Meet MK Dons: Familiar faces, problem pitch - and don't let Twine shoot!
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town travel to Milton Keynes tomorrow afternoon, backed by more than 7,000 fans, for a big game with high-flying MK Dons (3pm). Mark Heath takes a look at the Dons...
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Former Ipswich Town player and academy coach Liam Manning is having quite the debut season in Milton Keynes.
His Dons are bang in the mix for promotion, and even harbour slim hopes of going up automatically - they sit third in the table, level on points with second-placed Wigan, but having played four games more.
Manning's men have won 16 of their 31 league games, drawing eight and losing seven of the remainder.
They've scored 51 goals, making them them the division's joint-third leading scorers, while conceding 34.
And, in the last week, they've come from behind at home to beat Lincoln City 2-1, before drawing 1-1 at strugglers Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night.
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It is then, a tough ask on paper for Town - but these are exactly the sort of games which the Blues need to get results from if they are to crash the end of season play-off party.
As well as Manning, this game will see Town reunited with a couple of other old friends.
Striker Connor Wickham, who made his name as a precocious manchild at Town before signing for Sunderland for £8.1m back in 2011, joined the club as a free agent last month, having been released by Preston North End.
Injuries have meant that we've never really seen the best of Wickham in his career, but he's made four substitute appearances for the Dons so far, and will be champing at the bit to impress against Town.
Incredibly, Wickham is still just 28-years-old.
The other familiar face is from the far more recent past - striker Troy Parrott, who spent last season on loan at Town from Spurs, is at Stadium MK on loan this campaign.
He's scored four times in 34 games and has had an up-and-down season, but is back in form recently and becoming a bit of a fan favourite.
Manning said of the young Irish international: "People forget Troy is still developing. He's so young. He burst onto the scene and when that happens, the level of pressure and expectation goes through the roof.
“He's in a good spot. He now has to keep at this level and recognise why he's playing well and reflect and continue doing that. He looked good (against Lincoln).”
Don't let him shoot
There is no doubt who the Dons key man is - midfielder Scott Twine could be the best player in the whole of League One.
The 22-year-old has scored 13 goals and laid on nine assists already this season and, fittingly for a man named Twine, pulls the strings for the Dons.
He also has a habit of scoring spectacular goals against Town - he cracked an absolute worldie from 40 yards in Swindon Town's 3-2 win at Portman Road in January 2021, before slotting home another long-range free-kick in the Dons' 2-2 draw at Portman Road last August.
It's imperative Town don't give him space and time to shoot if he has the ball at his feet anywhere from about 40 yards out tomorrow, plus avoid giving away free kicks in dangerous positions.
Conor wants to send Town to Coventry
The Dons lost influential midfielder Matt O'Riley, a man who'd notched seven goals this season. to Celtic for £1.5m in January.
But they added Conor Coventry on loan from West Ham in the same window, and he's made five straight starts, having spent the first half of the season playing Championship football at Peterborough.
Talking about the Town clash, he said: “If we can go and get a win at the weekend that will be seven points in a week, which you’d take.
“It’s going to be a tough game. Ipswich are in some good form and they are obviously a big club as well so we're know it’s going to be a tough one but hopefully, back at home with our fans behind us, we can we can play the way we play and get three points.”
Pitch not perfect
This is a game between two sides who want to dominate possession and play good, attractive, passing football.
But the pitch at Stadium MK may have other ideas - for the second straight season the surface has been going downhill since December, with balding and bobbly areas making it difficult to get the ball down and play.
Manning highlighted the pitch after last week's win over Lincoln, saying: "The pitch was really sloppy and hurts the way we want to play but that's not an excuse.
“It’s really difficult, everyone knows that. But Lincoln played good football on it so it shows it can be done. The pitch was bad at Burton too and we showed we can do it.
“It doesn't help us, but we were also sloppy too. It's then about being smart, and doing things differently. It's not ideal, but it's the same for us as it is for them.”