Mark Jackson has led his MK Dons side five points clear of the bottom four in Sky Bet League One but knows pressure remains heavily on the team as they bid to secure their third-tier status for next season.
Courtesy of a four-game unbeaten run, during which they’ve picked up 10 points from a possible 12, the Dons have created a two-result gap between themselves and the relegation places.
However, with four weeks remaining in the season, Jackson knows there is still plenty to play for – and work still to do for the Dons to make sure of their place in Sky Bet League One for the 2023/24 campaign.
“It's a better position to be in, and we'd much rather be here than chasing the pack, but there is still pressure,” Jackson said his pre-match press conference ahead of Friday’s Stadium MK clash with Portsmouth.
“Where we are, we’re in control of what we do but every game is still ramped up and how we deal with it is going to be important.
“Over the last four weeks, we've shown we're in a good place to deal with the pressure and it's important now we keep that going.”
Friday’s opponents, Pompey, have plenty to play for themselves, arriving at Stadium MK just three points adrift of the top six and with aspirations of sealing a long-awaited return to the Sky Bet Championship.
“They're playing for things, looking for promotion and we've got a lot riding on it at the other end of the table,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be about how the sides cope with pressure.
“We’ve looked Portsmouth and we know they can be a threat to us. But, we can be a threat to them too and we’ve worked on how we can go out there and get three points.”
One man that MK Dons will need to keep a close eye on is striker Colby Bishop, who has scored 23 goals in his maiden season with Pompey including seven in his last eight appearances.
Discussing Bishop’s threat, Jackson said: “We have to be aware of certain players and what their threats are, and we have to be mindful of any player with that amount of goals.
“I'd never go into a game and completely change what we do for one player, but there needs to be an awareness that a player could hurt us given the right opportunities.
“We have to minimise those opportunities for a player like that - set up to stop the feed into him.
“I feel like we're in a good place with the players we have available defensively, and we’ve got experience in that back-line as well now.”
MK Dons go into Friday’s game in good shape, with Sullay Kaikai and Warren O’Hora the only confirmed absentees due to injury.
Kaikai’s issue, picked up while on international duty, looks set to sideline the wide-man for the next two matches. O’Hora, meanwhile, is making such good progress from his foot injury that boss Jackson isn’t ruling the defender out of making a return before the end of the season.
The Head Coach said: “(Sullay) has got a slight strain so he’ll be missing for the next couple of games. We have to be careful with it, and he will definitely miss the games over the weekend, but he's progressing well.
“(Warren) is back on the pitch and back doing grass work which is really good to see.
“We'll wait for him to have another scan before we can confirm any sort of timeline but, without putting pressure on him, there could be a window where he will be back training fully with the squad (before the end of the season).
“Whether he can (return) without any risk is yet to be determined. He's been out for a while, so we have to be careful with him. But, he is pushing himself and he looks in great physical shape.
“He's been working really hard in the gym and he's giving himself every opportunity to potentially be available. If we find ourselves in that position, he will be a vital member, an option to have, but there will be no pressure to push him.”
Here is what else Mark Jackson had to say in his pre-match press conference…
Manager of the Month nomination…
“It's nice to hear it, of course, but it's recognition for the team and what they've done over that period. That's the team on the pitch and the staff around it, so it's a collective nomination. It's pleasing, it says we're in good form, but we have to keep it going.”
On the impact of the January signings…
“It was our ultimate aim in the January window to make the additions to make us stronger. We're fully away when players come into a team, particularly when you're in a difficult position, it takes time, but we're starting to see the benefits now. That, combined with Dean Lewington coming back, has been a big plus for us.”
On Anthony Stewart’s return to action…
“When a player is coming back like that, you don't want to put much pressure on him but he was keen to play and we had no doubts from a medical standpoint that he would suffer any setbacks. We felt he was ready to come in and make an impact and he certainly did that.”
On Tennai Watson’s recent form…
“We've been really pleased with how he is progressing and performing. I speak to T all the time and tell him how happy I am with him. He's got the attributes to play in the centre-back position in a three really well but, getting back to his familiar wing-back or full-back role, he can be a real threat.
“He brings a lot to the team and he has brought a lot over the last few games while we've been on this positive run. He’s a part of the jigsaw which has seen us produce a collective performance.”
Tickets for Friday's Sky Bet League One clash with Portsmouth are priced from £24 adults, £18 over-65s, £12 under 25s, £6 under 18s and £3 under-12s while under 7s can attend for just £1! Please note, ticket prices will increase by £2 when bought on the day of the game.
The Club will be using the day to celebrate Club Partners, Marshall Amplification as well as pay tribute to the late Jim Marshall, founder of the company, with the Father of Loud Day Fanzone, which will be held in the Marshall Arena from 12.30pm.
To book tickets CLICK HERE, visit the Box Office at Stadium MK or call 01908 622933. Tickets will be available to buy right up until kick-off from the Box Office.Postcode restrictions apply.