In the first part of the pre-match regulars before a tricky trip north, Adam Stubbings, editor of Donny fansite Into The Empty Net, provides his expert opinion of our opponents.
Three quarters of the way through the season (well, you will be after this game), just sum up how it’s been for Donny so far. Have you met/exceeded pre-season hopes and expectations? It’s difficult to pinpoint where our expectations should even be to be honest. The upheaval of the summer [with manager Grant McCann and talisman John Marquis both leaving] made repeating a top six finish quite difficult in my opinion, but we’ve had a couple of really good runs during the season and have flirted with the play-offs without ever really firmly being a contender.
The main word is ‘consistency’ – we just haven’t had enough of it. Patchy performances, constantly fluctuating results… It’s been frustrating at times, but we’re in a transitional phase. Darren Moore has done a good job of instilling his philosophy in a young group of players and I think he should be commended for that.
I personally will be happy to finish in the top ten this season, though; we simply haven’t had the means to be a true force, but we’re going in the right direction. We’re about where we should be in the table.
In a League One ‘long ball index’ I worked out, you currently come out as the least direct team in the division. How much of that is a continuation of your play under Grant McCann and how much is Darren Moore’s influence? And what are your thoughts on it as a style in general? I hear it doesn’t sit too well with some fans… We play a different way under Darren Moore than we did under McCann. McCann liked to play a fast-paced, in-your-face style reliant on the work rate of three forwards and an interchangeable midfield trio, which to be honest was exciting to watch but could leave us exposed.
Having such a high turnover of players last summer has allowed Darren Moore to quickly alter the philosophy and his more considered approach to the tactical side of things has paid off, with a much more stable way of working the ball and creating goalscoring opportunities, without leaving the defence vulnerable.
I wouldn’t describe it as tiki-taka, but it is clearly based around possession play, building from the back and exploiting tight spaces with accurate passing. The proof is in the pudding: Ben Whiteman and [Arsenal loanee] Ben Sheaf are two of the top three most accurate passers in League One this season and we create plenty of chances.
I’m firmly in the camp of fans who enjoy this playing style and would rather we persist with it. You can see the improvements over the past few months and the longer these players have to hone their abilities in Darren’s system, the better the rewards will be.
There has been the odd hiccup at the back, but there always is when learning a new playing style, and occasional mistakes should be forgiven providing the players learn from them – which I’d say they are doing. Fans just need to be patient and learn to adapt to modern methods. They had no problem once it started to click under Sean O’Driscoll [who took Donny to the Championship in 2007/08] and if this system brings success, I’m sure the nervous energy in the crowd will die down.
Who have been your standout performers and why? Is there anyone who’s come to the fore since our last meeting? [Centre-half] Tom Anderson has been our most consistent performer. I believe we have the best defensive record in the league from open play – or near enough – and he is a big part of that. I can count on one hand the number of below-par games he’s had this season; he simply doesn’t miss a beat.
Strong in the air and in the tackle, and composed enough when taking the ball out of the back, Big Tom is fast becoming the total package. His leadership capabilities are beginning to shine through as well; he’s only 26 but is one of the senior players in the squad and marshals the back line very well. He’s looking a worthy successor to Andy Butler.
Although he has been utilised as a substitute in recent games, Kieran Sadlier can’t be looked past either. He was the top scoring midfielder in League One until this week and continues to produce for us, with 11 goals and six assists now this season. He stretches defences and can create out of nothing, and I’m sure he will cause Wycombe plenty of problems on Saturday.
As a solid, well-run League One club in no danger of going down this season – and still in with an outside chance of a play-off finish – are you confident of a return to the Championship in the next season or two? And what needs to happen for you to get back there? I would say I’m quietly confident that we can compete at the top end of the table in the seasons to come. Under Darren Moore, we are a promising young outfit finding some stability on the playing side of things, and behind the scenes all is as it should be. I see no reason why we can’t be optimistic about our prospects going forward.
First and foremost, we need to retain the manager and as many of our best players as possible. Whiteman and Anderson signed new contracts recently, whilst James Coppinger is firmly ensconced within the fabric of the club and looks to have another year or two in the tank. Sadlier is out of contract in the summer and would take some replacing, but I’m confident we can find new prize assets with our recruitment structure now set for the summer and beyond.
Aside from that, I think we need a bit more experience in the squad. Coppinger, [centre-back] Alex Baptiste and [winger] Matty Blair are the only players over the age of 27 in the entire squad, and I think that nous that only comes with age and experience counts for a lot at this level.
Finally, how do you think the game will go? Feel free to predict the score! We’ve struggled to maintain consistency of late and Darren has found himself changing the team pretty much every week. The front line in particular has undergone a lot of alterations and I think we are yet to hit upon the right formula for success in the final third, so I’m concerned about our ability to break down your defence.
We know about the qualities you have; Gareth Ainsworth has done a great job and the playing style you use is one we have struggled to combat quite a few times in the past. I’m expecting a close game, one that we will need to battle to get something out of, and on the basis of current form I’m not overly confident of us winning, even though we’re at home.
To be honest, we are just as likely to play you off the park and win 3-0 as we are to shrink into our shells and lose 1-0, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a score prediction. Hopefully the game will be well contested and we can improve our performance levels to match a side who have proven very difficult to beat this season.