St Neots are beaten 3-1 but League One outfit MK Dons, but are by means completely outclassed by the side.
St Neots Town 1
MK Dons 3
THE Hunts Post Community Stadium hosted Saints’ first pre-season friendly of what promises to be a memorable season… and it was a cracker.
League One Milton Keynes played virtually a first team in the opening period and only established a single goal advantage. The next 45 minutes proved the club five tiers higher to have a stronger second string, who notched two neat goals before Robert Hughes pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 89th minute.
Home fans got the chance to look at three of the club’s four newcomers and the trio impressed. St Ives’ legend Will Fordham looked his usual powerful presence at the back and unleashed some trademark free kicks, Junior Konuda looked a class apart at times with his tender touch and quick feet, while raw-boned teenager Lee Bassett, stepping up from the reserves’ squad, showed a willingness to frighten any defence when he came on in the second half.
Dan Chillingworth – the fourth recruit and easily capable of 30-plus goals a season at this level after successful Conference seasons with Cambridge United and Rushden and Diamonds – watched from the sidelines, his current fitness measured not to be worth the risk.
There were a number of special events put on for the family-focussed day, including a penalty shoot-out, and MK chairman Pete Winkleman said afterwards: “This is a tremendous club. I wish them every success next season because they deserve it. This is a professional set-up from top to bottom.”
Saints lined-up with Liam Harrold as a lone spearhead. Fordham eased himself in alongside excellent captain Glen Fuff in the middle of defence, while Konuda was the focus of some intricate passing in a five-man midfield on a pitch which vibrated health and rewarded efficiency of movement.
After an even 14 minutes, the visitors took the lead when a long ball down the inside-right channel caught keeper Luke McShane in no-man’s land and Jabo Ibehre hooked the ball over him from 30 yards.
Former Manchester United midfielder Luke Chadwick should have made it two on the half-hour when he smashed a low drive against the post as the home defence opened-up after failing to deal with a left-wing break.
It was all even from then on with possession shared, though it was the Dons who looked more likely to score. Saints’ best hope was a Fordham thunderbolt from a free kick 30 yards out which flashed by a post just before the break.
Both teams made significant changes for the second 45 minutes, with Bassett making his home debut in place of Harrold and Tim Trebes for McShane being the most significant for the home side.
The game became more aggressive and untidy, which meant the visitors’ extra fitness and class began to tell. However, their second goal was fortunate with Jermaine Easter making the best of a tangle with teenage centre-half Jordan Gent to hit the post with a cross-shot which fell nicely for Chadwick to blast into an empty net.
Trebes’ goal had a charmed life after that with scrambles and goal-line clearances, so it was no surprise when the visitors made it 3-0 with club legend Dean Lewington – with the Dons since age eight and still in their Wimbledon guise – nodding home a right-wing corner with three minutes left.
Lewington, whose father Ray, is currently in temporary charge at Premier League Fulham, was involved at the other end when he gave away the penalty which the busy Hughes – with Fuff probably the pick of the home performers – converted with the side of his right foot after feigning to the left.
Under a headline of “Time to Progress” in his programme notes, manager Dennis Greene wrote: “I hope I can fulfil my long term ambitions here. Generally, when I have taken over the manager’s role, it has been at clubs who are struggling at the wrong end of the table. Teams are generally struggling because they don’t have the resources to compete with those above them.
“That’s not the case here, so this really is my dream job. I believe we can compete at Conference South standard and that’s where I am looking to take us. We have the resources to back that up. This is a rare situation at any level.”
That’s not an unreasonable ambition, as Greene thinks the current squad is good enough to compete at least one league higher and Winkleman confirmed: “This team bothered us more than other non-league outfits we’ve played previously at Conference South level.”