FOUR players were out to impress Karl Robinson in MK Dons’ comfortable 4-1 pre-season friendly victory at St Neots Town on Saturday.
Jay O’Shea, John Dunleavy, Kerrea Gilbert and Ian McLoughlin all had a run out in the first pre-season friendly of the summer, with O’Shea helping his cause by finding the back of the net.
The fixture came six days after the team returned to pre-season training, and while Robinson made best use of the players he has available, the two notable absentees were new signing Dean Bowditch, who missed the trip to Cambridgeshire through illness, and Sam Baldock who was ‘rested’.
In total, Robinson used 22 players in the match, including the four trialists, who played in positions the boss has identified as areas he would like to strengthen before the start of the new League 1 season – in goal, right back, and on both flanks.
Shaun Williams was given his first chance to impress in an official Dons game, but it was first team regular Stephen Gleeson who opened the scoring after 18 minutes with a fine effort, before Jabo Ibehre doubled the lead on the half-hour mark from O’Shea’s cross.
Southern League Division One side St Neots pulled a goal back moments later though as Shane Tolley cleverly chipped David Martin to make it 2-1.
Irish winger O’Shea was released by Birmingham City last month after two years and one appearance at the club.
But he showed no signs of rust as he linked up with former Wolves right-back John Dunleavy to score three minutes from the break to restore Dons’ two goal advantage at half-time.
Irishman Dunleavy is a free agent after leaving the Premier League side and was replaced by another trialist, Kerrea Gilbert, at the interval.
Gilbert, also a right back, began his career with Arsenal before leaving the Gunners in 2010. He was set to play for Portland Timers in MLS in America last season but couldn’t get a working visa.
He was joined in the second half by goalkeeper McLoughlin, who took over from Martin between the sticks.
The 19-year-old is still contracted to Ipswich Town, and while he’s yet to appear for their first team since signing two years ago, he has made appearances in the Republic of Ireland U19s and U21s.
The trialists were joined by academy players Joel Gyasi and Ryan Plowright as Robinson played a new team in the second half. And it was Gyasi who added a fourth after linking up well with Gilbert with just four minutes remaining, giving Dons a comfortable opening win.
Robinson was pleased to come away from the game unscathed, and was impressed by his trialists.
“It’s good to be back, and I thought it was a fantastic turn out by our fans,” he said. “We’ve had a number of triallists in and they all did really well.
“We’re running a small squad this year and in these games we need bodies to come in and help us out, and we’re helping them out by getting them fit and letting other clubs look at them.
“We’re looking at players all the time, and we’ve got a few players that we’re chasing at the moment. I’m looking for players who really make an impact.”
And with the first pre-season friendly out of the way, Robinson says he’s more than pleased with the way his side have conducted themselves during their first week back in training.
He said: “It was a fantastic work out I got everything I was looking for, we have to kick on again from here.
“In the second half we were able to play a younger team with experience coming in through Darren Potter, Gary (Mackenzie) and Mathias (Dumbe) and it was very, very pleasing. Everyone has come back refreshed.”
Dons are currently in Ireland for 10 days of intensive training and a friendly against Drogheda United on July 19.
On their return they will face further pre-season outings against Oxford United, Tottenham and Barnet.
And Dons look set to face a familiar face when they play at the Kassam Stadium as former midfielder Peter Leven, who turned down a contract extension to remain at stadium:mk, has agreed a two-year deal with the League Two outfit.