MacKenzie: I’ll get us through defensive woes

MK Dons

MK Dons

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IT doesn’t matter who he plays alongside, Gary MacKenzie believes Dons have the defensive strength in depth to cope with the hectic early season schedule.

The injury to Mathias Doumbe has thrown a spanner in the works for boss Karl Robinson who is now searching for another centre back to play alongside MacKenzie in the Frenchman’s absence.

Midfielder Shaun Williams has been deputising in that position for much of pre-season, with youngster Tom Flanagan waiting in the wings, eager to impress his manager and to earn a role in the starting 11.

But MacKenzie feels he and Dean Lewington will be able to form a good working relationship with whoever else comes in to that all-important back four.

“It has been frustrating to lose Matty (Doumbe) because we were going to be the first choice centre backs, and we played really well together at the back end of the season,” said MacKenzie.

“We haven’t got an out-and-out right back at the moment, but Chicksen has come in and done really well.

“If we have myself and Lewie in the back line, then no matter who else we have alongside us, we can coach them through it.

“You want understandings all over the pitch. Williams is a really clever player, he doesn’t look like a centre back, but he’s intelligent so that helps him through the games.

“And of course there might be an opportunity for Flanagan and he needs to be prepared to grasp that. He’s a good enough player. He can cope against the best, so there’s no panic.

“We’re still prepared and we have a team capable of winning most of the games we play.”

MacKenzie’s mistake against Spurs allowed Harry Kane to score Tottenham’s third goal at stadium:mk last Tuesday, but the 25-year-old was hailed by fans for his good job marking England international striker Jermaine Defoe first of all, and then Roman Pavlyuchenko in the second half.

He admitted: “I couldn’t sleep after the game, thinking that I could have done more, especially with the third goal we conceded in a period when we were really on top.

“After watching the game back again, although we conceded five goals, we did ourselves proud.

“We took a lot of positives, but looked at the negatives too and hopefully we can rectify those before Saturday.

“On a personal note, those are the players you want to play and test yourself against, and Defoe and Pavlyuchenko are two of the best strikers in Europe.

“I was pleased with myself, but I felt I could’ve done more. It was a good night and I’ll remember it well.”

After missing the early stages of last season through injury himself, MacKenzie quickly formed a strong relationship at the back with Sean O’Hanlon and Dons became more water-tight when it came to conceding goals.

But despite O’Hanlon leaving the club along with fellow Scot Peter Leven, MacKenzie believes the squad has improved with the players Robinson has brought in over the summer, and that they will stand the club in good stead as they prepare themselves for the new season.

“We always look to improve. If we start the season the way we finished the last one then no-one would argue with us going up automatically,” he said.

“Especially from midfield to the front, we’re creating so many more chances to score. I know we’re not scoring as many, but we are creating the chances and that’s half the battle.

“Last season we didn’t always score enough, but the ability we have is frightening and I certainly wouldn’t like to play against us. At the back we just need to be organised and solid.”

While the pre-season results on home soil may not have been favourable – with Dons losing two and drawing one since their return from a training trip to the Republic of Ireland – MacKenzie isn’t worried ahead of the season opener against Hartlepool United on Saturday.

“We’re trying a few different systems in a few games which is why we probably aren’t getting results we want,” he said. “But the results aren’t important at this stage.

“If our normal system doesn’t work on a Saturday then we can try something different. You’ll see the familiar flowing, passing football. But from midfield to front, I think we have that extra bit of quality.

“You’ll see a few more chances and a lot more goals. I think when everyone is fit and in the team, we will be formidable opponents.”

And although it’s still only August, MacKenzie and the rest of the playing squad have their sights firmly set on going one step further this term.

He said: “Hopefully it’ll be automatics. The play-offs are a bit hit-and-miss, and everybody who watched the home leg last year against Peterborough knows we could’ve had a cricket score against them, but then we didn’t create any chances there.

“I would definitely prefer to go up automatically and get on my holidays a bit earlier!

“If we end up in the play-offs again, hopefully we’ll go another step further and win the final.”