Milton Keynes Dons FC

Key player: Kieran Agard

It’s hard to pick a key player for MK because of the state the club finds itself in on the eve of the new season. Their two key players have departed, yet to be sufficiently replaced (if they will be at all), their stand-out signing (Richard Keogh) will not be available for some time, and it’s not yet clear exactly how the team will play throughout the season.

That leaves us looking at where the quality is in the team, and Agard certainly fits the bill there, probably more so than most at the Stadium MK. 

Agard struggled last season, finding the net only twice in nearly 1000 minutes of league action, but he’s done plenty to show his quality before. He turns 31 next month but has already passed his century of career goals and is only 12 short of recording 100 in the EFL too, a milestone not too many achieve. 

It was his 20 goals in League Two that propelled the club back into League One at the first time of asking, winning him the club’s player of the season award along the way. This followed his exploits in scoring double figures as both Rotherham United (21) and Bristol City (13) won promotion from League One in 2014 and 2015 respectively. 

An instinctive finisher with poacher instincts, the club will need him to score the goals to prevent them from finishing in the bottom five for their third consecutive League One campaign.

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Manager: Russell Martin

When Martin joined MK as a player in January 2019 he probably didn’t see himself managing the team come the end of the year. Yet, that’s exactly what happened following the sacking of Paul Tisdale, the man who led MK back to League One at the first time of asking. 

When Martin took over MK were in the relegation zone on goal difference. His leadership didn’t inspire an immediate change in results, with four straight defeats. Finally he got off the mark with an EFL trophy win, followed up by an impressive victory against Oxford. The real turn-around coincided with the return of Rhys Healey, who scored the goals that ultimately kept the club in the league. 

However, he was able to stamp his tactical footprint on the team, unleashing a diamond formation that took advantage of the players at his disposal. A sign of tactical acumen or a lucky break? He wouldn’t be the first young manager to swing and hit, only to fail the following season.

Captain: Dean Lewington

Dean Lewington might not be the most original pick, for he is the James Coppinger or Ian Henderson equivalent at MK: a stalwart who has been at the club since its creation, amassing more than 750 appearances across three divisions. The captain for more than a decade. 

He’s never made fewer than 28 appearances in a season and is still going strong at the age of 36, having transitioned from a left-back to a centre-back. When Richard Keogh returns from injury, the two will likely form one of the most experienced defensive pairings in EFL history!

Between them, whether one or both start, their experience will be called upon to marshal the defence through the season against a tough league full of creative talents who are growing ever more skilled at cutting their way through opposition defences. Against many sides, height will be less important than positioning and awareness. Lewington may not have the same physical powers as he once did, but like many ageing EFL defenders, their experience and wisdom will come to the fore.

Last season: 19th in League One

Milton Keynes started the season in odd fashion as their opening day fixture against Bury never happened. Never mind, they began well enough after that, winning 1-0 on the opening day and in mid-September they were a game-in-hand from climbing into the play-offs. Yet, that’s when things took a turn for the worse. 

The catalyst was the injury of Rhys Healey, who would go on to score a third of the club’s league goals. With him absent, MK only found the back of the net in just seven of 15 matches, losing 11. 

By the time Healey returned, the club were in the bottom three (excluding Bury) and fighting for survival. His arrival back in the team made an immediate impact, scoring five minutes after being substituted on to earn his team a point. 

He followed that up with nine goals in 14 appearances, earning his team at least eight points and putting their goalscoring woes behind them before the season ended prematurely. Five fewer points and MK would have been back in League Two. A close escape.

Key departure: Alex Gilbey

This one was really a toss of the coin between Gilbey and Rhys Healey. Both have their merits: one saved the club from what seemed to be certain relegation last season, but the other has won back-to-back player of the season awards for the club. Either way, both have departed the club for apparently significant transfer fees, but neither have been adequately replaced. 

Gilbey’s replacement, on paper, appears to be intended to be Scott Fraser. If they can pull that off then the club will be looking in much better shape, as Fraser will replace a lot of what they lost in Gilbey’s departure: a skillful midfielder, with the passing range to dictate a game and the dribbling abilities to carry the ball forward if nobody is showing for the ball. 

Gilbey was by far the best footballer in MK’s team last season, and though Fraser would find it a bit difficult to transition from being a focal point in attacking midfield to the man who runs the midfield from further back, he’d be the player to build that midfield around. Besides, if they do get him he’d offer more goals and assists to the team, making up for a bit less midfield control. Nevertheless, Gilbey’s absence in midfield is currently a huge gap that needs filling urgently.

Target: Avoid relegation

At the time of writing, a target to just avoid relegation is justifiable. The club have lost the two players who basically kept them up last season, as well as having a rookie manager at the helm. If the season starts slowly while those players aren’t replaced, negativity could engulf the club and send them crashing back down to League Two. 

There is still time left in the transfer window to turn it around, particularly with the money generated from player sales, but it doesn’t look good. They need to bring in a better quality of players and hope that Martin is sufficient enough to manage this side: don’t forget, it was the return of Healey, not the arrival of Martin, that signalled the turnaround in fortunes last season. 

He’ll be feeling the heat if, as expected, they start slowly, and that could well signal the end of his currently short spell in charge of the club. The instability that would throw up could threaten to sink MK before the season even gets going, similar to the way Southend started last season. It’s a bit of a dire prediction, but it’s not the most unlikely series of events.

Opposition view:

(provided by MK fansite The MK Way)

It will certainly be a tough campaign for us after losing two influential players in Healey and Gilbey this summer. The additions that have been brought in are good – Sørensen, Harvie and Morris most notably – as well as some key players such as Lewington and Brittain extending their stays with the club, but overall our summer will be marred by the loss of our two main sources of goals last season.

Without Healey during his spell on the sidelines last season we were abysmal – and we may be in for the same, but for a far longer period of time, this coming campaign. I think I’d currently take anything above the relegation zone; but, were we to get a goalscorer in, things could quickly look a lot more positive.

 

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League One Season Preview 2020/21