Nice problems for Phil

IT'S usually challenging enough for a manager to find just one team capable of winning a football match. But not content with fielding one successful side, U's boss Phil Parkinson has unearthed a second victorious XI.

IT'S usually challenging enough for a manager to find just one team capable of winning a football match. But not content with fielding one successful side, U's boss Phil Parkinson has unearthed a second victorious XI.

United are rampant at the moment. Poor MK Dons can vouch for this, having been on the wrong end of two defeats, at the hands of two completely different teams, within the last four days.

The U's charged into fourth spot in League One, following a 2-0 home win over the Dons last Saturday. Then on Tuesday night, the Essex club paid a visit to the National Hockey Stadium to beat the Dons on their own turf, and so breeze through to the southern area semi-finals of the LDV Vans Trophy.

Incredibly, Parkinson masterminded this latest success with just one survivor from last Saturday's starting line-up. Only right-back Sam Stockley retained his place, with his regular team-mates either being left at home to rest, or sitting on the substitutes' bench.


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Still the Dons could not live with the super-confident U's. Karl Duguid crashed home his first goal of the campaign to notch a 61st-minute equaliser, so cancelling out a headed opener from Dons centre-half Pablo Mills. Neil Danns then clambered off the bench to prod home a 73rd-minute winner.

“It just goes to show that we have two good teams,” insisted U's boss Parkinson.

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“There were many players who couldn't get into Saturday's team who know that if they get a chance, then they'd break into the first team and stay there.

“Pat Baldwin is a case in point. He showed that he is back to his best, and waiting for a chance. Kem Izzet was unlucky to lose his place, and even though Richard Garcia has managed to get himself fit, he has had to bide his time.

“I thought the lads were fantastic at MK Dons. I made 10 changes to the team, including playing two lads who were starting their first senior matches (Jamie Guy and Robbie King).

“I looked at the team sheet before the kick-off. If anything, the Dons were fielding a stronger team than they did on Saturday, but I still felt that we could prove too strong and win the match, despite all the changes.

“We scrapped it out in the first half, without playing too much fluent football. But we always looked solid, and although we were disappointed to concede a goal from a set piece, we came back strongly.

“Everyone at the club refuses to know when they're beaten. There is a terrific resilience in the whole squad. We showed real fight and great spirit in the second half,” added Parkinson.

While the teenage duo of Guy and King were making their full senior debuts, the rest of the team, with the exception of Stockley, could have made the excuse that they were feeling rusty, without regular action.

But there was no hint of that. Baldwin and Garry Richards have had to be content with alternating as an unused substitute for the last three months, with the exception of a start in the previous round of the LDV Vans Trophy against Northampton.

Midfielder Izzet, left-back George Elokobi, front-runner Gareth Williams and wide men Garcia and Duguid have been in a similar position in recent weeks.

Yet all played their part in Tuesday night's success, helping to extend the U's remarkable run to 10 wins in their last 11 games. They are unbeaten in 12 matches.

Parkinson seemed to imply that Duguid, who was the skipper of the “second team,” could be in line for some more prolonged action in coming weeks.

“We always knew that Karl (Duguid) would not be back to his best until Christmas, after all his injury problems,” continued Parkinson.

“Well, it's now Christmas and Karl was excellent on Tuesday night. He scored a good goal, and is now feeling confident again with his knee. He is ready and waiting to play. He is ready to play a more prominent role.

“Neil (Danns) came on and got us the winner. He is a midfielder with a tremendous goal ratio,” added Parkinson.

Former Blackburn midfielder Danns, who scored the opener in Saturday's 2-0 win over the Dons, now has six goals to his name this campaign, which is an impressive haul when considered that he missed a month's action through injury in September.

Parkinson said: “I wasn't really looking forward to this fixture. It was just before Christmas, and I felt that the lads needed a rest.

“But I can't be any happier now. It's all worked out well. I managed to rest most of the team, and we don't seem to have picked up any injuries. Neil (Danns) has been icing his calf, but he should be all right.

“Characters have emerged throughout the squad. They don't just appear, they emerge, like Pat (Baldwin) last season. I thought that Jamie (Guy) and Robbie (King) both did well. Robbie wasn't going to play, because he's got a broken hand, but we had a special cast made so that he could take his place in the team,” added Parkinson.

The draw for the regional semi-finals of the LDV Vans Trophy will take place on Saturday (Christmas Eve). Swansea City, Walsall and Cheltenham are pooled with Colchester in the southern half of the draw.

The four teams in the northern section include two Conference clubs - Kidderminster and Hereford - and League Two clubs Macclesfield and Carlisle.

Meanwhile, the U's travel to basement club Swindon Town for a League One fixture on Boxing Day. Front-runner Jamie Cureton, who is on loan from the Robins until the end of the year, is not allowed to play against his long-term employers.

carl.marston@archant.co.uk

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