There have been several occasions this season where we’ve dominated games and not gotten the rewards, last Saturday’s win over Swindon Town was not one of them. We were out-shot, out-played and there were two successive goal-line scrambles, but the quality of finishing from our strikers rendered the other facts about the game moot – long may that last.
The attention now turns back to the FA Cup, as we look to make it into the Fifth Round of the FA Cup for the first time in nine years. Given what happened in the previous round against Premier League Stoke, as well as our general good form of late, there is a level of expectation now that this will be another memorable occasion in front of a sell-out away following, placing a level of pressure on our players to perform against what are still higher-division opponents.
Aside from the occasion itself, this game is an opportunity for the players to show that they can perform in the division above.. Is Michael Doyle mobile enough to impose himself on a League One midfield? Has our defence benefitted from playing against a lower quality of striker? Is Marc McNulty clinical enough to be effective against better opponents? Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, this could be a game that informs Mark Robins decision-making over the summer were we to achieve promotion.
There seems little reason to change the team up for this game, albeit this is an XI that has lost two of its last three away games. The likes of Rod McDonald, Peter Vincenti and Josh Barrett are all seemingly pushing for selection, but it seems like they’ll have to content themselves for a role on the bench, with the latter two offering Mark Robins an opportunity to change things up in the second-half.
Last Time We Met
Our last trip to Milton Keynes came early into Mark Robins’ return to the club, with the team struggling for confidence and the manager yet to identify the personnel or formation with which to build the team back up from. It was pretty much a non-event against an MK Dons side who even in March knew they had nothing left to play for. A goal early in the second-half from MK midfielder Stuart O’Keefe was enough for the hosts to beat a goal-shy Sky Blues.
However, we did play MK Dons back in pre-season – in a ‘home’ game in Nuneaton – where two Marc McNulty penalties handed us the win. Given the amount of player turnover between the two sides since last March, this game arguably provides a better indication of how these sides match up, with the massive caveat that it was only a pre-season friendly.
How Are They Doing?
MK Dons invested fairly significantly over the summer in Robbie Neilson’s rebuilding project at the club, following the ending of the fairly successful Karl Robinson era the previous October. Neilson moved on most of the old guard at the club to bring in a combination of quick and powerful players, many of whom had experience of playing well at League One level or in Scotland.
However, the Neilson project never really took off in any meaningful way at the club. The Scot – a friend and former team-mate of Steven Pressley who had a brief trial spell with the Sky Blues – struggled to get the best out of the talented squad at his disposal, often playing a far too slow style of football that has seen MK score a measly 29 goals in 28 league games. After losing 2-1 at Northampton last week, MK Dons dropped into the bottom four in League One and saw Neilson handed his P45.
MK Dons owner Pete Winkelman has been swift in appointing Neilson’s successor, former England under-16 coach Dan Michiche. Without any previous managerial experience in senior men’s football, Michiche’s appointment appears to be an attempt to harken back to the Karl Robinson era, although is a much bigger risk given the club’s current predicament.
Michiche inherits a strong squad though, one which should be far too good to end the season in League One’s bottom four. In Ethan Ebanks-Landell in defence, Ousseynou Cisse in midfield, and attacking options including Chuks Aneke, Osman Sow, Ike Ugbo and Robbie Muirhead, MK Dons are a physically imposing side, regardless of form. However, they also have pace and skill in the form of Aidan Nesbitt out wide, full-back Callum Brittain, and striker Kieran Agard, as well as midfield composure via Ed Upson and Alex Gilbey. It would be wrong to assume that MK Dons are struggling in League One due to a lack of quality in their squad.
While Dan Michiche is a complete unknown as a manager, I would expect him to want to really take the game to us in his first game in charge, utilising the quality they have in midfield to dominate possession, while looking to overload us out wide and get crosses into the box for their powerful forwards. There is the potential for this game to be a real bloodbath for us if we’re not at it.
This is game not only presents a decent opportunity to progress further in the FA Cup, but this being a big away day offers the chance to create some special memories in the process. However, we are still the lower-division side in this game and despite MK Dons relatively few league places above us in the pyramid, there is a clear gulf in quality and resource between the two clubs at this moment in time.
Playing as the underdog should suit the way Mark Robins prefers to set his teams up, and we have seen on several occasions this season that we tend to produce better results against a better quality of opposition.
What impact MK Dons’ manager Dan Michiche makes is the great unknown heading into this game, but I’m going to back us to win 1-0.