Opposition Talk: MK Dons (A)
The pressure is on as Doncaster Rovers look to maintain their long-held spot in the top six, and Saturday’s trip to face Milton Keynes Dons represents another stern test against a side in great form.
To get an insight into our next opponents, we spoke Liam Connolly, host of the MK1 Podcast covering all things MK Dons, to get his thoughts on the game and his team’s season to date.
Three wins in a row have moved MK Dons up to 13th, only 5 points off the Play-Offs. Do you think the team can make a late run at the top six?
Despite the realistic chance that the Dons could make a play-off charge to end the season, the feeling around the club echoes my thoughts in that this season is not the season to be pushing for the postseason.
This MK Dons squad is a very young one with a lot to learn and develop before a sustainable push towards the heights of the table can be in sight. The rest of this season is all about putting in solid performances and embedding the process more and more each game.
The reverse fixture took place on the opening day of the season. In what way do you feel the side has progressed the most since that day?
This MK side has progressed in multiple ways since the opening day, which feels like a lifetime ago! The most significant way would simply be just confidence in the process. Even with the 14 player transactions we had in the January transfer window, the new additions have bought into the culture right away and that is reflecting on the pitch.
The element of continuous improvement – or the 'Kaizen' strategy as (manager Russell) Martin defined it as in our conversations with him – is clearly shown, not only in the results we have been picking up but also in elements like ball speed and now risk-taking, which was a major frustration early on.
What are your thoughts on Russell Martin as manager, now that he has had the time to establish himself in his first head coaching role?
There is no doubt in my mind that Russell Martin will be a top manager in English Football at some point in his managerial career, whether that be with Milton Keynes Dons or another club.
Russ’s strategies and philosophies are that of a manager who aspires to do just that: from playing football the 'right' way to the adaption of a culture where a perfect blend of youth and experience meshes together. The difference in the eighteen or so months since his introduction into managerial duties has been immense in comparison to the Tisdale era. His assistant Luke Williams deserves as much credit also, renowned as one of the best tactical minds in the EFL.
Cameron Jerome and Scott Fraser have been excellent since signing last summer. What qualities do they bring to MK and what should we be wary of in their play on Saturday?
Cammy has been a revelation since joining the Dons. The striker is the definition of hard work, determination and grit, all mixed in with the experience of a player who has played at the highest level of English football and other European leagues. Cammy came to the Dons to prove a point – that he still has it in his locker – and his 17 league goal contributions and Championship offers in the January window validate that.
Fraser on the other hand is what we like to call our 'creative hub'. The dependency on Fraser's talent has been as drastic since the beginning of the year with the addition of Matt O'Riley, who is as technical as Fraser. However, the flair and box-to-box threat of the Scottish midfielder is prevalent. Watch for Fraser's directness with his dribbles, a side of him we have only just begun to see.
Which other players do you think will have the biggest impact on the game?
As mentioned, midfielder Matt O'Riley has been immense since signing in January. In the newly introduced 'box' central midfield, O'Riley operates opposite Fraser and is a lethal finisher when given time, and needs to be paid close attention by Donny's midfield and defence.
Ethan Laird, the Manchester United loanee is also an electric player going forward and is a player under the stewardship of Luke Williams who has grown a lot on the defensive side of the ball. The right wing-back is a pivotal piece to our attacking play and is not shy to get forward.
Finally, how do you see the game this weekend going? Care to predict a winner?
The Dons come into this game on a three-game winning streak, after beating form side Burton Albion last time out. When you are in this run of form, you have to be confident against any team you come up against.
Donny seems to be a team still in transition under Andy Butler and one who are struggling with chance creation and therefore scoring goals. MK will give Donny chances though, as that is just what we do no matter the opposition. I’ll go for a 3-1 win to the Dons!
Liam’s Predicted MK Dons XI: