Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Pre Season Musing Uncut

Well the Gunnerblog has been put to rest in its weekly form.
I was asked to start it again by a lot of people but when the old MK Dons Forum closed down (due to the actions of some of our more stupid fans) I decided to stop the blog as well.  I was asked to continue the blog on the Zone MK forum when most of us found our way there, but I decided the blog was so synonymous with the MK Dons Forum that I would let it fade away as the forum did.

As we know the Moocamp Forum closed shortly after the MK Dons Forum and two new sites (The Concrete Roundabout and The New Moo) sprung up together with a section of the Zone MK Forum which was a well established local football website.  The Zone added a Dons section to kindly accommodate us old MK Dons Forum folk that needed a home, so out of two came three forums.

I initially joined The Zone as a moderator but posted under another name in case any of the undesirables decided to follow and cause trouble.  But after a few weeks all seemed quite quiet and everyone seemed to find out my moderator alias was in fact me.  Actually I got the idea from another Dons forum where the owner posted under another name and moderated under an alias.

I stepped down as a moderator when The Zone became the most populated of the three forums despite the fact it was never advertised in the immediate weeks following the closure of the Moocamp and MK Dons Forums by the MKDSA site giving the other two site a good head start.
However it still managed to become a popular site which is a great reflection on those that posted regularly on The Zone and the MKDons forum before it.

But enough of all that last season stuff and on to new season.  So another pre-season begins.  A pre season is like the new season but not really if you know what I mean.  Like last season we had a manager in place, a luxury we are getting used to.  And this season Karl Robinson had more time with contracts expiring to really put his stamp on the team and mould it into a fully fledged Robbo squad.

Something that was also evident was the preparation for pre-season.  In a conversation I had with Karl just before the Posh game at London Road I asked him where the team would be going in the summer.  Karl said that he was arranging games with Drogheda and St Patrick during a training camp in Ireland.  As we know now, St Patrick had Europa Cup commitments and had to pull out which is why the clubs involved didn't make it public knowledge the minute things were talked about .

Close season we saw two new signings arrive in the shape of Darren Potter and Dean Bowditch, which of course led to speculation that players who play in same position were leaving.  With Sam Baldock and Peter Leven both having been subject of interest from other clubs in the past, and with Peterborough making an offer for Sam most of us were thinking they would probably go.

Posh seemed very keen on Gleeson as well, but the double offer Posh made was rejected which in turn caused Posh to up the offer for Sam alone.  MK Dons as a club then allowed him to meet with the Posh.  Then it really got interesting!  With what seemed like a done deal between the clubs Sam went to meet Fergie Junior and before we could start arguing about which striker would start for us on the opening day... the deal was off !

According to MK Dons Online sources £1.6 million was offered for Gleeson and Baldock which was rejected, and the revised sum of £1.2 million for Sam on his own was the one that ended when Sam and Darren Ferguson couldn't agree.  (On what we’ll never know).

As for the players that we signed, Dean Bowditch joined us from Yeovil after rejecting an offer to extend his contract there.  The twenty five year old  scored fifteen goals in forty one league appearances for them.  Dean has been capped at three different international levels for England and is a player many fans here have expressed interest in during the last few seasons.  The question is, will he be the strike partner for Sam (providing of course Sam is still here and no other more offers come in).

Another close season signing was Darren Potter who left Sheffield Wednesday by mutual consent.  Darren has been capped many times for Ireland at youth level but comes with mixed reviews from the Wednesday fans.  With Leven not signing an extension, Darren is thought to be the replacement by many.  As a  Liverpool lad he is well known to Karl and has been given the number eight shirt (at least untill official player shirt presentation).

I understood Karl was also looking at other young talent and I know he was also keen to get Balanta back.  But at time of writing, this prospect was looking unlikely.  The first day back from close season saw an unfortunate injury to Charlie Collins resulting in him being unable to travel to Ireland.  I spoke to John Gorman and he was upset for Charlie as the youngster was raring to go and make his mark on the team.

