STEPHEN Hughes will be handed his first start for Dons when they take on Charlton Athletic in a crunch League One clash tonight.
The on-loan Norwich midfielder joined the club in February and has yet to start a game, but will come in to replace Peter Leven, whose booking on Saturday against Rochdale ruled him out of the play-off six-pointer.
Assistant manager John Gorman praised the patience of Hughes, and also Leven’s performances in recent weeks.
He said: “The only player who picked up a knock on Saturday was Leven, and he’s suspended for the game anyway.
“It’s disappointing for Peter and for us because he has been doing so well recently and he will be missed. But we have a great player in Stephen to step in and fill the role.
“It’s exciting to see him get his chance. He’s shown great patience and is a great professional, but he’s dying to prove what he can do for us.”
With Sam Baldock and Jabo Ibehre returning to the team on Saturday too, Gorman says it’s like having two new players to choose from after both had extended spells on the sidelines.
“Both Sam and Jabo came on and it was like getting two new players,” he said. “It could have been Jabo’s goal on Saturday but for the Rochdale player blocking it with his arm.
“And we’ve got Angelo Balanta waiting in the wings, training with us every day, and he will be a great boost for us when he comes back.”
Charlton are without a win in five which has seen them tumble out of the play-off spots, but they do have three games in hand over Dons and a seven point deficit. Dons have lost twice to the Addicks this season already, and Gorman believes that the game will be another hard fought contest.
“You can never underestimate any team in this division,” he said. “I saw Charlton play last week - they started off a good side, but Carlisle won that game 3-1. The fans turned on them a little, so hopefully we can keep them quiet early in the game.
“I know Chris Powell very well. He’s a real Charlton veteran, and they have given him the chance to manage at such a young age after a short coaching career at Leicester. He’s a gentleman, and one of the smartest managers - Karl will have to sort his gear out to match him!”
After Saturday’s 4-1 demolition of Rochdale, Gorman admitted he had to keep his players’ feet on the ground, but insisted that a little confidence going into a big game was not such a bad thing.
“One or two were a bit spirited in training. When you go away and win 4-1, you can get carried away, but we have a great bunch, although we cannot afford to get complacent.
“We have proved too many times that when we think we’re doing well, we kick ourselves in the teeth and have a bad performance, undoing all the good work.
“We tell the players to go out there with a little bit of arrogance and a little swagger, but not to the point that we get carried away.
“We’ve to go out with the same attitude that we had on Saturday, and against Brighton. If we drop below that, I’ll expect Charlton to take advantage.”