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This week, columnist Dominic Damesick looks back on Dons’ 0-0 FA Cup draw with Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
The Dons had very little to lose in Saturday’s game: away at a side in the division above, with a severely depleted squad, on the back of a tough run of festive fixtures and with no league points at stake.
However, Karl Robinson’s side still showed heart and endeavour in abundance, and were desperately unlucky not to leave South Yorkshire with a guaranteed place in the fourth round of the FA Cup. It was also pleasing to see the Dons compete so ably with a side whose game-plan was based upon direct balls and physical strength – an occasional achilles heel for Robinson’s charges.
After the dodgy defensive displays against Walsall and Coventry the Dons back-line built upon their brave showing against Notts County, which ensured a crucial three points, with an assured performance against Wednesday, restricting the Owls to only a handful of openings, with David Martin never truly tested.
A special mention should be afforded to Shaun Williams and Antony Kay, who have been integral to the Dons not conceding from open play so far in 2013. Williams has surely proven beyond any reasonable doubt that his future in the professional game must lie at centre-back, and a very bright future it would seem to be, despite attesting to feeling more at home in the centre of the park.
Kay, meanwhile, has improved with each month of the season, and who is the vocal leader the Dons have sorely lacked on the pitch in recent years. Gary MacKenzie faces a possible struggle to regain his position at the heart of the Dons back-line with the form shown by those two, and with all due respect to the big Scot, of whom I am a fan, I hope Robinson does not shift Williams into midfield permanently to accommodate his return.
Over the last eighteen months Williams has been an absolute revelation at the heart of the Dons defence, and has never shown the same quality for the Dons when utilised in midfield. Thus, if MacKenzie is to eventually regain his place at the heart of defence it may have to be at the expense of Kay.
It will be back to the league this coming Saturday, where it really matters, and the Dons need to cement their position in the top six, especially with the league so tight, and with Tranmere’s fall-away from the leading pack surely an inevitability the Dons want to be poised to take advantage. The home game against Bury, with all due respect to the Shakers, would seem the perfect place to begin to turn the pressure up on the sides above the Dons.
Bury have struggled this season, and the Dons should have a renewed sense of confidence, following two fine away performances and the return of the (post-2004) club’s all-time leading goalscorer. There have been questions asked of how McLeod will be worked into the starting line-up, given that Robinson seems committed to playing with one up front, and the current man in occupation of the lone striker role, Ryan Lowe, does not deserve to be dropped.
With such considerations in mind, perhaps McLeod will start his second stint at the Dons on the bench, although it would seem a shame not to make immediate use of McLeod’s goal threat. Perhaps Robinson will accommodate both strikers in a changed 4-4-2 formation, but I sense Robinson will make the players fit the system, rather than make the system fit the players.
So, perhaps Robinson will move Ryan Lowe back into ‘the hole’, and give McLeod a chance to re-open his MK account from the lone striker’s role. Or perhaps Robinson will throw a real curve-ball and start with Alan Smith up front. It’s always good for a manager to keep everyone guessing!