DONS columnist Dominic Damesick was satisfied, but not blown away by Saturday’s 1-0 home win over lowly Hartlepool.
I tend to think of myself as quite an optimistic fan – looking for positives after defeats; enjoying the day out regardless of the result; trying to stay patient with under-performing players – but the game on Saturday afternoon left me feeling somewhat apathetic.
MK Dons won their sixth home game in a row, but that was to be expected against the league’s bottom side Hartlepool United (who already look near certainties for relegation). Furthermore, the manner of the win was somewhat unconvincing. True, Dons dominated possession, and created far more chances than Hartlepool, but a 1-0 victory can never be regarded as completely comfortable. In truth, I felt like Saturday’s match was just a poor game of football, and that is probably the first time this season I would describe a Dons’ game as such.
Both sides looked lethargic, with huge swathes of the match played at almost walking pace. For periods of the game it seemed to be a competition of which side could give the ball away the quickest, as both teams seemed to lack any flair or creativity in their play.
Dons were able to fashion a handful of openings, although wasted many more chances to open up the Hartlepool defence, with both the quality of the final ball and the off-the-ball movement disappointing. Too many crosses sailed harmlessly over the heads of those who had gathered around the penalty spot, and on the few occasions dangerous balls were delivered into the box, Ryan Lowe tended to find himself isolated and outnumbered by the Hartlepool rearguard.
The goal itself, courtesy of Lowe, had hints of offside, and probably the most interesting part of the afternoon was trying to count how many Hartlepool away supporters were in the away end – officially 111 dedicated fans made the journey to stadium:mk, and credit to them for making a trip that must have seemed doomed to end unhappily.
I usually loathe the word ‘boring’ being used of football, especially with regards to low-scoring games, as it just feels like the reaction of a generation with increasingly short attention spans, which can only be captured by the sight of the ball hitting the back of the net.
Of course, though, football is about so much more than goals: the tactical war of attrition; the individual battles between players all over the pitch; the excitement, exasperation and exhilaration of crunching tackles, goal-line clearances and wingers leaving their marker for dead. Yet, Saturday seemed to lack the intensity and fire of the normal Football League game. Hartlepool seemed resigned to defeat, bar the odd long ball into the Dons box, and the home side bordered on complacent, as if assuming that the goals would come regardless of the quality of their football.
The only players who seemed to have the faintest spark of urgency to their play on Saturday afternoon were Lowe (who ran himself into the ground) and Zeli Ismael, who looked to take defenders on, and create chances whenever the ball arrived at his feet.
The introduction of Charlie MacDonald for Lowe was the final nail in the coffin, as far as a game of football with anything to recommend it went. Why not introduce the raw pace of Ibra Sekajja, to defibrillate the game’s flat-lined pulse, or Daniel Powell, to at least introduce some unpredictability to proceedings. My reaction to the announcement of three minutes stoppage time was a stifled yawn, rather than an encouraging roar.
Still, I do try to be optimistic, and there were positives to take from Saturday’s game: a win; another goal for Lowe; Dons closing the gap on league leaders Tranmere to two points; the cameo appearance of Ismael; and the trains all running to timetable. I’ve almost managed to convince myself that Saturday was a worthwhile afternoon out!