Battle of the bosses part three

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THEY may have only met head-to-head twice, but Karl Robinson goes into Thursday’s League One play-off semi final second leg 2-0 up on his opposite number.

Since Darren Ferguson’s return to London Road back in January, Dons and Peterborough have only met at stadium:mk, with Dons coming out on top on both occasions.

They won the sides’ League One clash 1-0 in March and Sunday’s play-off first leg 3-2, with Robinson proving he has the upper hand over his Posh counterpart.

But despite his favourable record, Robinson isn’t one for one-upmanship and paid tribute to Ferguson’s attitude after Sunday’s first leg.

He said: “I thought Darren Ferguson was excellent at the end of the game. He showed so much professionalism and quality as a man.

“I respect him thoroughly but he’ll be so prepared. They will know our weaknesses - we have one or two - but we also know they have theirs as well.

“Both managers respect each other 100 per cent and we’ll see how the ball rolls on Thursday - and may the best team win again.”

Tactically, Robinson clearly out-played Ferguson with the way his side set out - although both managers have admitted that they only made minor changes to their teams to counter the strengths and weaknesses shown by their opposition ahead of the play-offs.

After seeing his side lose their 1-0 lead, Ferguson said he feels lucky just to still be in the tie, fearing the worst at 3-1 down and being reduced to 10 men.

Ferguson said: “I always fancied it would boil down to the second match, but to be honest we were nearly out of the tie after one game.

“I’m very relieved to still be in it. MK Dons were very impressive in the first match and deserve all the credit going, whereas we were very poor.

“We will be better this time, as we could hardly be any worse, and we will stick to our midfield system and to our passing game.”

Dons aren’t expected to change much going into the second leg. With Stephen Gleeson’s red card rescinded and Luke Chadwick’s arm injury not as bad as first thought, Robinson is unlikely to make any changes to his starting 11.

The same cannot be said for Ferguson though. His selection headaches will begin with finding a replacement left back for Charlie Lee who was sent off after an hour on Sunday. But he could have centre-back Gabriel Zakuani back despite being withdrawn before half-time because of a shoulder injury following an off-the-ball coming together with Sam Baldock.

However, Ferguson’s biggest blow will come between the sticks as Joe Lewis was ruled out on Tuesday night. The ‘keeper collided with his own defender Lee early in the game and was replaced by Paul Jones at the interval.

It was later revealed that he sustained a fractured kneecap in the incident, forcing the Posh boss to make another unforced change.

But despite the injuries in the Posh squad, Robinson expects a similar game and can’t wait to play at London Road.

When the sides met there in September 2010, Gary Johnson was in charge of Posh who benefited from two mistakes in defence to score, while a host of chances missed by Dons at the other end meant the home side came away with a 2-1 win.

But that game has given Robinson the hunger and desire to return to London Road and win this time around, especially with his side’s away-day fortunes turning around since the turn of the year.

He said: “It’s a really old fashioned ground, and one that holds the atmosphere in really well.

“If you would have said to anyone at this club that we’d be going to London Road 3-2 up in the play-offs then they’d have taken it.

“We can’t wait. I’m like a kid at Christmas, and the players are too. The players don’t fear it, going into things with this confident attitude that they will enjoy their football and that won’t be any different at London Road.”

The all-ticket affair looks set to be a sell-out for the home fans which will no doubt add to the hostile nature of the affair for the visiting side.

But Dons are familiar with playing in front of big audiences, playing in front of more than 10,000 seven times at home this season, while Posh have done so just once against League One winners Brighton.

Ferguson added: “Night games at London Road are always really exciting and we are hard to stop when the fans get right behind us.

“We will have the edge on support as well. It’s a sell-out for our fans and that’s a big boost for the players.”

But all the talk is irrelevant as soon as the whistle goes on Thursday and the next chapter of the rivalry begins. The stakes are high and neither manager will argue that this is the most important game so far.