Read the programme notes of Head Coach Liam Manning and captain Dean Lewington ahead of today's Sky Bet League One clash with Derby County at Stadium MK...
Good afternoon everyone and welcome back to Stadium MK. I would like to start by extending that welcome to Paul Warne and his Derby County team.
Derby are one of the biggest sides in the third tier and have plenty of experience in their squad. They are unbeaten in three in the league and boast one of best defensive records in the division – we know we are in for a difficult test here this afternoon.
We do, though, come into this game in good form after two more positive results in the cup competitions. After picking up four points from our away league fixtures with Charlton Athletic and Cheltenham Town, it was important we used the Emirates FA Cup and Carabao Cup matches to keep the momentum from the previous performances and the results we've had. It’s important now that we transfer that form back into the league, with two tough tests coming up against Derby County and Barnsley.
Games like last Saturday, against lower-league opposition, are always tough because there is an expectation on you and a perception that it should be a walkover – you only have to look at the upsets that happened at the weekend to see that’s never the case! What does win you those games is good behaviours and attitudes and that is exactly what the players delivered on. We know we had the quality in the group to win the tie but it was important we kept our intensity and focus throughout, and worked hard to deal with their threats and keep control and momentum. We did that and thoroughly deserved our result – we now look forward to a testing trip to Portsmouth in the Second Round later this month.
We followed up with another solid performance on Tuesday night against Morecambe in the Carabao Cup. We made a number of changes to give some players an opportunity and provide others with rest, but, just like Saturday, we had really controlled and purposeful possession and restricted our opponents to very few chances. We started the game well and set the tone early on with two really good chances and then a goal from Woz. It was a good goal from Matty too, in the second half – and, I must say, credit to the referee for spotting the advantage and allowing play to continue. These notes are being written before the Fourth Round draw but, whoever we get, hopefully it’s a good occasion for the players, the fans and the Club.
As well as the results, it was pleasing to see Mo and T back on the Stadium MK pitch over the last two games. They are both terrific characters, but also important contributors for us on the pitch. They are returning players from last season, who know exactly how we want to play – that will be so important to us as we look to continue this form through our upcoming fixtures. Both players have worked extremely hard to get through their rehabilitation and get back on the pitch and credit to them for that, but also to the sports science and medicine team who have worked, but also to the sports science and medicine team who have worked tirelessly to support them both and provide them with everything they’ve needed to get back to fitness.
Enjoy today’s game
We know we still have a long way to go but things are certainly improved from my last set of notes prior to the Plymouth Argyle game here at Stadium MK.
We’ve been able to put together a good run of performances and results across all competitions and hopefully that momentum can benefit us as we return to league action over the next two weeks.
It’s tough when you go through difficult spells and it can affect players in different ways. The frustration and disappointment that the fans feel, we feel too and while some players can thrive under the pressure, for others it can be tougher to cope with. What has been important, is the consistency from the Gaffer and his coaching team, reaffirming the good things we're doing and trusting in us and the way we want to play.
The temptation is sometimes to be reactionary and change things, and often then you can end up losing yourself. What we discovered during the spell we were on, is that we have to be ‘us’ no matter what – we have to be attack-minded, we have to want to control the ball and we have to be a team that works harder than anyone out of possession.
We have certainly seen those elements in our last four games and it has translated into some positive results for us. Picking up four points on the road at Charlton Athletic and Cheltenham Town was a good return given the position we are in, while the victories in the Emirates FA Cup and Carabao Cup have helped to build confidence as well - I can’t remember too many seasons where we’ve gone into the festive period involved in every cup competition!
While things are certainly heading in the right direction, it’s important we don’t fall into the trap of believing that we’ve cracked it. We need to continue to back each performance up with more positive displays. We showed last season what can happen if you put together a run of results in this league and that will be our focus as we head into these two tough matches against Derby County and Barnsley.
Finally, I want to say thank you for all the kind messages I’ve received in the last couple of weeks. With where we are at, at the moment, there are more pressing things on my mind than how many appearances I’ve made but it was, of course, a proud moment for me to reach 900 games and I’m grateful to all those who have helped me get to this point.
Come on you MK Dons!