A lesson in League One from The Dons
Mark Bonner said after the game that the objectives the two sides have this season are different, inferring that MK Dons are most likely going to be challenging for the top spots whilst his charges’ main aspiration is to retain their Sky Bet League One status.
As the game settled, the Dons midfield of Twine, Josh McEachran, Matt O’Riley and David Kasumu – who was excellent throughout – found pockets of space in between the lines.
The former Chelsea man McEachran was dropping in to defence to pick up the ball, allowing Twine and Watters to make the runs into the space behind the U’s defence.
This was a consistent theme throughout the first half, yet Cambridge didn’t learn.
The press from the front was forcing former Don George Williams to push higher than his teammate Jack Iredale on the opposite side of the back four, leaving a huge gap down the hosts’ left-hand side.
Twine found himself in acres of space in the box a couple of times before the opening goal, which came from a long ball over the top which Watters chased on to before putting it on a plate for his attacking partner.
This space was exploited again later in the half as Twine fed Watters and the striker converted across Dimitar Mitov.
The Dons made Cambridge look like a League Two side with how they punished the positional errors for the first two goals, and then how they punished the error from Iredale for the fourth in the second half.
Positionally, the Amber Army were all over the place in the first half, and against a top team – which MK Dons are – they will be punished dearly at this higher level.
Watters and Twine are a deadly duo
His size and strength is equalled with his athleticism and his pace to run in behind and his end product is incredible – whether that be setting his teammates up or finding the net himself.
Bonner referred to Watters price tag in his post-match comments, and he showed he is worth every penny.
For some reason, Cardiff let him leave on a temporary basis for this season and could probably do with him at the moment.
Twine, who tucks in just behind the striker, showed exactly why he was courted by Championship clubs in the summer before he chose to move to Buckinghamshire.
On the ball, he is a delight.
He is able to pick up the ball and move it quickly almost without thinking and, the majority of the time, it comes off.
Off the ball, he is constantly on the ball, whether that is looking for space to pick the ball up in or if it is to win it back for his side.
His first goal was a product of his decision making to make the run to the back post, his free kick was delightful – to be able to get it up and down from so close is a difficult skill – and his two assists were incisive passes that were timed and weighted to perfection.
Four players who will score goals but can run and create space for others to run in to, which is a quality trait to possess.
Twine now leads the team in league goals this season with eight, while the brace was Watters third and fourth strikes of the season.
Cambridge should be happy with their half time response
Happy. But not too happy.
The game was different after the break, MK Dons were sitting in and cruising and it allowed the visitors the chance to come forward more often.
However, Cambridge looked a different side after half time.
They were defensively more compact, both at the back and in midfield, thanks to tactical and personnel changes.
The two sides set out on the front foot, United pressing from the front as the home side enjoyed plenty of the ball early on.
And they looked threatening going forward.
Veteran Wes Hoolahan looked more likely to create something when he seemed to have a freer role in the second half – but he is far from his best, it must be said.
Joe Ironside, largely isolated in the first half, was able to hold the ball up more which brought other players into the game, with Smith and James Brophy having a couple of chances before the former did find the net.
Obviously, after a 4-1 defeat, you can not be too overjoyed by the performance.
On the basis of the first half, though, the game could have unravelled completely and it could have mirrored the 6-0 game here between the two sides on New Year’s Day 2019.
But, credit where it is due, the changes worked and Cambridge did look a better side.
If they had scored the next goal early in the second half, the outcome could very well have been different.
Yet, their end product let them down and they were punished by some clinical finishing at the other end.
It is FA Cup replay action up next for both sides.
Both ties take place on Tuesday evening, and are 7:45pm kick-offs.