With two games to go for both sides and a huge amount at stake, this really is the business end of the season. In what will hopefully for MK Dons be the last home game of the season (another would mean in the playoffs having failed to get a top 2 spot), they’ll be desperate for maximum points to keep pressure on Rotherham. Meanwhile for The Shrimps, back-to-back League One wins for the first time this season would almost guarantee safety. It could be a tense afternoon ahead!
They’ll help guide us through team selections, the Don’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities against them and biggest threats. However, first, let’s see how they predict the game to play out.
What are they expecting?
“I expect both sides to go for it for different reasons. Although I believe you only need a point to confirm survival I feel that’s a dangerous mindset whereas I feel we have to win both remaining games and hope Rotherham slip up in their final three league matches to clinch automatic promotion. It feels like no one wants automatic promotion from L1 at the time of writing. This will be a closer game than people maybe expect. I’ve gone for a 3-1 home win. I just feel with your situation there are spaces to exploit.”
“As we approach the end of a truly thrilling season, MK Dons have stumbled at the worst time. A 15-match unbeaten run ended with defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Oxford over the Easter weekend. This handed the advantage – albeit a slim one – back to Rotherham in the race for promotion. With that in mind, and also taking into account Morecambe’s precarious position above the relegation zone, I expect a nervy match in which both teams are acutely aware that it could define their seasons. MK will see an opportunity to regain momentum and take the promotion race into the final day. But Liam Manning has faithfully repeated his ‘one game at a time’ mantra and I doubt there will be any complacency from us. “
In the pre-game press conference, Derek was rightly delighted with the last two performances and believes we deserved six points from the two bank holiday fixtures, rather than the very respectable four from Charlton away and Portsmouth at home.
Unless there are injuries to deal with, this is a very straight forward section for once. Derek has named the same line-up for the last 3 games – including an away trip down at Charlton – so I do not envisage any reason we’d makes changes with 10 points from the last 15.
That being said, he did mention a couple of injury concerns that may mean some players may only make the bench. However, we don’t know if they are first XI players or squad players. Derek likes to keep his cards close to his chest and not give away any trade secrets to the opposition!
“I feel he needs to make changes. Having watched Oxford on Tuesday night it was a genuine game of two halves. Sensational first half, sloppy second half. We need to freshen up CM with David Kasumu and Dan Kemp both waiting in the wings. Also Theo Corbeanu needs to start. I have nothing against Hiram Boateng but we need someone willing to take risks, commit opposition, do something different. I think our consistency in team selection is catching up with some of the squad.”
“Our team has been very settled in the last couple of months. But a nasty injury to Mo Eisa, our striker, has forced Manning to tweak things. At Oxford on Tuesday, Troy Parrott moved inside from his normal role on the right to fill in for Eisa as the ‘9’. While Parrott is a capable replacement, there is less certainty about who takes the spot he has vacated.
Manning sparked mild fume on MK Dons Twitter by opting for Hiram Boateng, who offers bulk and off-the-ball discipline, over Theo Corbeanu, a galloping winger who too often has his head down and blinkers on. While Boateng ultimately vindicated his selection with a strong first-half performance, Manning may prefer Corbeanu on Saturday given Morecambe will likely set up defensively. I don’t foresee Manning making any further changes.”
“MK Dons greatest strength is Scott Twine. 29 goal contributions already this season, free-kick specialist long-range demon assist King. Deserved nomination for L1 player of the Year (Stockton should be there by the way!) Troy Parrott is back in the groove Conor Coventry has been phenomenal since January. We adopt a 3 5 2 formation with flexibility throughout the team. Liam Sweeting and his recruitment team have spoilt the MK Faithful and given us the chance to be where we are. Liam Manning also deserves an immense amount of credit for the way he has come in and got everyone together, players and fans. As he says “never too high, never too low”.
“Our resilience to setbacks this season, particularly in the form of inopportune player departures, has been hugely impressive. I look back to my predicted line-up for the reverse fixture in November and four important players from that team left in January (Andrew Fisher to Swansea, Peter Kioso back to Luton, Max Watters back to Cardiff, Matt O’Riley to Celtic). And though not in my predicted line-up that day, Ethan Robson also performed well in the first half of the season before returning to Blackpool. At the time I feared this would derail our season, but we recruited impeccably in the winter and the team became even stronger. This reflects very well on Manning, but also on the ‘other’ Liam, sporting director Liam Sweeting.
On the pitch, the team has evolved throughout the season, gradually shedding the rigid commitment to possession that Russell Martin instilled, in favour of a flexible approach in which the players are empowered to make their own decisions. Though admittedly this doesn’t always go to plan (see the goal we gifted Oxford on Tuesday), it has treated us to some thrilling football and strong results. I would describe our style as direct passing football. The first thought is always to find a teammate as high up the pitch as possible. But if the forward pass isn’t on, we keep possession ticking over.”
Although, as Matt says, Liam Manning has evolved MK Dons somewhat from being a pure possession-based side, they still rank second highest in League One with 57.5% according to Wyscout. As a comparison, Derek Adams puts much less emphasis on possession with an average of just 40.1% over the eleven games he’s taken charge with this season.
Manning’s men don’t like to have possession for possession’s sake though, they look to play through the lines at every opportunity. The Dons rank the highest for through passes in the division with a total of 367 compared to an average of 265.96 and The Shrimps’ 243. This style is highlighted further when you consider they average the least crosses in the division with 10.14 per 90 minutes compared to a league average of 14.13.
