Formation talk is '10-yards here or there' for MK Dons boss Neilson

Robbie NeilsonRobbie Neilson
Robbie Neilson

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Whether it's 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 3-5-2, or 3-4-3, talk of formations is just numbers to Robbie Neilson.

For six years, Dons were known for their passing style, playing out from the back, their line-up. They became predictable and teams knew how to play against them.

Since Neilson's introduction at the beginning of December, the team has begun to edge away from the tried and tested, and the talk of new formations and difference in play has chins wagging on the terraces.

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But irrespective of how many players he has at the back or up front, the man in charge doesn't see what the fuss is about.

"Formations, for me, are 10 yards here or there," he said. "It's more about how we want the team to play, and defensive structure. We set the players up, we tell them their roles, but they aren't that different.

"There's not a huge difference when you change formation. The biggest change was going from four at the back to three, but even then we slide a little bit so we can go to a four if we need to. There's not a huge difference, it just gives us a little more threat up front. It's just variety.

"Whether you're a wing back or a full back, your job is to stop crosses, do your job and get forward.

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"We have a style of play we want to play, which is attacking, with energy. Which formation that is in depends on who we're playing and who is available. The most important thing is making the players comfortable with where we're asking them to play."

Neilson's new-look back three, or five, conceded three times against Northampton on Saturday, fortunately rescued by five goals at the other end to secure the win at Stadium MK. All of Cobblers' goals though came from set pieces, and Neilson feels the defence needs to shape up to prevent making games tighter than they need to be.

He said: "We played three at the back (against Northampton), or five at the back and we still conceded three goals. Defensively, we looked pretty solid and good going forwards. It's important the players know how to play three or four formations and are comfortable doing.

"We got done with three set plays - a free kick, a corner and a penalty - which is disappointing. It probably spurred us on to score more though. It's down to working on it, talking about it and positionally taking responsibility for their jobs. We don't have huge physicality in the team. In the latter stages of games we have to see it out and get better organised. It's about little details we can get better."