I went to my work Christmas party on Friday; it was fine. Fine is about the highest rating possible for a work party. The food was good but there was no choice, there was a casino but with fake money, a disco but with neutral, inoffensive pop standards. Work parties have a very restricted sense of fun, it looks good on paper, but is no more than fine in practice.
MK Dons are the office party of the football world. Stadium MK is convenient, comfortable, clean and efficient. It’s also the dullest experience. An early rendition of Yellow Submarine on Saturday in tribute to Jim Smith evaporated into the sky, absorbed in the vacuum of nothingness that’s the MK experience.
It’s hard to imagine the appeal of supporting a team like that, though in many ways that’s Milton Keynes all over; and if that’s all you’re used to, perhaps it’s all you need.
On and off the field we struggled with the bleach clean experience; the fans were quiet where they are normally raucous, the team were flat where they’re normally buoyant.
As a result, we made it pretty easy for them in the dullest first half in living memory. What we needed was more edge, to make it a bit more wild, less corporate; but it was a lot to ask Cameron Brannagan to provide the dynamite in his first game back. He needed to find the pace of the game, we needed him to set it.
Second half was better, but even a full on Jamie Mackie assault was likely to have limited effect. What was left was a narrow corridor between the clean, ineffective, anodyne football of the first half and Trevor Kettle’s idiosyncratic interpretation of laws of the game. Only after their goal did we look like we were negotiating to any effect.
Both Shrewsbury and MK Dons have benefitted from the fact the onus is on us to make the game. We are no longer a dangerous secret, we were like the school weed who has been taking secretly taking karate lessons. You only need to give the school bully a hiding once and the world takes on a different dynamic. It might be a relief to play Manchester City on Wednesday who will surely dictate and dominate the play.
In the New Year the quality of our opponents won’t let up but Christmas and the transfer window determines whether we do it from a position of being contenders or simply antagonisers in someone else’s promotion race. Saturday may have been our first defeat in months, but at the moment, with injuries and the changing landscape of our role in the division, that hangs in the balance.