A through pass is defined as a pass played into the space behind the defensive line for a teammate to contest. They also move the ball around with astounding technical prowess and average the highest passes per minute of possession with 14.4%.
“Not enough depth up top with Eisa out for the season and Watters back at Cardiff it only leaves Parrott and Wickham as natural options. The past two games playing out from the back and set pieces have been an achilles heel. Also, it looks like Kesler is struggling in regards of fatigue. Towards end of games he’s been exposed time and time again.“
“A thin squad, particularly in attacking positions. Mo Eisa is injured and Connor Wickham missed the last game with a knock. This leaves Manning with a limited choice of options for rotation or game-changing substitutions, especially if Wickham remains absent on Saturday.”
Both have mentioned that the squad has been tested this season and the injury to Mo Eisa is a set-back for their remaining games. If you look at goals per 90 minutes over the season, only one of the top four players are available for this game – Scott Twine. Watters (0.82 goals per game) was recalled by Cardiff, Eisa as mentioned is injured (0.42 goals per game) and Matt O’Riley was sold to Celtic in January (0.25 goals per game).
That being said Scott Twine and Troy Parrott are hardly bad options at League One level!
Opportunities against Dons
“I think Cole Stockton with his movement can really test Darling, Adam Phillips and his set piece delivery. Anthony O’Connor and his aerial threat. Also King Arthur has hit some form at just the right time and I feel he’s got more to deliver.”
“I thought we had got rid of our traditional, MK Dons soft underbelly this season. But it’s back. All four goals we conceded across the Wednesday and Oxford games were entirely avoidable. A couple of them were outright calamitous. From Morecambe’s perspective, therefore, I think there’s merit in keeping things tight and waiting for MK to make a mistake, whether that’s slack marking from a set-piece or a loose pass in our own third. “
The Shrimps are prepared to play a low-possession based game, but carve out strong chances on the break. For example – despite having 44.51% possession against Portsmouth in the last game, we had six shots on target compared to their two whilst having expected goals of 1.98 vs 0.57.
We’ve only had higher possession in one of our last five outings (against Burton at home with 58.91%), yet have an average expected goals of 1.7 in that period. Basically, we have made our possession effective and countered extremely well. The front three of Cole Stockton, Arthur Gnahoua and Dylan Connolly have been a constant threat for sides with Aaron Wildig and Adam Phillips causing issues from deep.
Cole ‘The Goal’ Stockton has been in red hot form with four goals and one assist in the last five games. Whilst Cole will be 100% focused on three points, he wouldn’t have got to joint top scorer in the League – with Will Keane – if he didn’t have that strikers pure hunger to get goals. He’ll be desperate to add to his 23 league goals and win the division’s Golden Boot, as well as earn the three points.
Threats from Dons
“Scott Twine individually is the obvious threat and his linkup with Parrott is getting better. Harry Darling and his range of passing from CB is another feature of our play. The Kesler Corbeanu combination could cause Leigh serious issues. If you allow MacEachran and Coventry time in midfield you have problems. The counter attack we’ve been deadly from this season is another brilliant asset as well as our progressive possession. “
“Scott Twine. He’s now on a cool 16 goals and 13 assists for the season. His ability to shoot from long range – I’ve never seen a player strike the ball so well, at any level, with such consistency – poses a conundrum for teams that set up in a low block. Ordinarily, a team employing that tactic would be happy for the opposition to pass the ball around 35 yards from goal. But against Twine that’s not an option. So do you close him down, but in doing so risk leaving space between the lines?”
I won’t lie, I’ll have palpitations every time we concede a free kick anywhere within 35 yards of our goal. Scott Twine has, in tandem with Fleetwood’s Danny Andrews, scored the joint highest number of free-kicks in League One – five.
David Beckham would have been proud of Twine’s free-kick against Sheff Wednesday! The technique was breathtaking and makes you wonder whether a Premier League side will take a gamble on him in the near future.
According to FOTMOB, he has created the second most ‘big chances’ in the division with 17 and the second most assists with 13.
A big chance is defined as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal and there is low to moderate pressure on the shooter.
It’ll be interesting to see if Derek puts together any specific plan to deal with the multi-dimensional threats offered by Twine. He will certainly be adamant we don’t give away cheap free kicks within Twine-range of our goal.
LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!
It’s going to take an almighty performance for us to get a result at Stadium MK today, but if we can show the resilience and fighting spirit we have in recent weeks we have a chance to disturb their automatic promotion plans while moving closer to League One safety.
This season I’ve been getting more familiar with Five Thirty Eight’s prediction models – even more so in these final few weeks! They take into account so many different variables and have a relative degree of accuracy. They have given us a 10% chance of 3 points, with just a 17% chance of a draw.
However, at the end of the day, it is just a model and we love to upset the odds!
I’d personally be delighted with a draw as I believe it keeps the momentum on our positive run of results. It also would put pressure on both Fleetwood and Gillingham to get results in their final run in, as they are two and three points behind respectively – albeit The Cods have an extra game to play.
Whatever happens in the remaining games, I’m immensely proud how we’ve dug in through the season – despite set-backs – and we’ve given ourselves a great chance of survival.
Who could have imagined a few seasons ago, when we could barely pay players wages, we’d finish the season in front of a sell-out Mazuma Stadium at home to Sunderland in League One?
With all the hard work on and off the pitch, the future looks bright for us. A result today at Stadium MK would make life look even better!
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