As it stands: MK 28-8–4–16 (20th, 28 pts, GD -11) | Wycombe 28-14–8–6 (2nd, 50 pts, GD 4)
Form: MK WDLLW | Wycombe DLWLW
Last time out: MK 2-1 Rochdale | Wycombe 2-1 Blackpool
|P||MK W||Wycombe W||D||Ave. GpG|
Previous meeting: Wycombe 3-2 MK (League One, 17/08/19)
Setting the Scene
On Super Bowl weekend, we head to the two-thirds-empty bowl. This will be our sixth visit to Concretecowland and our first in the league since November 2011 – when a rollercoaster afternoon ended in a 4-3 victory for MK. Our only league success there came almost ten years ago, Kevin Betsy snatching it in the 95th minute after we’d twice been pegged back. We’d certainly take another thriller, but the hosts have improved notably since the last one of those – on that blissful summer’s day when David Wheeler’s equally dramatic clincher sent the Valley End into raptures.
MK’s recent form has, like ours, been inconsistent, but they have seen off promotion-chasing Oxford and Portsmouth, while they were on course for a point against Sunderland until a late belter settled it – all at home. Still, they won’t have the backing of a potentially 2,000-strong Light & Dark Blue Army who, despite everything the last six weeks have thrown up, could well be proudly exclaiming “We are top of the league!” again come 5pm. Bring it on.
Last season: 3rd in League Two (promoted)
Manager: Russell Martin (appointed November 2019)
Top scorer: Rhys Healey (ST) – 6
Most assists: Baily Cargill (CB), Conor McGrandles (CM), Jordan Houghton (CM), Rhys Healey, Sam Nome (ST) – 2
Style of play: Possession-based, short passes, play in own half
A Deeper Look
Despite making it difficult for ourselves in the final 30 minutes or so, Tuesday night’s performance was probably our best since Tranmere away two months ago. There was some genuine champagne stuff on show in the first half, not least Wheeler’s audacious flick to tee up Alex Samuel for his first league goal since April. It was a shame we ended up losing our composure a bit and treating the ball like a hot potato. If we can draw on the delightful, free-flowing play which saw us race into a 2-0 lead within ten minutes and not end up scrambling around for the oven gloves, there’s every possibility of going there and winning quite comfortably.
The slight worry is MK’s 4-1-2-1-2 system – not that we’ll struggle to play against it but that Gareth Ainsworth might match it. Reverting to our trusty 4-3-3 came up trumps on Tuesday and there’s no reason why it should be swamped by a diamond if the wingers drop back to complement the midfield as necessary. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Besides, Adebayo Akinfenwa will miss this one due to his commitments across the pond, so a front two isn’t really realistic. Josh Parker could partner Samuel, but the latter thrives in our regular system and is coming off the back of one of his best performances in a Wycombe shirt, bagging what one hopes will be the first of several goals between now and the end of the season.
At least we won’t have wing-backs to worry about this time – not that MK made that work in the first meeting when then-manager Paul Tisdale employed an unsuccessful version of Chris Wilder’s overlapping centre-backs tactic. There will be a very different look to their defence. Russell Martin was in the back three that day but hung up his boots upon taking over from Tisdale. Key man Jordan Moore-Taylor didn’t start his season until October due to injury and returned against Rochdale after another spell on the sidelines, while perennial villain Dean Lewington is back at left-back as opposed to left wing-back and George Williams – who struggled to contain Fred Onyedinma and later Wheeler – has shifted from right wing-back to centre-back. Meanwhile, it’s fair to say right-back Callum Brittain – who only came on as a 90th minute substitute that day – is a bit good on the ball, completing 47/65 dribbles this season.
A settled back four has done MK the world of good: they’ve conceded just four goals in their last six outings, having shipped ten in the previous six while Martin was still embedding his philosophy. Of course, it helps to have a safe pair of hands behind them, and Lee Nicholls has been exactly that. He ranks among League One’s very best stoppers of 2019/20 on AAGS/GSAA*.
*Above Average Goals Saved/Goals Saved Above Average is a metric which effectively quantifies the contribution made by a goalkeeper. You can read more here.
Martin has also put emphasis back on attractive attacking football, something which had faded under Tisdale. The diamond certainly helps facilitate that, as do players like creative new arrival Ben Gladwin – formerly of QPR and Blackburn – and front men Carlton Morris – who’s come in on loan from Norwich and was an integral component of Shrewsbury’s run to the play-off final in 2017/18 – and the consistent Rhys Healey, who averages a goal every 1.5 games. On paper, the hosts shouldn’t be looking over their shoulder; they have a more than capable squad for this level. There are no obvious alarming weaknesses – other than conceding among the most goals from set-pieces (11) in the league – but a lack of belief has arguably held them back at times.
So in short: let’s pick up where we left off (at about the hour mark) on Tuesday and take the game to them, expecting a tough challenge in – whether you like it or not – a derby but knowing why we sit 18 places and 22 points above them. Having lost four on the spin away from home, we’re into ‘must get a result’ territory – but really it’s must win, let’s not muck about here. And can this please – please – be the return of Fred?
With the exception of the potentially fit again Conor McGrandles – who has been involved in a team-high eight goals this season but did sky his penalty at Adams Park – and Gladwin, this is the same 11 which Martin named for the win over Rochdale.
Gareth noted David Stockdale’s lack of match fitness in his ‘second debut’, but it shouldn’t take him too long to get back to 100%. Despite generally not managing two games in four days, former real Don Darius Charles may be ok seeing as we had last weekend off, while Jamie Mascoll deputised impressively in Joe Jacobson’s absence against Blackpool and will be raring to go again if need be. Matt Bloomfield looked to sustain a knock and left the field midway through the second half, but Nick Freeman might just be cementing his spot in the side again. As mentioned, Bayo is otherwise engaged this weekend.
In the Middle: Darren Handley
|Games in 2019/20||Yellows||Reds||Penalties||Last game||Last refereed MK||Last refereed Wycombe|
|24 (7 L1, 10 L2, 3 FAC, 4 FLT)||88||8||7||Exeter 0-0 Colchester (L2, 25/01/20)||MK 1-0 Oldham (L1, 07/02/18)||Rochdale 0-3 Wycombe (L1, 28/09/19)|