Style and football: Are things finally looking up for MK Dons under Paul Tisdale?

Paul Tisdale
Photo: MK Citzen

Lets start from the beginning

The appointment of Paul Tisdale at MK Dons on the 6th of June 2018 surprised some but maybe not MK Dons fans as whispers of his imminent arrival was hot on the lips of many fans who attend Stadium MK. Tisdale hadnt agreed new terms with Exeter City with whom he was the longest serving manager in English football after Arsene Wenger had left Arsenal.

Exeter City

Having led Exeter for the last 12 years Tisdale, for the majority, had an excellent relationship with the board and fans but cracks had started to appear with fans becoming increasingly anxious at his refusal to change his style of play. This came to a head in April away at Stevenage last season in a 3-1 loss. Fans were clearly disgruntled and chants of ‘Tisdale out’ rang across the Lamex Stadium despite Exeter sitting in fourth place in League 2. Steve Perryman, then director of football at Exeter, bizarrely started his own chant of ‘Theres only one Paul Tisdale’ which probably didn’t help matters at all.

Fast forward to May 2018 and the aformentioned whispers were gathering pace. Darren Ferguson, Simon Grayson and then caretaker manager Keith Millen were names being mentioned in regards to the vacancy left by the unfortunate but inevitable sacking of the very likeable Dan Micciche.

Yeh get on with it, whats changed?

Im getting there, stay with me.

Having spent time at Stadium MK around the first team it was clear to me that all wasnt well but the players clearly knew what was required but moral was ok considering but the legacy from the sackings of firstly Robbie Neilson then Dan Micchie to the brief stint of Keith Millen the players were asked to play in different styles with different tactics and do different things in training and all in a relatively short space of time with Micchie given from January to April to implement his ideas in an already pressurised situation with MK in a relagation fight and seemingly very little light at the end of the tunnel.

Players and fans were together for the most part with the latter doing their upmost to stay with the team in what was looking back, inevitable relagation.

After the Rochdale game last season Micciche had said he wanted 6 wins plus 4 more points to stay up.

Micciche’s wishes in numbers

Needless to say it didnt happen and Dons were relgated and big changes were needed. No matter what calculations i tried i couldnt get MK higher than 22nd.

Example of one calculation

Enter stage left a smartly dressed man born in Malta.

Tisdale and a new era

“Tisdale is renowned for ensuring his teams play short and tidy football” – Sky Sports top ten League managers 2008

Tactically Paul Tisdale is one of, if not the best at League 2 level in regards to his teams playing style and game management.

Tisdale’s Exeter sides in more recent seasons have played attractive, crowd pleasing football now results have varied with the highlight being a League 2 play off final last season albeit being well beaten by an excellent Marc McNulty inspired Coventry City side.

Tisdale seemed to prefer a 4-3-3 shape whilst at Exeter but his thinking seems to have changed somewhat at MK Dons starting in pre season with variations on a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 as shown below in a pre season friendly against Oxford United

MK Dons 4-4-1-1 vs Oxford United

This clearly shows Tisdale’s ability to adapt to the players at his disposal and rightly so he is the manager after all.

A summer of much needed new faces

The signings of Jordan Moore-Taylor at centre back and the welcome return of Joe Walsh alongside him have added strength to a defence that leaked 69 league goals last season.

But more importantly the addition of England Under 20 midfielder Jordan Houghton a confident passer and mature midfielder has been excellent business, MK Dons missed a ball playing midfielder like Houghton last year who could control the pace of a game, a much needed quality missing since the days of Darren Potter some might say. With the aid of a long awaited return from injury of Alex Gilbey the Dons midfield is finally looking much more solid.

Ryan Harley, Lawson D’Ath, Ryan Watson, Mitch Hancox, and Robbie Simpson all came to Stadium MK all in relative quick succession it must be said and this points to Tisdale getting his house in order early so as to get plenty of time with the players and getting them into a system he believes they will be at their best in, being tactically flexible is a fantastic quality to have as a coach as well as being able to stick to a playing style of course.

The appointments of Matt Oakley, Danny Butterfield and Tisdale’s DOF at Exeter Steve Perryman to the backroom staff is equally as important.

Starting the campaign well

Opening game vs Oldham (A)
First home game vs Bury

My pass maps above show the passing networks by MK Dons in the first two games and its clear to see how much more compact the team are this year. With the two wins one away at Oldham and the second at home to Bury setting up in a 4-2-3-1 away at Oldham and a 3-4-2-1 (both are variations on Tisdale’s favoured 4-3-3) against Bury the flexibility of the team not only reflects on the manager but also the fact the players have brought in to what he wants them to do something which was badly missing last season.

Of course every manager wants to start a season well and as i said to people associated with the club building a winning mentality is key especially after last year and Tisdale seems to have done that so far with the Dons sitting in 3rd position in League 2 with 2 wins and and two draws after 4 games and with 6 different goal scorers already the signs are looking good.

I sense there’s a but coming

I have watch every game under Tisdale this year (apart from one pre season game in Spain) mostly on Wyscout due mainly to moving house and its clear things have changed for the better but im sure most Dons fans will agree that striking options are not at a premium with Chuks Aneke’s (top scorer last year with 9 league goals) future in doubt and Kieron Agard’s issues in hesitating when chances come his way this still needs to be sorted come January if no loan deals can be arranged before then with Robbie Simpson the only real option apart from the younger players Dylan Asonganyi, Sam Nombe and the pacey Brandon Thomas-Asante of course.

I have gone on way to long and i hope its been interesting and i will revisit how things have progressed later on in the season.

Thanks for reading!

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

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