DONS face an entirely unpredictable test on Saturday when they take on a Stevenage side they could easily start considering to be their biggest rivals – and defeat is unthinkable.
Peterboorugh have provided the opposition for Dons’ fiercest local derbies in recent times, but when you add current circumstances and locality into the equation, it’s Boro who currently seem most deserving of the club’s ‘rivals’ label. Northampton are a bit of an afterthought these days.
With only 30 miles separating the two new towns, Stevenage are easily Dons’ closest League 1 neighbours, and having started the season so well, they could yet prove to be one of their promotion rivals too.
Of course it takes something fairly significant for two sides and their supporters to suddenly start disliking each other when there isn’t much of an historical reason behind it, regardless of how geographically close they are. Unlike Posh, Dons and Boro both have an image of being well-run, friendly, family clubs – so it will probably take something pretty spicy.
Both sides challenging for promotion should do it. But then Boro aren’t really under pressure to achieve anything other than survival in just their second season in the third tier. The Hertfordshire outfit have proved they belong in League 1 and look set to retain their status once again, but they will look at second place in the table as a treat, rather than a necessity. For Dons, promotion is essential.
That said, Dons travel to the Lamex Stadium on the last day of the season, and who knows where we’ll be then?
This Saturday’s clash at stadium:mk is an intriguing one. Karl Robinson finds himself – for the first time – under a bit of pressure to start stringing a few wins together. His side are already unbeaten in seven league games, so he finds criticism of his style of football and team selection hard to take, and perhaps understandably so.
Those seven games have brought 13 out of a possible 21 points – not bad for a side chasing a top six finish, but a little disappointing if your aim is automatic promotion. Few people would have put money on Tranmere and Stevenage occupying those positions at this stage of the season – with Dons currently outside of the play-off places in seventh – but that’s where we are.
Will that still be the case when Dons travel to Stevenage on April 27? You’d be hard pushed to find someone to put their mortgage on it.
You could argue a case for and against whether or not this Saturday is a good time to play Boro, a week after they lost their proud unbeaten start to the campaign at Colchester. In fact, Gary Smith’s men were undefeated in their previous 17 League 1 games stretching back to April. That’s if, like Huddersfield, you decide not to include a play-off semi final defeat – to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in Boro’s case.
One thing is for sure, Stevenage are a tough nut to crack, and at the moment, Dons don’t look too sure about cracking open an egg, let alone a bottle of champagne at the end of the season. Everyone knows Dons are capable of scoring four, five or six goals in a game and going on an outstanding run of form. The question is, when will they?
He might not admit it, but Robinson has sounded like a man under a bit of pressure this week. Strangely for Dons, only their trip to Bury has provided more than two goals in a game so far this season, and the Dons boss has been forced to admit that his players have – for whatever reason – not taken good opportunities to shoot and potentially score in recent games.
There was certainly no shame in leaving Preston with a 0-0 draw, but failing to pick up three points means that Dons sit rather uncomfortably outside of the play-off places – made even more frustrating with the likes Stevenage above them.
The two meetings between the sides last season saw Dons win 1-0 at stadium:mk in August – thanks to Charlie MacDonald’s first goal for the club – before Boro sealed a 4-2 victory in January.
Having only signed from Brentford a day earlier following Sam Baldock’s sale to West Ham, perhaps it was meant to be that MacDonald bagged the winner. Who knows what’s written in the stars for this Saturday? One thing is for sure, Dons need a win. A big one would be nice, but any sort will do.