MK Dons 2-1 Swindon: Promotion rival provides Town with Halloween scare

Two Milton Keynes goals in eight second half minutes from Dele Ali and Anthony Kay were enough for the ‘Dons’ to snuff out a resolute Swindon Town side at Stadium MK. The resurgent Jon Obika gave Town a 6th minute lead but our hosts were the better side over 90 minutes – only some late heroics from Wes Foderingham and the Swindon defence keeping the goals conceded down to two, writes Daniel Hunt.

I’m going to mix things up today! I’m sure you’ve already read the match reports by the Swindon Advertiser, FLIC Sport, Swindon Link, etc if you’re looking for a blow-by-blow account of how the defeat unfolded. On the way home from Milton Keynes yesterday, I took to Twitter to give my thoughts on what I’d just witnessed in Milton Keynes. Over the next five minutes reading, I will expand on each tweet to give you my version of events.

1. “Don’t be too downbeat STFC fans, beaten by a very good MK side today. Massive physical side with quality added by Ali, Afobe + Powell…”

Thoughts echoed by Swindon manager Mark Cooper in the post match press, Swindon didn’t play badly at all but were on the receiving end of the best MK side I’ve seen since we’ve been playing them (2004 onwards). On loan Arsenal forward Benik Afobe was a serious handful – as Manchester United found out to their peril – and several times Afobe glided past his marker to get round the back of the Town defence. With the exception of the diminutive Ben Reeves in midfield, it was striking looking around the pitch at how big this MK side really was. Factor in that a couple of these ‘big units’ can really play in Ali and Powell and they look perfectly set up for promotion this season.

I’ll touch on winger Daniel Powell more later in this report but 18 year old Dele Ali lived up to his pre-match hype and deserves special praise. You can see why many Premier League clubs are looking at him; he’s big, skilful and has the ability to skip past players a la Massimo Luongo. Ali took his goal beautifully to equalise in the 51st minute, passing the ball past an unsighted Wes Foderingham.

2. “MK did their homework, shackled Byrne very well – 3 crunching tackles on him in first 15-20 mins. Wasn’t the same Byrne after that #STFC

Nathan Byrne is having the season of his life and is certainly a tough little cookie. He was flattened three times by different MK players in the first half of the first half – indicating that they had singled out our right wing back for special treatment. Credit to the former Spurs man, each time he got up again and carried on but it was a below par performance from Byrne after that and I think the chunky Dean Lewington did a really good job on him at left back.

What was very frustrating from a Swindon point of view was that Anthony Kay escaped a yellow card for the awful late tackle on Byrne in the build up to the Obika goal, so that when Kay eventually picked up a booking in the 69th minute, he should have been having an early bath. Frustrating!

3. “Goals conceded were sloppy from a #STFC point of view – 1st especially. Poor Bell headed clearance and then Luongo guilty of over playing!!”

The opening periods of second halves are becoming a real issue for the current Swindon side – three times in the last four games, 1-0 half time leads have been surrendered in the 49th minute against Rochdale, 47th minute against Colchester and yesterday in the 51st minute against Milton Keynes.

If you’re looking for more themes, self inflicted pain in the build up to goals is becoming an annoying habit as well. Amari’i Bell had an opportunity to head the ball clear of danger but his header ballooned to back into the centre of the pitch and into MK possession. Never fear, Massimo Luongo stepped in and won the ball back, only to commit the cardinal sin of overplaying on the edge of his own box, allowing an MK toe to intercept. Dele Ali did the rest and the match was level at 1-1.

4. “Looking for positives? #STFC were very resolute in 1st half + counter attacked well again. Smith rounded keeper, almost 2 up! Obika bright.”

Much like at Chesterfield on Tuesday night, Cooper’s men had to soak up plenty of first half pressure from their hosts. And much like at Chesterfield, Swindon did this very well in the first half – restricting MK to two Benik Afobe headers, wide of each post. The counter attacking threat was Town’s main outlet and as well as producing Obika’s opening goal, Michael Smith was presented with a golden opportunity to put Swindon two-nil up. Smith latched onto a through ball and tried to round David Martin in the MK goal to no avail. On reflection Smith might have shot past Martin rather than trying to navigate around him.

Special word for ‘Super’ Jon Obika who worked his socks off and put his two horror misses at Chesterfield behind him as he notched his 6th goal in Swindon colours. His link up playing coming short for the ball was good again but the most notable improvement in his game at MK was his tracking back, winning the ball on several occasions in his own half.

5. “Turnbull + N.Thompson magnificent for #STFC otherwise it could/should have been 3/4 for MK. Stephens lack of pace on right of 3 a big issue!”

