Part three of the summer squad review focuses on the midfield, where Brown has assembled a core of talented young footballers…
Reece Joined the club last summer, and looked impressive during preseason, prompting this blogger to comment that on technical ability alone he looked as good as any midfielder we had at the club. Reece was probably quite unfortunate to have made his debut in a tough away fixture at Rushden, thrown on when Brown had limited options, and seeing the ball consistently thumped over his head, the game passing him by.
The next time we saw Reece in first team action, he was once again called upon in the midst of an injury crisis against Eastbourne, and really impressed most Dons regulars with a proactive display in which he was unlucky not to get himself on the score sheet. Reece was rewarded for his patience with a start against Mansfield, although he saw plenty of action in the county cups, and had a short spell on loan at Kingstonian.
You would expect Reece to be shipped out again this season, maybe to a BSS club, or once again back up the first team, but I expect in a forty-six game season with associated cup games there would be scope for Reece to gain more first team experience before the end of the season.
Brendan stepped up to the first team from Marcus Gayle’s reserve/development squad, and quickly earned a debut in the televised game at Crawley, a rare positive on a disappointing night for the Dons. Brendan possesses quick feet and plenty of pace, and has shown the potential to develop into a first team player. You would expect Brendan to make a few substitute appearances next term, as an impact players his contributions are more noticeable than Reece Jones, for example.
Yet Brendan’s performances during preseason have shown, as you would expect of a young player, he still has a lot to learn. It sometimes takes a while for a football brain to develop alongside the talent, and Brendan was found guilty of trying to make too much of an impression, overplaying, taking that one too many touches when releasing the ball quicker would have benefited the team. Yet this is something he’ll learn given more and more game time, and we look forward to seeing more of this exciting prospect over the coming twelve months.
Lee is a different sort of midfielder compared to some of the other players we have in our squad, but one most supporters would like to see more of. Lee brings a considerable physical presence to the team – the positives and negatives were shown early in his Dons career, with his unfortunate sending off on his debut quickly followed by a powerful header against Eastbourne and his first goal for the club.
Yet physical presence is not a property that will allow you to walk into this Dons side, and ignoring his physical presence reveals a midfielder similar to more diminutive colleagues in terms of technical ability. While Lee might not be an automatic first pick, his general flexibility (particularly his ability to fill in defensively) means he will see plenty of action from the bench.
Terry Brown has regularly moaned about the lack of goals he gets from midfield, yet he can have no such complaints with Sammy Moore’s contribution last term… seven goals from thirty starts, pretty much one in four, and would have certainly got himself into double figures had he not suffered a serious injury.
The injury itself demonstrated the other side of Moore’s game, one that the Dons missed in his absence despite promotion form in the Conference, and will be invaluable in the Football League. Moore threw himself into a 40-60 challenge, the force of which dislocated his knee. Sammy has made an impressive recovery to take part in preseason, but will still have to wait for a chance to return as an automatic starter.
James Mulley’s arrival took us all by surprise, I don’t think any of us were expecting him to make the impact he did given his background, the fact he had been at Hayes but hadn’t played much. Yet once over an unconvincing half game at right back, Mulley really started to shine… immediately in the case of his twenty-five yard effort in the second half of that Hayes game.
Mulley probably would have continued to have played a key role in our promotion campaign, had he not been unfortunately sent off at Crawley… unfortunate because the challenge just didn’t need to be made in stoppage time, and because it reduced the input he had in our run-in. Still, Mulley rounded off the destruction of Fleetwood with a tidy finish to cap off the goal of the night, and looked the best player on the pitch when coming on at Eastlands (although tiring opponents may have helped).
Yet Mulley funds himself starting the season behind Yussuff and Wellard in the pecking order, and competing with Sammy Moore when fully fit. A sign of our strength in depth maybe, but frustrating for the individuals not able to play an immediate role in our return to the league.
I suppose the easiest way of replacing Steven Gregory was to simply sign his England C team-mate from last season… although its unfair to label Porter as a replacement for Gregory, particularly as Porter was signed a month before there was any suggestion Gregory might leave. But having filled Gregory’s old position in midfield, comparisons are going to be made…
While Porter might not have the same range of passing his predecessor had, he adds to the team in different ways. He is certainly much stronger in the challenge, and added bonus in a position where helping out defensively when things go wrong is an important secondary requirement. I suppose the big question we have now is who will play that role if Porter is ever unavailable?
This time twelve months ago, Ricky faced perhaps the most important season in his career, facing up to the prospect of forcing his way into the Dons Conference side. It’s fair to say around Christmas time that things weren’t entirely going to plan, despite playing well on occasion, Ricky just wasn’t consistent enough, and found himself out of the side as a result.
Yet Terry Brown decided what Ricky needed was a change of scenery, and shipped him off on loan to Cambridge for a month. Not only did Ricky get to start regularly, he was rated very highly by the Cambridge fans and staff alike. Ricky returned a much more confident player, a changed man almost, putting in a number of outstanding displays including running the game on his return with the Dons to the Abbey Stadium, a performance that earned him a standing ovation from the home fans.
That Ricky started against Crawley on Friday night says he is the man right now as far as Brown is concerned, the shirt is his to lose. Yet like last season the Dons faithful may need some convincing that Ricky is good enough for the division he is playing in, having finally convinced doubters he was good enough for the Conference, he needs to repeat the trick in League Two.
Toks was the perfect example of the sort of professional TB is looking to recruit last term. Coming down from Gillingham, he didn’t immediately command a place in the starting lineup, yet there was no fuss from Yusseff, despite the fact he seemed destined to be a perennial substitute (Toks early performances from the bench were superb, his first few starts unconvincing).
Eventually winning his starting role towards the end of the season, Toks looks set to be a key player for the Dons next term. A technically brilliant left footed midfielder with an eye for goal, having scored six league goals in twenty-one starts last term, that will come in more than handy if he can reproduce that scoring rate in the Dons return to league football.