Preview: Milton Keynes Dons

Sometimes in football you just don’t get the rub of the green, despite having almost all of the chances against Tranmere Rovers last Sunday, we ended up on the losing side. Nonetheless, it is part of a run of four games without a win in all competitions and the concern is that such a result further dents the confidence of the side.

Getting back to winning ways as soon as possible will go a long way to restoring confidence and beginning to build momentum back up. After this away trip to Milton Keynes Dons, we have two tough games in the following seven days, making it feel as if this upcoming game will be the best opportunity to click back into gear and put an end to this winless run.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins has little wiggle room with the available squad to change things around in the hope that trying something different might remedy this run of form. With most of our absentees out for the long-term, this set of players will be all we have to see us through to January.

Finding ways to get Matt Godden and Jordy Hiwula converting chances would make a huge difference to how we view this team. Both could be on double or treble their current goal tallies for the season with more composure, while it is encouraging to see them continue to get into goalscoring positions, their lack of killer instincts is putting pressure on the midfield to share the goalscoring burden and the defence to keep things tight.

With neither Godden and Hiwula likely to face the drop at this moment in time, the one area of change ahead of this game is who sits in front of the defence. Although it has been expected that Liam Kelly would automatically return to that spot in the side after his injury due to his greater defensive awareness and physical presence compared to Liam Walsh, the latter showed last week against Tranmere that his ball-playing abilities give us great control of the midfield. As this is an away game at a time we could do with a win, I would expect Kelly to return to the starting line-up but I could understand why Robins may want to stick with a player who has, mostly, been playing well in recent weeks.

Last Time We Met

It was a typical Sky Blue invasion of Milton Keynes back in January 2018 in the FA Cup Fourth Round. Against an MK Dons side low on confidence but looking to play all the football, the Sky Blues had to withstand some heavy pressure in the first-half, before finding some momentum on the counter-attack – thanks to the work-rate of Maxime Biamou and Marc McNulty – scoring the game’s only goal thanks to a Biamou effort that trickled over the line.

The Opposition

Manager – Paul Tisdale

Having finally left Exeter City last summer, Paul Tisdale showed last season that he can replicate the success he had with the Devon side at a larger club. Although it took until the final day to secure promotion, Tisdale very quickly built an MK Dons side in his image, playing assured and controlled passing football while getting the results to match.

However, on a run of one win in seven games, Tisdale is starting to find himself under pressure. Although injuries in attack have left him short on options, he has consistently picked teams packed with defenders and defensive midfielders, leading to some very uninspiring performances that have tested the patience of fans. A more up-tempo and forward-thinking showing is being demanded for this game.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up

Tisdale has built this MK Dons side from the defence forwards, focusing on players who are composed and patient in possession. Generally playing with a back three, defenders such as Baily Cargill, George Williams and Regan Poole are important not only for their ball-playing qualities but for their ability to step into midfield to help prevent the team being outnumbered further forward.

Furthermore, the wing-backs in MK Dons’ system are also crucial in creating depth and variety in the team’s forward play. Veteran Dean Lewington remains an important player in this side for his accurate delivery from left wing-back, but Paul Tisdale may want to choose a more energetic option for this game given recent tepid attacking performances, with the versatile Callum Brittain or the attack-minded Brennan Dickenson the chief options to come in for Lewington.

In midfield, MK Dons have a treasure trove of tidy, technical operators, from the considered Jordan Houghton, Ben Reeves and Alex Gilbey to the more energetic Conor McGrandles, David Kasumu and Hiram Boateng. The issue this season has been in finding the right combination of control and thrust in the centre of the park, with Paul Tisdale yet to settle on his preferred options or formation in central midfield.

Similarly, in attack, MK Dons have some good options, with former Cardiff forward Rhys Healey the key threat with his pace and technicality, but injuries, constant rotating of the line-up and Tisdale’s focus on building attacks from the back in a very considered manner seems to have left the team low on attacking threat. The loss of maverick attacking talent, Chuks Aneke, over the summer as someone who could win a game with individual moments of magic seems to have been a particularly big blow.

Areas To Exploit

In some ways, MK Dons are a similar team to ourselves in that they want to keep the ball, struggle to make the best of spells of domination and concede their goals in a fairly soft manner. In previous seasons, this would be the kind of away game that Mark Robins would look forward to, organising the team in a rigid defensive shape and stinging the opposition on the counter, however, it feels there is a reluctance this season to change things up based on the nature of the opposition.

Is now the time to consider changing what has largely worked for us this season in the wake of two defeats or do we stick to our guns and believe that we can beat teams by playing our own game even when confidence is low? With both teams very patient in possession but perhaps lacking a little aggression without the ball, this has all the makings of a dull contest.

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