League One Match Preview: MK Dons (H)
Here we go then, the opening day of the 2020/21 season. Belated as it may, and subdued as the occasion will be with no fans allowed into the Keepmoat for the game, it is hard not to get at least a little excited about the new campaign after six months without seeing Rovers in action. Milton Keynes Dons happened to be the last opponents of Darren Moore’s side prior to the sudden curtailment of play back in March, and the fate of the fixture computer has thrown that same team up as the side’s first rival now we’re back up and running.
Rovers Ready As Can Be
Rovers enjoyed a decent pre-season despite having to play their Carabao Cup game only four weeks after returning from the longest off-season in history. Goals were scored with ease despite the squad only including one proper striker, tough opponents were well matched and there are no major injuries to speak of. Reece James and Jon Taylor both have come through slight injury worries and both Joe Bursik and Danny Amos have had a taste of international football for their respective U21 sides, so match fitness shouldn’t be a concern.
Moore will surely hand a league debut to keeper Bursik, whilst Jason Lokilo looks set for his first league start after converting his loan spell into a permanent deal. Loanee Taylor Richards could find a way into the midfield starting line-up too after a very encouraging pre-season playing in a number of positions and excelling both in his passing and attacking prowess.
Captain Ben Whiteman remains a Rovers player at time of writing despite considerable interest from Championship side Barnsley, and the team will be much better for his presence as long as he stays in the hoops.
Martin’s MK Revolution Continues
Russell Martin made a lot of encouraging changes to the way his Milton Keynes Dons side play in his time in charge last season. The team are finding their identity now they have been back in League One for a year and have a number of bright players, with enough signs that the team can find success again in the future as they continue a gradual shift away from the Karl Robinson era that brought so much to the young club.
The loss of top scorer Rhys Healey to French side Toulouse is a blow, and the side appear to lack any sort of regular goalscorer in its attacking ranks, but the return of Carlton Morris on loan is a strong piece to build that attack around and midfielders like Ben Gladwin, Louis Thompson and former Rovers midfielder Jordan Houghton provide a strong core of quality that will, MK fans hope, steer the team clear of relegation trouble.
A word too on club legend Dean Lewington, now the only player in the EFL to play for his current team longer than James Coppinger has for Rovers. Lewington turned out for MK in their first ever game back in 2004, the same weekend that Coppinger donned the hoops for the first time, and seeing the veteran duo combat each other again one last time at the Keepmoat will be some spectacle.
Cast your mind back to Saturday 7th March, 2020. Coronavirus was just starting to cause major problems across the globe but had not yet scared the UK enough to mean football didn’t go ahead, so Rovers travelled to Buckinghamshire to take on MK Dons. Jacob Ramsey scored the only goal that day which means Darren Moore would technically be continuing a winning run if he can navigate victory when the side’s meet again this Saturday, but much will be different for both clubs this time around.
Indeed Rovers have never lost at home to MK Dons in six clashes since the visitors were formed in 2004, with the first ever meeting between the two sides coming 16 years ago this week. Mark Albrighton scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Dave Penney’s Rovers at the National Hockey Stadium on Saturday 11th September, 2004, and yes, both Dean Lewington and James Coppinger took to the field for their respective clubs that afternoon.
If it isn’t the clash of the veterans mentioned above, then the key battle for supremacy this weekend is likely to feature Fejiri Okenabirhie. The Rovers striker has been in fine form over the course of pre-season, netted in the Carabao Cup loss to Blackburn and has been touted for a goal-filled season by many inside and outside of Doncaster.
Attempting to keep Okenabirhie quiet will be central defensive duo Regan Poole and Baily Cargill, who are formidable players at this level and will be keen to impress early in the campaign with new signing Richard Keogh out injured for the time being but waiting in the wings to take a spot in the back three. Okenabirhie has the power and guile to make life hard for the MK defence and this will be an intriguing aspect to keep an eye on when the teams meet.
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