When you’re playing with a back three, you can’t afford to carry passengers and luckily for Jack Stephens, he had the magnificent Nathan Thompson and Jordan Turnbull playing to his left. Wes Foderingham too, deserves plaudits for stopping MK from increasing their lead in a helter-skelter final period of the game. Foderingham made a good block with his chest in the 89th minute but his save from Ali in the third minute of stoppage time was super human! Prior to this, Swindon had flung bodies in the way of other efforts from Grigg and Potter. There was certainly no indication that Town, led by Nathan Thompson, had thrown in the towel.

6. “Rough with the smooth re: Stephens. Brilliant at bringing ball out from the back – looks a central-midfielder to me. Branco fit soon please?”

7. “Stephens not helped by playing on the right of 3 because Byrne is so attacking + Stephens dragged into right back. MK played on it! #STFC

I’d like to tackle tweets six and seven in one go. If i was giving marks out of ten for yesterday, Stephens would have got 4/10 for defending and 8/10 for going forward from the back. There was one passage of play in the second half where Stephens nut-megged a ‘Dons’ defender on the edge of their own box to put himself through on goal. It was brilliant play and unfortunately the move came to nothing when Stephens and Obika went to strike the same ball – the end result being a tame shot straight at David Martin, a real let off for MK.

The excellent Daniel Powell on the left wing gave Stephens a torrid time. Jack’s lack of pace isn’t his fault but so long as Swindon play with the uber-attacking Byrne at right wing back and Stephens on the right of the back three, this problem of space to be exposed down Swindon’s right is going to be exploited over and over again. Poor old Stephens didn’t know when to engage Powell when he was running at him, the end result being that Stephens would back off and back off – leading to many MK Dons chances particularly in the second half when the game got stretched.

While Stephens had a mare, we mustn’t over look the fact that he received so little support from his colleagues, the flip side of giving Byrne so much license to attack down the right. A reasonable tactical change yesterday might have been to push Nathan Thompson to the right of the back three and move Stephens to sweeper, a place where I think he’d thrive. As i touched on in my tweets, Stephens looks like a central midfielder to me and his manager Ronald Koeman at Southampton certainly used him in that position in pre-season. Food for thought…

8. “Has it been announced how many #STFC fans were at MK today? Those at home listening on radio, could you hear us?”

I won’t dwell on it too much but the following of 1,292 to Milton Keynes yesterday was fantastic to see, it’s our second biggest ever following to MK (see table below). With an FA Cup trip to Cheltenham to come next Saturday, that’ll make it four 1,000 plus followings in a month – Leyton Orient, Yeovil Town, MK Dons and Cheltenham. Well done Reds, keep it up!

Year Number of STFC fans
2005 1,550
2014 1,292
2008 1,203
2010 1,133
2007 961

9. “Hate to comment on referees (not why we lost) but he had a shocker. Can someone explain how a free kick given against Kasim at end?! #STFC

I’ve already touched on referee Eddie Ilderton’s inability to book Anthony Kay in the first half but the rest of his general refereeing performance was baffling. I’m not going to pin any blame for the result on the referee; it’s not an excuse, more of a comment. Mark Cooper bit his tongue when asked about Mr. Ilderton’s display after the match and it was very interesting to hear that Cooper received an apology from the referee’s association in the week. That’s something I suppose, perhaps it was a psychic apology in advance!

But the referee’s display was best summed up by the puzzling decision to award a free-kick against Yaser Kasim in the 90th minute. After a loose touch on the edge of the MK box, Kasim stabbed the ball through to Andy Williams on the left wing before Kasim was clattered into by an MK Dons defender. Williams was about to bear down on goal in what would have a great chance for Town to equalise, the end result – an MK Dons free kick, relieving all the pressure.

10. “Chin up Reds – big BIG game vs Preston to come at County Ground on Tues night. They also lost today, win that + back in top 2 mix! #STFC

I think it’s important to end on a positive note, for this was a decent Swindon Town performance and there’s no shame in admitting that we were beaten by the better team. On a couple of pivotal moments did this match hinge, Michael Smith could have put Town two goals to the good and both MK goals will be deemed avoidable when the Swindon players watch the game back on Monday morning. I’ll be able to comment better after I’ve seen the Preston game on Tuesday night, but I think that MK Dons have got all the tools in their locker to achieve automatic promotion alongside Bristol City this season.

Town remain a young side that are brilliant on their day with some polishing required around the edges. The recruitment of a right sided centre-half or the speedy return of Raphael Rossi-Branco may be required to keep the goals out against the very best teams in League One – with Preston and Bristol City up next, we’ve got a good chance to test that theory.

Follow Daniel Hunt on Twitter – @dphunt88

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