Alexander apologised to Ilunga for first-half substitution against Northampton

The teenager was substituted after just 23 minutes against Northampton Town
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Brooklyn Ilunga was withdrawn after just 23 minutes against Northampton Town on Saturday. Pic: Jane RussellBrooklyn Ilunga was withdrawn after just 23 minutes against Northampton Town on Saturday. Pic: Jane Russell
Brooklyn Ilunga was withdrawn after just 23 minutes against Northampton Town on Saturday. Pic: Jane Russell

MK Dons boss Graham Alexander staunchly defended Brooklyn Ilunga after the teenager was withdrawn from the pre-season friendly with Northampton Town after just 23 minutes on Saturday.

The 19-year-old was having a tough afternoon keeping tabs on the lively Akin Odimayo, with the Cobblers winger playing a helping hand in Mitch Pinnock’s opener, before the same midfielder then hit the post, again from Odimayo’s impact on the right flank.

Ilunga was replaced by Ethan Robson at the half-way stage in the first-half and was given a long debrief by his head coach in the technical area before taking a seat with his team-mates.

While the change in formation allowed Dons to play arguably their best hour of football in their pre-season campaign, they would still come out on the losing end of a 3-1 scoreline, after two late goals from Peter Abimola and Ben Fox cancelled out Warren O’Hora’s hour-mark equaliser.

Speaking afterwards though, Alexander insisted Ilunga was not at fault for Dons’ poor opening to the game, and said he apologised publicly to the teenager at half-time as well as on the touchline.

“It was nothing to do with Brooklyn,” he said. “I felt he was let down by our team to be honest. I apologised to him on behalf of the team at haf-time because it was a tactical thing that we'd worked on but we didn't follow through on it. Unfortunately, Brooklyn was the victim of that.

“We knew it wouldn't improve, so we had to improve is quickly so not to go 2-0 or 3-0 down. It was absolutely nothing to do with Brooklyn though.

“We know he wanted to do the things we wanted him to but it didn't quite work. I explained it to him, and he'll get another opportunity because he's trained exceptionally with us.

“Undoutedly though we were better after that, but it was not because we took Brooklyn off, but because we were able to change the formation.”

On the game, Alexander said: “I couldn't have asked for more from a performance sense. We pressed, we turned the ball oer so many times, we played some good football, we created opportunities to score.

“The difference from the first 15 minutes was night and day. We were on the front foot, ambitious, and aggressive.

“But there is a deficiency and we can't ignore that. We can correct it with individuals and we can bring players in to help us improve.”