MK DONS don’t play with a single striker – they play with four attackers, insisted manager Karl Robinson as he tried to take the pressure off his under-performing goal-scorers this week.
Charlie MacDonald, Ryan Lowe, Jabo Ibehre and Alan Smith have all taken turns at leading the line for Dons this season, but between them have netted just three goals in 15 games in all competitions.
Robinson’s preferred formation has been dubbed 4-2-3-1, but the manager said there are four attackers on the field at any one time, helped out by the two holding midfielders, and the full-backs too.
“We don’t play with one up front,” he said. “It slightly frustrates me when people say that.
“We play with four attackers. Daniel Powell and Dean Bowditch are both classed as forwards. Luke Chadwick plays behind in that number 10 role. Stephen Gleeson and Darren Potter are comfortable in their positions, and we’ve got very attacking full-backs.
“It’s a very attacking formation that we play. We all know there’s more to come as well.”
But fans will be pointing towards the tactical change against Portsmouth on Saturday as a way of Dons overcoming their goal-shy striker problem.
Already 2-0 down to Pompey, Robinson sacrificed right-back Jon Otsemobor, replacing him with Smith and playing two up front. And the system worked as Dons fought back to equalise in the second half and looked good value to win the game.
But despite the success that new formation brought about, Robinson admitted he probably won’t be making a permanent switch to 3-5-2.
He said: “It was a tactical decision, but Otsemobor took it well and he understands why we did it.
“I get paid to make decisions, and sometimes I do get them wrong. But ultimately the players got us out of the hole and they were brilliant.
“I’m not overly keen on playing three at the back, but it’s one we’ve used in pre-season, and you’ve always got to try these things out.
“You’ve just got to hope that over the next few months, when we need to use it, we’re comfortable.
“The other downside of the season is that someone told me we’d had something like 160 shots in the last eight games. The fact that we’re creating chances is the most important thing and we know at some stage we’ll start converting them.”
One striker who does seem to have found his shooting boots though is Jabo Ibehre. The 29-year-old has struck three times in three games since returning to first team action and is one of League 1’s in-form front men – too bad he’s on loan at Colchester United until Christmas.
Robinson said: “I’m made up for him. He needed a run of games. He found it difficult to be at a club where the intensity and standards are so high. He found it difficult to come off the bench and make that impact.
“I told him to go away, get some games and get some goals, come back at Christmas, and tell me you deserve to play in my team.
“He needs to play games to get back to where he belongs. I’m sure Jabo will go there, will be a whirlwind there and it’s only benefiting us while he’s playing more games.”
Dons have taken on three of League 1’s new boys in succession, beating Crewe before back-to-back draws with Coventry and Portsmouth. But with the last two sides struggling to find their feet since dropping down from the Championship, Robinson thinks Dons were by far the better team in those games, and were unlucky not to have come away with six points instead of two.
“I thought we battered the two of them,” he said. “I don’t think Coventry should have even been on the same pitch as us in the last 60 minutes, and Portsmouth got a good hiding as well. It’s just a lack of luck at the moment.
“The funny thing is Portsmouth had two wins before they played us, and Coventry have since gone and beaten a very good Bournemouth team.
“Since we played Bury and beat them, Swindon went up there and struggled for a 1-0 win. This league is so different, and you can’t judge any game on its own.”
Up next is a Sunday afternoon clash with Preston North End at Deepdale. In years gone by, this might have been a game that would have Dons caught shaking in the spotlight.
“Not any more, we can’t wait!” said Robinson. “We want to play in front of big crowds and cameras, that’s what we’ve all grown up wanting to do. That’s what we’re paid to do.
“When you’re in the Premier League, they’re a little bit more used to playing on a Sunday than we are, but our preparations won’t be any different. We’ll still have a few days off to rest and recuperate but it gives us an extra day to prepare for it!
“It’s quite daunting when you go there, because it’s steeped in history. It’s a true honour to go and play there.
“There’s always something unique about going there, but we’re looking forward to showing what we’ve got in front of the TV cameras, and in front of a hostile Preston crowd.”