MK Dons climbed into the top six of Sky Bet League One table with their 1-0 win over Portsmouth on Saturday and while Head Coach Liam Manning wants his side to use their recent good form as fuel to continue pushing on, he doesn’t want their league position to result in overconfidence.
Ethan Robson’s goal 18 minutes from time at Stadium MK saw the Dons extend their unbeaten run to six games in all competitions and has them sitting just three points adrift of league leaders Sunderland.
Delighted with their performance and application, Manning was full of praise in his post-match press conference but insisted that feet will remain firmly on the ground.
“It’s always nice to be on the end of a positive result,” he told the media. “It was a tough game against difficult opposition but, first half especially, I thought we were terrific. We created some really good chances and looked dangerous throughout.
“We could have controlled possession a little bit more to conserve energy and manage that aspect of the game a little bit better. The big thing for me is having control in all moments. You’re never going to dominate a game from start to finish but it’s just making sure, when we haven’t got possession, that we’re okay with that.
“I thought we started the game really well. The first 10 minutes were excellent. It was disappointing not to come in ahead at half-time and it flipped a little bit second half. We didn’t get the press quite right and they got on top.
“Just before we scored, I felt we struggled in terms of pressing higher up the pitch but not so much in terms of getting punished by it. We tried to tweak it by bringing Josh McEachran to go three in there, just to concede space wide and in front so it was more difficult to come through. I thought we did that really well.
“The goal then comes at a perfect moment for us. I was a double whammy - they were on top but couldn’t create and we were able to go and score against the run of play. After that I thought we looked dangerous on the attack, we could have nicked another goal or two.
“Even though we were in block and up against it, the quality we have means we can go and hurt teams. The goal was a terrific moment – an outstanding bit of quality.
“(The goal) epitomises what the group is about in terms of desire to run and get forward. Every week in this league, the physical intensity is really high but what we need to make sure is that our mental intensity matches that. You could see that with the desire in the length of runs that we made to get into the box to score – it was outstanding.
“You can talk tactical things but what we have got is a group of hard-working, committed players that are a joy to work with at the minute. It’s about making sure we keep those behaviours in good times and bad times because that’s what gets you through and what gets you the performances we had today.”
Manning added: “It’s important we don’t get carried away and we don’t get head of ourselves in terms of results, performances, tables and expectations.
“It’s really important we stay grounded and focus week to week on what we can control – how hard we train, how much we want to learn and how much we want to improve - and then coming in next week, ahead of difficult game, and being in a better place than we were last week.
“But, it’s always a fine line between not getting carried away and also taking the positives. I don’t want to completely dismiss the fact that we are on a decent run – it’s important to take confidence and take away the really good things we are doing in games.
“We must realise that, that only happens because of X, Y and Z. We need to make sure we come in Monday and do things right – we train hard, we reflect and make sure we are ready for another tough game. It’s about continuing to build, week to week, to sustain that level of performance and result.”
Saturday’s success was also MK Dons’ third straight home win and Manning hopes to soon make Stadium MK a fortress for his players.
“We are on good form at home and we have to continue that and make this place a difficult place to come for the opposition.
“It’s a fantastic stadium and a fantastic pitch. It can create a sense of it being nice and comfortable but we have to make sure we make the pitch massive, make them run and punish them with the football.
“I’d like it to become a place where teams don’t want to come because of how we play – how we dominate, with and without the ball. I think we’ve done that since the Sunderland second half.
“We have a good routine here and we feel comfortable. For us, if we want to do well this season, we have to make sure we pick up as many points at home as we can.”
Here is what else Liam Manning had to say in his post-match press conference…
On standout performers…
“It’s difficult to single individuals out. Matt (O’Riley) is on a real good run of form – he has to maintain that and keep that going. We’ll keep pushing him so that he can be the best player he can be. He shows moments of high-level composure under pressure, especially when you’re up against it, the bravery he shows. Fish (Andrew Fisher) was terrific. His decision making was really good in terms of build-up – I thought he managed that really well. Obviously he made some key, important saves at crucial times. Them two were good. Troy looked dangerous. He led the line well and got us up the pitch. He showed real good energy."
On Hiram Boateng making his first league start since December 2019…
“Really pleased with H. He is a great example for everybody in the group in terms of coming in, training right with a good attitude and making sure you play your part. The starting line-up can only be as good as the guys around them that support them. He’s done that since we’ve been in here – he’s trained well and his attitude has been terrific. In the moments he has come on, he’s made an impact and had a real positive influence on games. He earned (the start) and I thought what he showed today was slightly different. He put in a real shift for the team and that’s really important to reinforce – the running he did, the defensive responsibility and his physicality. What he did for the team from that perspective, I was really pleased with. He had a good chance as well, which hit the post. Credit must go to him and his attitude for getting himself back into the team.”
On Dean Lewington reaching 700 league games for MK Dons…
“Credit to Skip - 700th league appearance, it’s monumental. It’s something that him and the Club should be really proud of. His leadership and his experience gets us through them challenging moments today. Collectively and individually I was really pleased with everybody.”
On back-to-back clean sheets at Stadium MK…
“We’ve done a fair bit of work defensively in the last few weeks. What we’re asking them to do is slightly different and we’ve tweaked a couple of bits. To be fair, the group has shown that they can learn quickly and they can implement what we’re asking them to do. The spaces between them is a lot better than what it was a month ago before we came in. The wing backs are clearer about their role out of possession too. The group are quick learners and that’s another attribute within the team that we must harness.”
On the return of Max Watters…
“It will be a big boost of him. He’s come back this week and shown good levels of intensity and made a good impact. It’s obviously going to take a bit of time for him to get up to speed given the amount of football he’s missed but we’ve got another solid week of training before a heavy run of fixtures coming up. It will be good to keep building him up. He should take confidence from being back. It was great to have him back.”
On Ethan Robson scoring his first MK Dons goal…
“Delighted for Eth. I think, sometimes, he goes under the radar in terms of what he does bring in his discipline and allowing us to control games. I think him and Matty (O’Riley) have done really well as a two in the middle. Them two have allowed us to put on the performance we did in the first half. Congratulations to Eth – he loves football and wants to work. I’m delighted he got his goal today.”
Liam Manning's MK Dons travel to Gillingham this weekend, looking to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to seven games.
Tickets, which must be purchased in advance from the Club, are priced from £20 adults, £16 seniors and £6 students/under-18s while travel is available from £18.
To purchase tickets CLICK HERE, visit the Box Office or call 01908 622922. Tickets will be available to buy from the Box Office until 4pm on Friday.