The Chairboys Central Preview: Wycombe v MK Dons

The Basics

League form: Wycombe W D – – – | MK Dons W – – – –

League head-to-head: P 8 | Wycombe W 1 | MK Dons W 4 | D 3

The last time: Wycombe 1-1 MK Dons (24th Mar 2012, League One)

Coming into the Game

Matchday three for Wycombe is only matchday two for the visitors, after their scheduled opener at Bury was suspended. The delay can’t have had much effect, though, as they commenced their campaign with a 1-0 win over a defensively well-drilled Shrewsbury side who’d impressively beaten Portsmouth the previous week. Immediately off the mark upon their return to League One after a season away, the very early signs are that MK will prove just as tricky a proposition as many predicted pre-season.

The Blues will be looking for a third straight clean sheet – and a fifth straight home shutout – after a solid couple of results to get 2019/20 up and running. This is likely to be our toughest test so far, but recent history tells us that that’s only going to make us raise our game. We’ve never beaten MK at home, with that March 2012 draw giving us one of only two home points in this ‘Bucks derby’.

In Their Dugout: Paul Tisdale

Previously part of the furniture down at Exeter, the most stylish man in football moved onto pastures new after 12 years in charge of the Grecians. It all ended somewhat acrimoniously for him there, but he made the ideal first impression in north Bucks by guiding MK back to the third tier at the first time of asking, with automatic promotion sealed on the final day by a certain David Wheeler.

At Exeter – where he ended his playing career – ‘Tis’ won the Conference play-offs in 2008 and automatic promotion from League Two in 2009, while he also steered Team Bath to two Western League titles in the early 2000s. Born in Malta, the former midfielder came through the Southampton youth set-up and made a number of top flight appearances, before going on to play for Bristol City and Yeovil, either sides of spells with FinnPa and Panionios in Finland and Greece respectively.

Fun fact: Tisdale’s uncle is ‘Game of Thrones’ actor James Faulkner.

The Danger Man for Them: Rhys Healey

Healey’s MK Dons scoring record alone should tell you that’s he’s the one to keep tabs on: in the league, he’s bagged seven goals in 15 starts and another two in four substitute appearances. His last strike was a 93rd minute winner in that triumph over Shrewsbury, 21 minutes after coming on – albeit with the help of a wicked deflection. Back at Stadium MK permanently after a loan spell last season, the former Cardiff striker is likely to pose the biggest threat yet to our 100% league clean sheet record.

Not just a ‘right place, right time’ goal-getter, the 24-year-old will make intelligenet movement throughout the attacking third and create chances for others – he chipped in with three assists in 2018/19. Judging by the clip below, he shouldn’t be underestimated in the air either. He could prove quite a handful.

Healey started out with Welsh semi-professional outfit Connah’s Quay Nomads and earned his big move to Cardiff in 2013, where he scored once in 16 senior run-outs. He also spent time away from the Bluebirds on loan at Colchester, Dundee, Newport and Torquay, netting 18 in 61 in total.

Team News

We’re unlikely to see Sido Jombati and Curtis Thompson back just yet, while Adebayo Akinfenwa seems to have overcome his mystery ailment – which he played through on Tuesday night anyway.

MK Dons’ star defender Jordan Moore-Taylor is back in training after more than half a year out with a knee injury, but he’s not yet ready to return to match action. Forward Joe Mason and midfielder Brennan Dickerson are still to feature for their new club.

A Deeper Look

This isn’t going to be much easier than the ‘deeper look’ at Bristol Rovers last week – especially where the visitors are concerned, being that game behind most of the division, but hey, here goes.

So far, we’ve faced a makeshift Bolton’s 4-2-3-1 and Bristol Rovers’ diamond 4-4-2. MK come with a whole different tactical approach, with a 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2 being Tisdale’s system of choice. Here’s some more insight from Liam Connolly (@mkarmy23), the rest of whose Opposition View comes later on.

Speaking of Tisdale’s system, it seems to be the 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 that was very prominent last season during the promotion campaign. This system is very reliant on the wing-backs getting up and down, covering a lot of ground providing width for the central three to advance with them and create space, whilst winning the war in the middle of the park. Tisdale has also incorporated the overlapping centre-back tactic popularised by Chris Wilder at Sheffield United, which saw Baily Cargill and George Williams produce some brilliant deliveries from crosses into the box against Shrewsbury. I do worry for [Callum] Brittain at right wing-back and struggle to see him as the answer long-term on the wing, especially with him operating well in a more central midfield role. If there is one area to exploit in this Dons side it would be there, especially with the physicality in Wycombe’s front line. Hopefully Ainsworth does not use this as pre-match reading.

I would expect the line-up to be somewhat like [the one below] on Saturday, with many key assets in the side needing minutes under their belt, particularly new arrivals Ben Reeves and Rhys Healey, as well as [the returning] Alex Gilbey. With Reeves being rested against AFC Wimbledon, it is likely that he will get the nod in the ‘10’ role, but I could see either [he or Gilbey] starting on Saturday.

In principle, operating with overlapping centre-backs is a very gung-ho approach, but MK finished last season with the join fourth best defence in League Two, while the genius Wilder’s Sheffield United co-led the Championship in that respect. I’m not going to sit here and explain a system I’m no expert on – there’s quite a useful video here if you’re interested – but the two central midfielders, Jordan Houghton and Hiram Boateng, will sit deeper and defend with former Chairboy Russell Martin, now 33 and in his 15th professional season.

