a win in what is already a relegation six-pointer, given how terrible our away form has been this season.
I would imagine there’ll be some kind of reaction after the past few defeats but I’m doubtful whether that will be enough to win this game. I can see this being a 2-1 defeat and a terrible, cold Saturday afternoon at the football.