'Silent leader' Elliott Ward brings calm to Dons' defence
He certainly wasn't MK Dons' marquee signing in January, but Elliott Ward is proving to be a key capture in Dons' quest to escape the League 1 relegation scrap.
Deemed surplus to requirements by Easter Monday's opponents Blackburn Rovers in January, Ward joined Dons until the end of the season on loan the day before deadline day. Since then, he has played almost every game under Dan Micciche, growing evermore in stature at the heart of Dons' defence.
After another excellent display away at Gillingham, Ward, playing at the heart of Micciche's three-man back line, saw Dons climb out of the League 1 relegation zone for the first time since he arrived from Ewood Park with the club's ever first win at Priestfield.
A thoughtful interviewee, Micciche said the 33-year-old doesn't talk a lot on or off the field, but when he does, the rest of the Dons dressing room tends to listen.
"What he has shown, particularly away from home when you need those characters and that leadership, he's a silent leader," he said. "He's not a shouter, he says very little, but when he talks he talks a lot of sense. When I came in, I said I wanted more leaders out there. We've got Dean Lewington, George Williams, Scott Wootton has stepped up to the plate, Ed Upson is too, and Wardy is giving us massive experience.
"In any team, you need that experience. He has a calm head, he knows how to defend and he's not bad on the ball either. He was schooled at West Ham so he has always been good on the ball, Eddie Howe wouldn't have taken him to Bournemouth if he wasn't a ball-playing centre half, nor would Tony Mowbray at Blackburn.
"I've known of Elliott for nearly 20 years through his brother Darren who is a friend of mine. I've always tracked his career, since he was 16 and broke into the West Ham team. He won the play-off final at centre half at 18. I knew what I was bringing in. I fought for him, there was competition. But people questioned it - can he do this, can he do that? He's a 24 hour pro, and I tap into his knowledge regularly."
With parent club Blackburn the visitors to Stadium MK on Easter Monday, Ward will be missing from the line-up as part of his loan agreement. Micciche said though it is a chance for someone else to step in and step up.
He added: "It's an opportunity for someone else now. I've known about it from day one so it hasn't just hit me, but in the last few weeks, missing Callum Brittain and Robbie Muirhead has shown we can adapt. Whoever comes in will do a fine job."