Ground: Stadium MK
Manager: Paul Tisdale (previous clubs managed: Exeter (2006-2018), Team Bath (2001-2006))
Honours: League Two (2008), EFL Trophy (2008)
Have we met? Yep. The ‘Bucks derby’ has been contested on eight occasions, but the upcoming meeting will see it return for the first time since March 2012. Our only win to date came in April 2010 in League One – and it was a memorable one, with Kevin Betsy’s stoppage time strike sealing a 3-2 victory.
When were they last here? Only the other season. Promotion last campaign as third place finishers in League Two righted the wrongs of 2017/18, when MK finished second bottom of the third tier and suffered their first relegation from the division in 12 years.
What happened last season? As above – and it went right down to the wire. In the winner-takes-all clash at home to Mansfield on the final day, new Wycombe man David Wheeler nodded in after only two minutes and that was how it stayed. MK’s total of 23 wins ranked joint highest in League Two, and they might have got the job done sooner had it not been for a few last-minute winners against them. But they did get the job done, and the hope will be that 2018/19 can be looked back upon as a blip in their quest for a return to the Championship.
Any connections to Wycombe? David Wheeler spent the latter part of last season on loan in north Bucks, while Russel Martin made the same move – but a permanent one – in January. Others to have turned our for both clubs include David McCracken, Leon Knight, Ángelo Balanta, Jason Banton, Scott Bevan, Dean Bowditch, Ricardo Batista, Simon Church, James Tunnicliffe and Scott Golbourne.
How will they fare? Some have tipped Paul Tisdale’s side to make the play-offs. That will surely be their ultimate ambition, but, as with all the promoted teams, survival has to be the priority. Inflated expectations have held MK back in the past, but Tisdale has been in this game long enough to know not to let them get carried away with themselves. That can only count in their favour.
As with any upwardly mobile club, stability will also be key. Apart from the loss of main man Chuks Aneke, who’s joined Championship Charlton, there have been no major blows in terms of departures. It was only a matter of time before Hiram Boateng stepped up a division; the holding/central midfielder has enjoyed a fine couple of seasons at Exeter, playing under Tisdale in the first of them. He’ll enhance the side with his varied passing and ability to drive forward from midfield. Rhys Healey could also prove to be a real difference maker; his permanent switch from Cardiff follows an encouraging loan spell in the first half of 2018/19, in which he bagged nine goals in 21 appearances in all competitions.
Throw in the rush that they must still be feeling after last season and MK ought to be well equipped to compete at this level again. Whether they are simply competitive or something more remains to be seen, but there’s very little to suggest that they’ll be perturbed by thoughts of another relegation.
Fan Q&A with Liam Connolly (@mkarmy23)
Promoted straight back to League One, last season can hardly have gone any better, but how would you assess it overall? Last season was a roller coaster of emotions that took some time, for me at least, to understand how much of an achievement the promotion was for the club. With the amount of ‘freak injuries’, as described by our Head of Sports Medicine, Simon Crampton. The fact that the team came over all the setbacks and won promotion like they did on the final day against Mansfield was remarkable.
The well-documented chance creation figures for the team were incredible and with a bit more clinical finishing, who knows where we could of finished. Kieran Agard was very much at the forefront of these criticisms with xG numbers showing his under-performance in front of the goal, despite finishing as the club’s top goal scorer and Player’s Player of the Season. Chuks Aneke, his strike partner who has now moved on to Charlton Athletic was easily a top two player in League Two last season. His whole skillset of pace, power and physicality was unmatched for the fourth tier and it is a real shame he has moved on.
Considering all the injuries we did have in defence especially, members of the squad like Jordan Houghton really stepped up and was very unlucky not to win an end of season award after playing half the season as a centre-back. The same can be said for under-the-radar Conor McGrandles, who data-wise posted excellent numbers among other League Two midfielders once moved back to his preferred position after filling in at right wing back. The past season really highlighted how Tisdale and his staff can motivate and transform a depleted group of players after a relegation and lift the whole atmosphere of a club in such a short space of time.
What’s the realistic aim for the season ahead? Will just survival be accepted? Expectation has returned to Stadium MK and this has been a dangerous prospect in the past. I personally would accept just survival. However, I know the players and Tisdale want much more, as do some of the fans. The squad as of now is definitely capable of more than just survival, but I have never been against a bit of stability, especially after the last few seasons. A challenge on the top half could be a possibility if a few additions are added, which the club have revealed they are still looking for. If I was to give a position for right now, I would say 18th is a realistic finish.
Who do expect to be your standout players in 2019/20 and why? One player that has grown on me over the off-season has been summer recruit Jordan Bowery from Crewe Alexandra. With his role being seen more as an ‘impact player’ rather than an out-and-out starter, his quickness alongside his height advantage can be that difference the Dons need on the pitch from the 60th minute onwards, when tired legs and minds are out there, and partly replaces what has been lost in Chuks Aneke moving on.
Other than Bowery, a healthy Alex Gilbey and Jordan Moore-Taylor will do wonders at both ends of the pitch. Gilbey with his direct and non-stop approach creates chances further up the pitch and JMT for his leadership qualities and experience at the back that was sorely missed until the acquisition of Russell Martin in January. Another recruit that I feel will be a standout player is Hiram Boateng if he can stay fit. Having that physical presence in the central midfield three alongside the more advanced Gilbey and the playmaking Houghton is something that the team missed last season and did see Aneke drop back time and time again to encourage creation. Boateng will need to do this now alongside being that warrior in the middle of the park which I feel like he will be.
What have you made of your summer transfer dealings so far? Is there anywhere where you still really need to strengthen? I have been relatively pleased with the summer recruitment so far. [Midfielder] Brennan Dickenson comes in as a very direct and much more mobile option to that of club captain Dean Lewington. Regan Poole comes in as a carbon copy of George Williams in terms of their game and the qualities they can offer Tisdale and his coaching staff.
We need some more creativity and goals up top and I know the club are looking for the right additions for that area of the pitch. Looking at a club like Southend last season, they had just shy of 30 goals between three strikers in Cox, Hooper and Humphrys and they only just survived, so that only justifies my worries. I can see Agard and Bowery getting at most twenty goals between them next campaign which is not enough to succeed in this league. Fraser Hornby of Everton is a player who I highlighted as someone who I feel can add significant quality up top, as well Aaron Connolly from Brighton, who I have been tracking for many years and spoke to personally on several occasions regarding his game.
Last of all, what’s been the best moment in your time as an MK Dons fan? As a club with such a short history, we have been luckily enough to have quite a bit of success. The 4-0 win over Manchester United [in the 2014/15 League Cup] in front of the Sky cameras was my favourite moment so far. That game was towards the start of a magical season where we saw our best ever player so far, Dele Alli, rise through the ranks and get his move to Tottenham, whilst having a star-studded squad who gained promotion to the Championship that same season with the help of George Moncur.
Main image: Nick via Flickr. Used under license.
Rhys Healey image: Jrppezza via Wikimedia Commons. Used under license.