James Heneghan's MK Dons v Northampton Town preview

Fixture: Milton Keynes Dons v Northampton Town, Sky Bet League One

Friday, 20th January 2017, 12:08 pm
Updated Friday, 20th January 2017, 12:12 pm
Harry Beautyman's early goal set Cobblers on their way to a 3-2 win over MK Dons back in September

Date/time: Saturday, January 21, 3pm kick-off

Venue: Stadium MK

Forecast: 4C, cloudy

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Outs and doubts: Dons: Dean Bowditch (calf). Cobblers: Brendan Moloney (knee), Aaron Phillips (hamstring), Gabriel Zakuani (international duty), Paul Anderson (cut)

Betting: Dons 1/1, draw 13/5, Northampton 5/2

Form guide: Dons LDWLLW, Cobblers LLLLWL

Avg. goals scored/conceded per game: Dons 1.2/1.4; Northampton 1.2/1.6

Dons boss Robbie Neilson took charge in December

Possible line-ups: MK Dons (4-4-2): Martin; Baldock, Downing, Walsh, Lewington; Upson, Potter, Reeves, Aneke; Agard, Maynard. Northampton (4-4-2): Smith; Eardley, Diamond, Nyatanga, Buchanan; Hoskins, O’Toole, Boateng, Taylor; Revell, Richards

Man in the middle: Roger East

Last time out: Brighton 2 MK Dons 0; Northampton Town 1 (Revell) Scunthorpe United 2

Most recent meeting: Sunday, September 4, 2016 – Northampton 3 (Beautyman, Revell, Taylor) MK Dons 2 (Bowditch, Carruthers)

New Cobblers boss Justin Edinburgh (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Record v MK Dons: P11 W3 D2 L6

Opposition view: Having watched Northampton’s 2-1 defeat to Scunthorpe last week, Dons boss Robbie Neilson is expecting his side to have plenty of possession in Saturday’s game, saying:“ We went to watch them on Saturday. They’ve got two good strikers and good delivery from wide.

“We’ll have a lot of possession but we have to make the most of it and not get caught on the counter. Local derbies create a little bit more spice and hopefully we’ll get a few more fans in here and create a good atmosphere.”

Cobblers connection: Alex Revell, Dean Bowditch, George Baldock, Lee Harper, Clive Patt... the list of players who have appeared for both MK Dons and Northampton is a long one (17 in all) despite the former’s brief existence. With Dons top scorer Bodwitch ruled out due to a calf injury, only two of those players are likely to feature in Saturday’s latest chapter of this burgeoning rivalry – striker Alex Revell for the Cobblers and right-back George Baldock for MK.

Dons boss Robbie Neilson took charge in December

James Heneghan’s preview: This weekend’s crunch clash between Milton Keynes Dons and M1 rivals Northampton Town will see two relatively new managers pit their wits against one another and both are in desperate need of a positive result.

Brought in by their respective clubs to alleviate growing relegation fears, Robbie Neilson and Justin Edinburgh might still be getting to know their new surroundings but that does not mean to say the pressure is not immediately on.

As Neilson gets comfortable at Stadium MK following his move from Hearts last month, Edinburgh continues to settle in at Sixfields in his first week as the new boss, and the timing of his appointment has come at a critical point in the Cobblers’ season.

Having now played four of the current top 10 twice – Bradford, Scunthorpe, Bristol Rovers and Peterborough – Northampton have a much kinder run of fixtures on the horizon, so it is essential that Edinburgh’s impact is immediate.

Their respective seasons have taken very different paths but they’ve led to virtually the same place; just three places and two points separate Dons and Cobbblers in Sky Bet League One ahead of Saturday’s encounter.

While Northampton’s season has steadily deteriorated following a good start, Dons have struggled for the vast majority, and it’s only under the guidance of the recently-appointed Neilson that they have found their feet in League One after relegation from the Championship.

New Cobblers boss Justin Edinburgh (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Chosen as the successor for Karl Robinson, now at Charlton after his sacking from Stadium MK, Neilson arrived from Scotland with an impressive record behind him, having won 62 of his 106 games in charge of Hearts.

He hasn’t yet set the world alight at MK Dons but seven points from his first five games represents an improvement on what went before and they now have breathing space over the bottom four with games in hand.

He will be keen to continue that upward curve on Saturday against a Northampton side who look ripe for the picking.

The reverse fixture between these two, held in back in September in front of the Sky Sports cameras, saw Northampton notch their first win of the season, and how they must yearn for something similar against the same opposition to resurrect their stuttering form.

Edinburgh’s appointment has at least lifted spirits again and after an impressive first press conference, it’s now on the pitch where he and his team must do the talking.

Last week’s improved showing against Scunthorpe was a start, even if Josh Morris did snatch the spoils for United, and if they can replicate the same level of performance consistently, all should be well.

Edinburgh has done almost everything right in his first five days in charge, from connecting to fans to waxing lyrical about the club’s potential.

But Saturday is when the true test begins, and there are several areas of concern on the pitch which he must address.

Restoring confidence to a beleaguered team and shoring up a leaky defence should take priority, as well as instilling a more resilient mentality into a group of players who have too often folded when falling behind this season.

Edinburgh’s already made clear his desire to adopt a front-foot approach but it remains to be seen if he has had the time and indeed the players to implement a brand new style straightaway, which may prompt a more pragmatic approach to start with.

Whether he opts for the physicality of Alex Revell and Marc Richards in a 4-4-2 or the pace of Sam Hoskins and Greg Wylde in an alternate system, Edinburgh’s first team selection will be telling in terms of who has impressed in training and who caught his eye against Scunthorpe last week and against his Gillingham side earlier in the season.

He would surely have been quietly confident by what he saw last Saturday, especially in midfield where Hiram Boateng and John-Joe O’Toole provided glimpses of a potential partnership, while Revell was something like his old self up front.

It’s a clean slate for every player and all will be keen to make an impression. For the likes of Rod McDonald, Alfie Potter, Harry Beautyman and Jak McCourt, it’s a welcome opportunity to stake their claim having barely featured of late.

Dons announced two new signings this week: striker Robbie Muirhead from Neilson’s old club Hearts and Harvey Barnes, a central midfielder from Leicester. Neither are expected to start on Saturday but could feature at some stage.

Former Cobbler and Dons top scorer Dean Bowditch is the home side’s only absentee for what is just the fourth league meeting between these two – and what a potentially crucial one it may prove to be come the end of the season.

Coming straight into a pressured environment, the heat is on Edinburgh to get immediate results. A win over MK Dons would be a good way to start.

Prediction: MK Dons 2 Northampton Town 1