Dons under Manning: Improvements, tightening up and making purposeful steps forward

Momentum, results on the board but it’s still too early to get carried away

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 2:27 pm

Andrew Fisher and Matt O’Riley have been in excellent form this season, standing out since Liam Manning took over at Stadium MK

For MK Dons, wins don’t come much sweeter or more welcome than one away at Gillingham.

Only their second win at Priestfield in nine attempts, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate on Saturday, not least because Dons have now made their best start in seven years and sit third in the table.

It is still early days - only a sixth of the way through the season - but already, Dons are shaping up to be a far more consistent and well-balanced side than they did at any point last season. Fundamentally though, the game is being played the same, it is now just a lot faster and purposeful.

Critics of their style last year would immediately point at the lack of urgency in games, even when behind.

Keeping possession at all costs, Dons were sometimes masters of their own downfall, but this season, those mistakes have been eradicated simply with a ‘turn and go’ mentality which has not only changed their fortunes, but also has seen them race into becoming League One’s leading scorers so far.

It is still not to everyone’s tastes though - Gillingham boss Steve Evans claims he is not a fan (see page 77) of the way Dons play football while his side sit 19th in the table after a 4-1 humbling on home soil.

Head coach Liam Manning has reiterated the fact he is not trying to reinvent the wheel, instead just tightening the lug nuts, and the players have responded.

Some of the more ‘heart in your mouth’ defensive passing has gone and keeper Andrew Fisher is more a resident of his penalty area, but possession and control remain high up the agenda.

The key difference now though is the possession seems to have an end goal - goals. While Cameron Jerome sometimes cut a lonely figure playing up front alone last season, particularly after Carlton Morris’ departure to Barnsley in January, there is no such loneliness for Tottenham loanee Troy Parrott.

Flanked by the likes of Scott Twine, Hiram Boateng or Mo Eisa, Dons also have plenty of goal threats, especially with Max Watters on the comeback trail too, netting his first for the club when he came off the bench on Saturday.

Throughout his short tenure so far, Manning has said it would take time for his ideas to fully take hold, but with just one defeat so far, coming before he could even hold a training session, his seven game undefeated run has ominous signs for those coming up next.

“Momentum and winning games is extremely important,” he said. “We’re not looking at the table.

“It’s a difficult league, we’ll have difficult moments, so at the moment we have to enjoy it and work out why it’s happening.

“We have nothing but positive words at the moment.”