With the ever increasing ways of getting information about teams and players, blogs (other than daily types) are becoming almost as old news as printed newspapers, and at MK it is no different.  Several players and staff are tweeting regularly about what they are up to.  This was particularly evident during the players trip to Ireland where as fans we had very little information from official sources during the first few days of the ten days the squad were there.  

Another topic that is pretty much seasonal is the panic over squad size.  Even in June, as players left, there were some fans that worried they wouldn't be replaced in time and we’d start the season with whatever was left from previous season.  I never worry till August as these things have a habit of sorting themselves out, and with Karl putting the feelers out before the season had even finished I was less worried than I have ever been.

But we are a third division club and we have to wait for the big boys to decide what they are doing and who they are loaning out or releasing till we can add final touches to the team.  From what I have seen and heard, Karl has some good contacts and knows how to get players.  He may be criticised by some for no plan B on the pitch, but he certainly has plan B,C,D and E when it comes to getting a squad together.

One of the debates we have as fans is the size of squad, and I always say about 25-28 should be enough to cover the season with cup runs, injuries etc and always look back to seasons under Allen and Ince (Part 1) when we had upwards of thirty players.  I have also thought of the Ince (Part 2) time when we seemed to have injuries galore and had trouble getting a bench such was lack of fit players.

But times have changed and all clubs have cut back, with reserve teams all but a thing of the past outside of the Premier League and Championship.  This has led to ever decreasing squads and I was not surprised to learn that it is likely we will have our smallest squad for the coming season.  I'd guess from various conversations that we will go for quality players and less numbers rather than lesser quality and bigger numbers.  When I questioned this I was told that amongst other things it creates a small bonded team and that we will use the loan market much more when needed.

Of course budget plays a significant part and I'm sure that if he could, Karl would love a reserve team and a squad of thirty.  But even in the Premier League he would be limited to 25 under current rules.  I have to admit to not being entirely convinced that a squad of say 20 is enough but have definitely re-thought my previous player number requirement  which goes to prove that even an old dog can learn!

The first pre season game resulted in a convincing win at St Neots which was then followed by what were really Dons Xl games as the players from the senior team went to Ireland.   That being said, the Marshall Cup was regained at Newport Pagnell which is always a good addition to the trophy cabinet.

The first team and a number of trialists had an intense ten days in Ireland with the emphasis being on getting the player fit.  The two games we played (against Bangor Celtic and Drogheda United) were a chance for Karl to look at his squad and try different systems using all the players available to get match time under their belts.

The results in these pre-season games are not really that important as some players won't be here come the start of the season.  But it its something we need to do, if only to get players match time and of course to see if any of the players on trial will be suitable for the coming season.  At the time of writing we still need to fix our right back problem and have used Baldock (the younger) in one of the Ireland games to fill the role.

We have a pre season game with Oxford United this week and then the eagerly anticipated game with a Spurs Xl.  I think Harry will put out a decent team and we will see as Dons fans the team we will start the the season with.

We then have the very strange game against Buckingham Town which is like a late pre-season friendly as the season will be under way.  I just hope we dont pick up any injuries in what (although for a good cause) seems a strange match to be playing with the season ahead.  I suppose its the same as having a behind closed door match, but with the squad as small as it is this is still an odd decision to me.

Personally I think we will see more players come through the season on loan and don't think our youngsters will be rushed into the team with the likes of George Baldock Tom Flanagan Harry Milton and Charlie Collins going out on loan.  Maybe not all four of them at once, but I dont think they will be sitting around on the bench all season.

The young Ipswich and under 21 Irish international keeper seems to be favourite for the reserve keeper role and I think of the keepers we have looked at McLoughlin looks to be favorite for that role.  Another familiar face cropped up in the form of Carl Magnay who has been with us before in 2009 but went back to Chelsea after not impressing our manager.

So we have played and won all our pre season games so far.   I will be back for Part 2 of my pre-season musings and the start of the season thoughts in August.  Many thanks to MK Dons Online for asking me to do the Monthly Musings piece for them.


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