The problems Neilson needs to fix at Stadium MK

Robbie Neilson is set to be confirmed as the new manager at Stadium MK on Friday, swapping Hearts for MK Dons, Scotland for England, the Scottish Premiership for League 1.

Friday, 2nd December 2016, 10:07 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 3:41 pm
Robbie Neilson

But as he stepped out of the harmonious, buoyant and thriving Jambos dressing room for the final time, he will know there's a lot of work he needs to do to recreate that same atmosphere 359 miles further south.


It is arguably the biggest reason Dons aren't still in the Championship right now. For one reason or another, the relationship between Head of Recruitment Bobby Winkelman and former boss Karl Robinson hit the rocks - HARD.

The death of Andy King, the former incumbent of Winkelman Jnr's job, hit the club much harder than anticipated. Whether it be Winkelman's choice of player, or Robinson's reluctance to take his word, or a combination of both, the three transfer windows since King passed away have been catastrophic and have seen the squad crumble to one worthy of a League 1 dogfight.

Desperate for star quality in all areas of the pitch, Neilson's duty is to quickly earmark players from the now infamous 'database' as the recruitment drive for January begins in earnest.


Atop that Christmas list of players has to be a potent centre forward. Granted, it's the most popular present which every manager is asking for, but it's one Dons have been crying out for since the departure of Will Grigg 18 months ago.

Nicky Maynard has scored eight goals since signing in September 2015, and none at all this season. Goals, or a lack thereof, were the biggest problem out on the pitch last season and so far, it's looking the same this time around.

Several front men fell through the cracks on transfer deadline day, but Neilson will have to get those deals over the line. And the return of Chuks Aneke could yet fall nicely into his lap.

Defensive errors

It might be a new look defence without the likes of Kyle McFadzean and Antony Kay, but the same old errors keep costing Dons dearly. Misjudging headers, giving the fall away cheaply in dangerous areas, losing their man - all costing Dons goals, and points, at the wrong end of the pitch.

Joe Walsh appears to be maturing into the defender fans had hoped to see when he was brought in nearly two years ago, but both Paul Downing and Jack Hendry have struggled to adapt to life at Stadium MK. But the signs are there that both have decent attributes to level out. Scott Wootton's long term injury has hit Dons much harder than expected too.

But simply cutting out the errors, perhaps a more direct approach to defending - ie lump it away from danger rather than passing your way out - may pay dividends.

Home form

It's obvious really: no league wins at home in neigh on NINE months now is not acceptable. Luck can only play a part in that for a time, but during the course of this barren run, it has ingrained itself in the players' minds. It's now a mental problem they need to overcome. Even beating non-league Spennymoor became more a battle with themselves than their opposition.

Neilson's Hearts side lost just once in the league this season - a 2-1 defeat to runaway train Celtic in August - and have been tough to break down at Tynecastle. With Dons' away record making for solid reading, a turn around in fortunes at Stadium MK would see Dons climb the League 1 table rapidly.

The shadow of Karl Robinson

Former boss Karl Robinson was, and still is well liked at MK Dons. His six-and-a-half years at the club have left an indelible mark on the club, who now have to find their way with a new man again. But with a new man comes new ways, new norms and new schedules. Things have to be shaken up.

Robinson was fiercely proud of the footballing philosophy he'd instilled over the years - a passing style which won plaudits all over. But it's also partly the reason Dons are where they are. The system works, of course, it got them promoted. But the system can also fail if the cogs aren't right, and at the moment, they clearly aren't.

Neilson hasn't come to MK Dons to be a continuation, as the bus driver on the Robinson coach journey. He has come because he feels he can make this team better, but he has to be allowed to do it his way. If it means retiring the old-faithful 4-2-3-1, giving reality checks to regular starters, thumping it long, slamming the dressing door to anyone but his players, so be it.

For this venture to be anything but successful, it has to be Neilson's team done Neilson's way. And for everyone's sake, let's hope he's allowed to do it.