Dons are evolving the expectations of a centre back

George Williams, Jordan Houghton and Baily Cargill helped Dons to their 11th clean sheet of the season against Carlisle
George Williams, Jordan Houghton and Baily Cargill helped Dons to their 11th clean sheet of the season against Carlisle

Previously a position of power, brute force and intimidation, solid rocks rarely venturing out of their own half, MK Dons are changing the way they use a traditional central defender.

When you think of great centre backs over the years, you think of tall, broad players, not typically known for their ball-playing abilities, more their ability to win headers, out-muscle strikers and clear their lines.

Baily Cargill

Baily Cargill

Ball-playing central defenders are not necessarily a new phenomenon either, but precious few are seen on the byline, overlapping wingers and making crosses as often as they are at Stadium MK this season, and the likes of Baily Cargill, George Williams and Joe Walsh are just as important in the attacking third as they are in their defensive roles.

It means Dons play without traditional full-backs - given that Tisdale's wide men are referred to as midfielders by the man himself - and while they have three defenders, two of them are expected to contribute in the attacking third, leaving them with just one to stay back. On Saturday, in Dons' 2-0 win over Carlisle, Jordan Houghton - a 'midfielder' by trade - was deployed at the central point of the three-man defence which Paul Tisdale has established since arriving in the summer. That role has been filled, for the most part this season, by Jordan Moore-Taylor - another figure breaking in tradition with what a central defender should look like.

Houghton, usually the man to start attacks rather than being the key in breaking them down, had to do more work on the defensive side of the ball, but was the man who opened the scoring against Carlisle too, not with a header from a corner as so many centre halves have in the past, but with a 25-yard 'scuffed' strike which found the bottom corner.

Speaking afterwards, he said the way Tisdale wants Dons to play means the traditional centre back role made it far easier for him to slip back into defence than it would have in times gone by.

Jordan Houghton played out of position on Saturday

Jordan Houghton played out of position on Saturday

"A lot of us can play different positions," said Houghton. "Tis chose me to drop into the three – it didn't make much of a difference on the ball, but I had to be switched on. It was a different aspect of my game, and it's only good for the team.

"It helps that we keep the ball so well. If there was a lot of chances, it would have been harder, but we played nice stuff. It's such an unusual way of playing with the two wide of the three making overlaps, Willo and Baily get to the byline more than anyone else!

"There are still a lot of clubs who look for a big centre half, but especially at home, we want to play some nice football. It might be different away from home, in different environments, crowd and atmosphere, but Tis spoke to be about dropping in there, and he said he wanted us to continue to play and start attacks from centre back.

"A lot of teams will sit back here, but for me sitting at the back, I had to concentrate because they were looking for a quick regain and to get forward. (Carlisle) had a couple of decent forwards, and the big lad added a new threat. It was a good game to come up against different strikers in a different position. We probed and passed the ball nicely, so credit to the boys all over the pitch.

George Williams

George Williams

"Most importantly, we dug in, played nice football. It was frustrating in the first half, but I think a lot of games, especially here, will see teams sitting back hitting us on the counter. Tis has told us to be patient, wait until the hour mark to make sure we're still in the game. We just have to be patient."