The key talking points from Robbie Neilson's press conference ahead of MK Dons' Sky Bet League One clash with Shrewsbury Town at Stadium MK...
Robbie Neilson expects Dean Lewington, Ben Reeves and Joe Walsh all to be available for selection this weekend.
Lewington and Reeves have been sidelined with injuries since January while Walsh has missed the last two games because of suspension.
Their returns leave Ed Upson (suspended) and Scott Wootton (knee) as the only two players unavailable for Saturday.
Competition for places at the back
Lewington’s return to full fitness provides a real selection headache for Neilson, who has seen both George Williams and Ben Tilney perform well at left-back in the captain’s absence.
The Dons boss was asked whether or not Lewington would return to the starting line-up on Saturday and while not answering the question directly, he did say how positive it is to have strong depth in an area of the field that had question marks at the start of the month.
“There was a little period where we were struggling for defenders but the key thing is we’ve got competition for places now.
“Everyone who plays has to show why they should be the number one choice. It’s a case of me picking a team on a Saturday that will win the game.”
Praise for the skipper
The Dons was also asked about Lewington’s future and whether he and the Club have to start preparing a replacement for the left-back – a question which is nowadays asked quite often once a player passes the 30 mark in terms of age.
“Lewie’s still got a couple of years ahead of him, at least. He’s still got real quality and he’s got great experience. He gives us good leadership but also an understanding of the game as well.”
Neilson also commented on a potential move inside to centre-back – a position Lewington has featured in a number of times since the Scotsman’s arrival at Stadium MK.
“Since I’ve come in, we’ve been trying to shift him into a centre-half role and I think he really excels at that.”
Tilney ready for regular first-team football?
Lewington’s replacement in the last two games was 19-year-old Tilney, who impressed on both his league debut against Bury and his first home league start against Fleetwood Town.
While pleased with his young defender’s displays, Neilson was keen to keep everyone’s feet on the ground regarding the academy graduate.
“Tilney has done well but it’s only two games. It’s important he continues to work hard and show that he can compete with these type of players.”
Ben to boost Dons
In Reeves, the Dons will be getting a player back from the sidelines who has contributed to 10 goals this season.
Neilson is looking forward to having his number 10 available once again but stressed the importance of managing him in the right way.
“I’m glad to have him available for selection again. He’s trained this week and he’s ready to go.
“It’s important we get him through as many games as possible for the remainder of the season without pushing him too hard. It’s a case of us managing him.”
“He’s doing well. We’d obviously like to try and get him back before the end of the season but the main aim is to make sure he’s ready for the first day of pre-season.
While Neilson still holds hope of being able to involve the centre-back in a match before the end of the season, the manager did stress that the main goal is to have Wootton available for the first day of pre-season.
Neilson’s press conference ended on a question regarding the progress of Scott Wootton, who has been out of action since August due to a serious knee injury.
Pre-season the target for Scott
“We had a guy in last week, Davidson Eden, but I felt he’d be coming in to make the numbers up. We’ve given some boys a chance – Ben Tilney came in and did well and we have a couple of others who I hope could come into the squad and do a job.”
“I think with Tilney coming in and doing well, Lewie coming back from his ankle problem and Walshy in a better situation suspension-wise, I don’t think I need to do (add) –we’ve got through that little period where I was a little worried.
However, with Lewington now fully fit and Walsh back from suspension, Neilson is satisfied with his defensive options.
That led to a number of free-agent defenders being targeted, including Davidson Eden who spent time at Stadium MK on trial.
When Lewington went down injured at the end of January, Neilson and the Dons began the process of recruiting a defender to bolster the numbers and add depth to a position that appeared thin on the ground.
Boss happy with defence after free agent search
“We’ve a got a lad in at the moment with a view to bringing him in next season – we’ll look at him and see where we go.”
“There are players out there as well who are available on pre-contracts, which we’ve started to look at.
“We’re getting to a point where we have to start gearing up for next year. There’s not a lot of games left to go and watch so we have to make sure we’re targeting the players we want to go and see, so we’re covering all bases.
Neilson also hinted that work is already underway regarding potential summer signings.
“We’ve spoken to a couple of the players and those talks are progressing along. With a couple of the other ones it’s dependent on where we finish and are still assessing what they want to do.”
The Scotsman had an update in Thursday’s media call.
Neilson revealed in a press conference earlier this month that talks were to begin with players who are in the final months of their contracts at Stadium MK.
Talks progressing with out-of-contract Dons
“We can’t start panicking because we’ve had a difficult two weeks, we need to be confident. We’ve got a good squad who can score goals and we’re not interested in talk about looking over shoulder.”
“The whole season can turn in a week, in this league. We went from talking about play-offs when we were in great form to now talking about looking over our shoulder after picking up one point from three games. We’ve gone 180 in just over two weeks.
“It’s important we don’t get carried away by a few results,” Neilson responded. “Our aim is to try and get as high up the league as possible. There’s still an opportunity to get play-offs – it’s going to be very difficult but you have to aim for that.
Now, there are some who are asking whether or not the men from MK1 should be looking over their shoulder at a possible relegation scrap.
Just over two weeks ago, the talk around Stadium MK was whether or not the Dons could mount a serious play-off push after picking up three victories and a draw from four tough matches.
No panic buttons being hit
“They have good pace in their team in the wide areas and they are a real attacking threat who can cause teams problems.”
Neilson is expecting a tough afternoon. “They are doing well. They had a good result at the weekend and their on a roll.
The Shropshire outfit have won five of their last seven games to climb out of the relegation places and move to within one point of the men from MK1 in the table.
Fresh from facing a side in Fleetwood Town who were riding a three-month unbeaten run, the Dons face another in-form opponent on Saturday in the shape of Shrewsbury.
Neilson wary of in-form Shrews
“It’s something we’ve spoken about and will look to rectify. It’s important, in this league, that you put teams under pressure. We have to make sure when the opportunities come we take them.”
“I thought in the game on Saturday (against Fleetwood Town) we were a little bit soft in our play. We had chances to get into areas where we could put crosses in the box or have shots on goal but we were a little bit safe and didn’t do it.
The Scotsman believes the answer lies in being more ruthless in the final third.
The 36-year-old was also asked about his side’s lack of goals as they look to end a run of three games without scoring this weekend against Shrewsbury.
Lack of cutting edge
“What’s important is that we’re still progressing the way we want to which is by taking steps forward. You have to continue looking to the long term.”
“It’s been a difficult week or so but that’s football, you have to move on. Your trajectory isn’t always going to progress upwards and there will be blips along the way.
“It’s been disappointing but that’s what you get when the games come thick and fast. You’ll always that little period where the form isn’t great and you’ll go a certain amount of games where you don’t pick up the points you want to pick up.
The Dons have failed to come out on top in each of their last three games but Neilson is optimistic the tide will turn.
Bit of a blip?