Why MK Dons cannot afford to make Aneke their key man
Chuks Aneke's first league appearance for MK Dons this season also coincided with their least effective performance under Paul Tisdale - but is it too soon to link the two?
The 25-year-old was subject to a host of speculation linking him away from Stadium MK in the August transfer windows, but a move never fully materialised, leaving him to battle it out for a place in Tisdale's side until the windows reopen in January.
His opening performance against Peterborough in the Checkatrade Trophy was exactly what everyone wanted from Aneke - two goals, brilliant touches, game controlling influence. But Saturday's 1-1 draw with Forest Green Rovers, through no fault of Tisdale or Aneke, had too many echoes of last season about it.
"We need to play to his strengths and he needs to help us," said Tisdale of Aneke afterwards. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk reaction after a drab 1-1 draw and only one league showing from Aneke, though the relationship has to be mutual: the system did not allow either to work on Saturday.
Against Posh, Aneke was a subtle influence. Dons continued with Tisdale's style of play, patiently building through the midfield, strength in numbers in attack. Aneke needed six minutes to head home his first before a moment of skill brought him his second. He fit in perfectly with the team. Even looking as far back as his break-out game - the 4-0 win at Peterborough in 2017 - he was a team-player, not the player the team fed off.
Against Forest Green though, he was the outlet, he was the target, he was the man everything went through, the man everyone looked to to get things done - and that system saw MK Dons relegated from League 1. It allowed for players to be let off the hook: give the ball to Aneke, and if he doesn't create, no harm. For Tisdale, it was the first opportunity for him to experiment with that approach, but from his immediate reaction to the game, he will think twice about a repeat. He had to see it with his own eyes though.
Everyone knows what Aneke is capable of. He's a player Dons can turn to in a bind, a player who can create a goal, who can score a goal and turn a game around. But his best performances have come when he's not the be all and end all. What Dons have done so well this season is play as a unit, but against Forest Green it felt like Aneke carried a lot of the weight again. His well-taken goal was testament to how he can capitalise on a mistake, be in the right place at the right time and use unquestionable abilities to score in a tight spot.
But as was seen all too often last season, he cannot do it by himself. Aneke, in a sense, is a victim of his own strengths. He can be an influential target man, he can drive a team on, he can score vital goals - but he cannot, and should not do all of those things at once.
For what Tisdale has seen from Aneke in training and now in action, he will see all the attributes his man has but he needs to strike a balance between them, not try to harness them all at once.