Fixture: Milton Keynes Dons v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One
Date/time: Tuesday, September 26, 7.45pm kick-off
Venue: Stadium MK
Forecast: 16C, cloudy
Outs and doubts: Dons: Joe Walsh (knee), Chuks Aneke (knee), Ed Upson (hip), Peter Pawlett (thigh). Cobblers: Chris Long (hamstring), Aaron Phillips (calf), John-Joe O’Toole (groin), Shaun McWilliams (foot)
Betting: Dons 19/20, draw 5/2, Northampton 14/5
Form guide: Dons WWLWDL, Cobblers LLDWWL
Possible line-ups: Dons (4-1-4-1): Nicholls; Brittain, Williams, Wootton, Goldbourne; Cisse; Seager, Tshibola, Gilbey, Ariyibi; Sow. Northampton (4-3-3): Ingram; Moloney, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan; Poole, Grimes, Crooks; Long, Revell, Smith
Man in the middle: Christopher Sarginson
Last time out: AFC Wimbledon 0 MK Dons 2 (Seager, Ariyibi); Northampton 0 Bradford City 1 (McMahon)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 21, 2017 – MK Dons 5 (Agard, Aneke 2, Nyatanga OG, Barnes) Northampton 3 (Wylde, Richards 2)
Record v MK Dons: P12 W3 D2 L7
Opposition view: “It should be a good game,” said Dons boss Robbie Neilson. “I went to watch them on Saturday and they were unlucky not to get anything against Bradford. Jimmy has come in and changed things a bit, they’ve got a good energy about them, they’re trying to get after it and it should be a good challenge for us. I think they’re turning it around already. While they didn’t get the result on Saturday, they’ve definitely picked up recently.”
Cobblers connection: Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell both made the short hop down the M1 in the summer, 12 months after Alex Revell did likewise. The midfield duo, who made over 500 combined appearances for MK Dons, were deemed surplus to requirements by Robbie Neilson and subsequently left at the end of last season, eventually rocking up at Sixfields. This is Bowditch’s second spell at the Cobblers following a previous loan stint from Ipswich in 2007, while Northampton became Powell’s only second ever permanent club. The 26-year-old had been on Dons’ books since the age of 17 and Tuesday will mark his first return Stadium MK as a visiting player.
If the Cobblers want to improve their dismal record of one away win in the whole of 2017, they will have to find a way of scoring more goals. A tally of eight in nine league matches so far – despite boasting an array of forward options – is the chief reason behind their sluggish start to the campaign.
James Heneghan’s preview: It took a while for MK Dons to get going this season but three wins from their last four, the latest of which came in a fiery affair at AFC Wimbledon last Friday, suggest they are starting to find their stride.
Under the guidance of Robbie Neilson, who’s overseeing his first full season in charge having replaced long-serving manager Karl Robinson last December, Dons undertook a Northampton-style revolution in the summer with a rush of signings replacing a flurry of players who were deemed surplus to requirements.
Two of those departures are now at Sixfields – Dean Bowditch and Daniel Powell – while Dons’ key signings include Osman Sow, Gboly Ariyibi and Ethan Ebanks-Landell, all three of which have played a key part in their recent renaissance.
After managing only four points from their first five league games in a sluggish start, wins over Plymouth and Rochdale, followed by that first ever victory at Kingsmeadow last Friday, have catapulted them into the top half and to within touching distance of the play-offs.
And having failed to mount any sort of promotion challenge in their first season back in League One last year, challenging for the play-offs is the bare minimum expected of Neilson and his players this time around.
The Cobblers were equally slow out of the starting blocks but, unlike tonight’s opponents, they are still striving for consistency in an effort to pull away from trouble and establish themselves in mid-table.
After Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s appointment sparked a run of seven points from a possible nine, back-to-back 1-0 defeats to two teams tipped for promotion have once again left them teetering on the brink of the bottom four, one place and one point above water.
These are still exceptionally early days, of course, and though neither MK Dons nor Saturday’s opponents Rotherham will present straightforward opposition in their bid to get back on track, the upcoming fixture list does offer hope of a more consistent run.
The two meetings with Dons last season yielded a combined 13 goals with both games ending in victory for the home side, and if the same is true on Tuesday, it will continue an all too familiar theme for Town since the turn of the year.
And if the Cobblers want to improve their dismal record of one away win in the whole of 2017, they will have to find a way of scoring more goals. A tally of eight in nine league matches so far – despite boasting an array of forward options – is the chief reason behind their sluggish start to the campaign.
The fact they’ve kept only one clean sheet has hardly helped matters but from a defensive viewpoint, both in terms of discipline and organisation, they have significantly improved under Hasselbaink.
It’s at the other end of the pitch where they are failing to fire and Town’s manager will no doubt try to rectify that with his team selection for the trip down the M1, though keeping his side fresh during this busy run of games will also be at the forefront of his mind.
Chris Long, one of Northampton’s four ex-Dons players, is a doubt after going off in the first-half on Saturday, perhaps presenting opportunities for the likes of Billy Waters and George Smith, however Sam Hoskins, though good to have him back, will be monitored carefully until he’s up to full speed following his first appearance in nine months on Saturday.
Both of these teams endured a disappointing season last term but for different reasons. Dons, relegated from the Championship, were hopeful for an immediate return while Northampton, emphatically promoted from League Two, were hopeful of a decent crack at the division above.
Neither materialised but both at least ended the season well enough to ensure they finished mid-table and set up another intriguing battle this evening.
Prediction: MK Dons 1 Northampton 1