A big leap forward over the Christmas period has put this team on the verge of the automatic promotion places. This forthcoming fixture represents an opportunity to maintain momentum or even get into the top two, depending on how other results pan out.
That we are on our longest winning streak in the league this season underlines that it cannot be taken for granted than we can maintain recent form. The FA Cup tie against Bristol Rovers last Sunday demonstrated what can happen if we lose focus at key moments in games despite otherwise dominating games. Now that we’ve got momentum, let’s squeeze every ounce possible from it.
There is one injury concern heading into this game, with Sam McCallum having limped off towards the end of the Bristol Rovers game last week – although Mark Robins has commented in his pre-match press conference that McCallum has returned to training this week.
Were McCallum to drop out, Brandon Mason would be a very strong player to bring into the side, although it is replacing an in-form player with someone who has played very little football recently. McCallum’s directness and purpose on the left wing has been an important part of our play recently, it’s going to be a big ask of Mason to seamlessly slot back into the side.
Aside from that, there is no reason to make any further changes.
Last Time We Met
This is our third meeting with MK Dons this season, the first being a goalless draw in Milton Keynes where Jordy Hiwula spurned a chance to win the game from the spot. The second came in the EFL Trophy, where we once again lacked a cutting edge before losing to two second-half goals in a game most notable for Jodi Jones making his return from injury.
Manager – Russell Martin
That EFL Trophy victory was an important moment in Russell Martin’s nascent managerial career, representing his first victory of any kind. Confidence has grown week-by-week since then, with Martin implementing a faster-paced style of football than his predecessor, Paul Tisdale, lifting the side out of the relegation zone.
While Martin has made some positive changes in his early managerial career, he’s also benefited from key attacking players returning from injury. This is increasingly looking like at least a mid-table side that had been in a false position early on due to bad luck. A few more wins under their belts and mid-table is exactly where they’ll be.
Who To Look Out For?
With strikers Rhys Healey, Joe Mason and Sam Nombe all in good recent form since returning from injury, Russell Martin has a genuine selection dilemma in attack. All three are fairly similar types of intelligent forwards who can both link play and run in behind, which is perhaps why the more physical Carlton Morris has been added to the mix this week in order to provide a partner for one to bounce off.
In midfield and defence, MK Dons have a lot of ball-players as a result of the legacy left behind by Paul Tisdale. Currently operating with a midfield diamond, Jordan Houghton at the base has been instructed to play longer, diagonal passes in order to get the ball into the strikers more quickly. Meanwhile, the energy comes from Conor McGrandles and David Kasumu in the middle part of the diamond, with Alex Gilbey supplying an additional goal threat for the team at the tip.
At the back, Joe Walsh and Regan Poole are two very good ball-playing defenders at League One level, with Walsh a key leadership figure. With the veteran Dean Lewington still going strong at left-back, the energy of Callum Brittain on the right is important in supplying the team with width in their narrow formation.
In goal, Lee Nicholls is one of the strongest shot-stoppers currently operating at this level, with a particular penchant for saving penalties.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Stopping MK Dons playing quick balls over our defence to their front two looks to be a key concern for ourselves in this game. We’ll need to make sure our pressing game is effective, especially when deep-lying midfielder Jordan Houghton gets on the ball, in order to slow down their transition from front to back.
Another concern for us will be tracking the runs of MK Dons’ midfielders into the penalty area. This tends to be the biggest flaw when playing a back three as the midfield has fewer defensive responsibilities, which can see opposing players making runs from deep exploit the space in front of the defence.
Where we can hurt MK Dons will be the width that our wing-backs supply. A 4-4-2 diamond doesn’t naturally have players who’ll track the runs of attacking full-backs/wing-backs, if we can overload MK Dons down one side, then quickly switch the play, that should open up space. It will require Fankaty Dabo and Brandon Mason to make bold attacking runs and for our midfield to rotate and use the ball effectively.