The overload in the wide areas could prove particularly problematic on the counter-attack. Paul Smyth and Fred Onyedinma may have to offer more defensive support than normal to Jack Grimmer and Joe Jacobson – particularly whichever of them is playing on the left, assuming JJ keeps his place, which he should based on form. If, however, Callum Brittain at right wing-back really is the weak link, there’s no one more destructive in our ranks to take advantage of that than Fred. The Belfast Messi v the still-going-strong veteran Dean Lewington on the other flank could be an intriguing match-up.

MK put in 30 crosses against Shrewsbury. While only six of them found their target, that’s something to be prepared for, and Giles Phillips – especially after his fine performance in midweek – would benefit us with his height, although he’s highly unlikely to be involved. For comparison, against Bristol Rovers, we crossed the ball just 17 times, although the accuracy was close to 50%.

Expect the visitors to try and keep hold of possession – they racked up 450 passes in last weekend’s win alone, while we’ve totalled 504 in two League One matches. Even against Reading, when we were without Akinfenwa for the majority of the game, we only made 314. In short, prepare for another stark clash of styles. The aforementioned Boateng will be instrumental; his passing range and accuracy rank among his strongest attributes, and he posted a completion rate of 90% (37/41) in MK’s opener.

Healey could join Jordan Bowery in a front two. The latter arrived after leaving Crewe, for whom he netted 22 goals in two-and-a-bit seasons in League Two. As mentioned, either Ben Reeves – back at MK after two seasons with Charlton – and Alex Gilbey are likely to sit behind the strikers. The former set up Healey’s winner and provides the bigger threat in terms of goals and assists.

If MK play a fairly high intensity brand of football, it makes sense for us to try and fight fire with fire. A front three of Onyedinma, Alex Samuel and Smyth would keep the back three on their toes in their own ways, with Alex Pattison and Nick Freeman supporting with their attacking drive and technical prowess respectively. Alternatively, the Beast starts and opens his account for the season with a hat-trick.

Fighting fire with fire is one way of looking at it. The other is to err on the side of the caution and have Matt Bloomfield in the side providing more defensive support alongside Dom Gape – although, as I mentioned in my breakdown of the Reading match, Freeman offers much more going forward than Bloomfield does in the opposite respect. Whether that comes into Gareth Ainsworth’s decision-making process is another matter.

As I’ve already alluded to, there is potentially a decision to be made at centre-back. Darius Charles probably isn’t going to come straight back into the side – although he is fit and ready to go – but he, Sido Jombati and Phillips are all more (this word yet again) athletic than Adam El-Abd, who could be seriously found out in this one with, among other things, two reasonably pacey strikers to contend with. Does Phillips come in after his evening of helping to shut down the quality of George Pușcaș? Probably not, due to the inexperience factor, but I for one would love to see him pair up with Anthony ‘Paolo Maldini’ Stewart once again.

Possible Line-ups



MK Dons

lineup (2)

The Man in the Middle: Trevor Kettle

So the powers that be have put the Kettle on (duty). A notorious name in the lower leagues, he let off plenty of steam in midweek as he awarded FOUR penalties and produced a red card in Newport’s Carabao Cup win at Gillingham, his second appointment of 2019/20. Don’t be surprised to see him put a lid on things should they reach boiling point on Saturday. Mind you, the last time he took charge of a Wycombe game, this happened:

The Opposition View

It is fair to say that MK Dons’ season could not have started any better results wise. Scoring a last-minute winner in the first league game and a penalty shootout win over your most hated rival in the Carabao Cup at the home of Chelsea FC Women sets up the Dons for another derby in Wycombe on Saturday.

With the Dons only having played two competitive games this season, whereas most have played three, this instantly puts them at an disadvantage in many aspects of the game. In addition to this, MK had a packed treatment room last season which is still recovering from its’ duties. Alex Gilbey, a key player in Tisdale’s system has only just returned in the game against AFC Wimbledon and star defender Jordan-Moore Taylor is not set to return till September. Then again it has not affected results yet so what do I know?

In my MK Dons preview for Chairboys Central, I highlighted how the summer signings of Hiram Boateng and Jordan Bowery were expected to have big impacts in the MK Dons squad, at least from my perspective and this has proven to be the case. Hiram had a dominant debut for the Dons and really should have got the MOTM award ahead of Joe Walsh. Jordan also showed his commitment to the cause by doing the defensive work when needed whilst providing excellent linkup play with strike partner Kieran Agard, particularly in the Shrewsbury match. Both will have key contributions in the game on Saturday and the rest of the season, so it was great to see them hitting the ground running. One signing not mentioned in-depth in the preview that could be huge this season is Regan Poole after he signed from Manchester United. I suggested the idea of Regan starting at ‘RWB’ this season back in June and I certainly hope this proves to be the case after a strong showing in the cup game, showing strengths in both attacking and defensive duties and at a more effective manner than Brittain from that position in my opinion.

In the two games played so far, I think it is fair to say too much dependency on spectacular saves and lucky moments has been prevalent with Tisdale not best pleased with the team’s execution on the pitch. Whilst these close-cut games are nice and exciting, I am sure Tisdale will want his team to be a bit more cut throat on Saturday and I hope this will be the case in a very physical and at times aerial-dominant battle with the Chairboys. The performances are getting better game by game as you would expect so the fact there is more to come is an exciting prospect that I look forward to seeing develop.

Chairboys Trivia

Wycombe’s only win against MK Dons was a dramatic one, back in April 2010 at Stadium MK in League One. We’d already relinquished the lead twice when Kevin Betsy struck in the 95th minute to make it 3-2.
This is the 13th meeting between Gareth Ainsworth and Paul Tisdale. The current score: Ainsworth 6-3 Tisdale.
We haven’t beaten a team beginning with M in the league since a 1-0 win over Mansfield in March 2016. Our most recent such victory in any competition came the following January, when we defeated the same opposition 2-1 in the EFL Trophy quarter-finals.

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