SATURDAY’S big game could be a Championship fixture next season, according to Dons boss Karl Robinson.
Sheffield United visit stadium:mk and could take a huge step towards automatic promotion from League 1 if they were to return home with all three points.
Dons need two points to guarantee a play-off spot and will be keen to make it three wins on the spin, with Huddersfield breathing down their necks in fifth place on goal difference.
Dons go into the game having scored six goals in their last two matches, with consecutive 3-0 wins against Tranmere Rovers and most recently Scunthorpe Untied on Saturday, jumping into fourth place after it looked almost nailed on that they would remain fifth for the rest of the season.
Sheffield United are on a formidable run themselves though, winning six on the trot and hitting the back of the net 20 times in the process to set up a fiercely competitive game in Milton Keynes as they look to hold off rivals Wednesday in the fight to join Charlton Athletic in the Championship.
The corresponding fixture at Bramall Lane back in October saw Dons go down 2-1 after Stephen Gleeson cancelled out Richard Creswell’s opening goal before Matt Phillips scored midway through the second half.
More than 13,000 tickets have already been sold, but boss Robinson wants the match to be a sell-out. He believes that, despite the fixture being playing in the third tier of English football, the occasion, spectacle and performance of the two sides should be worthy of a place in the league above next season.
“This is a Championship game,” he said. “We’ve got 103 goals, and we’re taking on a team who could seal promotion.
“I believe we have enough to go up, and they certainly have enough. They will bring the big support, and it will be a very good entertaining spectacle. We’re one of the most entertaining teams going.
“This stadium is built for big events and we’ve shown this year that we’re capable of performing in the big games, as we have seen here this season.
“We can’t wait. I felt we deserved more from the game up there. But they have got tremendous players. We have a game plan, we feel we know how to play them and how to stop them. Their players should not be at this level.”
There will be a very familiar face in the away dug-out on Saturday. Former Dons boss Danny Wilson has led the Blades on a remarkable campaign, despite initial animosity from the red half of Sheffield because of his connection to Wednesday.
“You’ve got to applaud the job he’s done because they needed someone like Danny Wilson to guide them back to the top,” said Robinson. “To bounce back from Swindon and take on the job, while under immense pressure, was tough, but he has guided them to second in the league.”
With the weight of expectation hovering over Bramall Lane, Wilson’s men are likely to feel the pressure more than Dons at stadium:mk, with the added factor that if they slip up, it will leave the door open for Wednesday to potentially snatch second place from underneath them.
But Robinson isn’t hedging his bets and thinks his side will also feel pressure, but not from outside sources.
He said: “We put our own pressure on ourselves to perform. Whatever pressures others are putting on us, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the pressure that we put on ourselves.
“Every week they have to perform in the right way. We’ve smashed all our records this season, and we still have three games to go. It deserves a lot more credit that what we’ve got.
“There haven’t been too many bad performances this season either. Oldham, Bury, 20 minutes against Brentford – it just shows you that we’re very strong minded. You’d back us against anyone at the moment.”
John Mousinho’s goal for Stevenage on Tuesday night made Dons’ task of securing a play-off spot easier as Boro beat Carlisle 1-0 at the Lamex Stadium.
And while there is still plenty of time to collect the two points required, Robinson wants the job done quickly, ideally before they have to travel to Spotland to take on bottom club Rochdale next Saturday.
With Huddersfield having arguably the easier run-in of the two teams, Robinson thinks it’s imperative to get the waiting over and done with as they maintain their solid run of form, which has seen Dons first bridge the gap to Huddersfield and then overtaking them thanks to their 3-0 win at Scunthorpe and Town’s 1-0 defeat at Preston.
“We want it done as soon as possible. We want to stay fourth,” he said. “Not finishing second had a massive effect on us – much bigger than I had expected.
“And I think it’s effected Huddersfield too. They have got games they should be winning, but we’ve got the toughest task against Sheffield United and then take on Rochdale and Walsall. We want to go into the play-offs with fives wins on the spin.
“We cannot afford to take our foot off the gas like we did last year because we’re fighting to finish fourth. Last year, I think we could only finish in fifth or sixth, giving us the away leg in the play-offs last.
“I still believe it was the easiest this league has ever been. This league is getting tougher and tougher. Having the second leg at home is such a big advantage. It’s nice coming home and giving your fans something to cheer.”
It’s almost too close to call between the two teams, but Robinson thinks that, although his side’s run of form is not as strong as that of the Blades, his men have not had to get out of third gear in recent weeks and have still looked comfortable, so have plenty in the tank if they need to kick it up a notch on Saturday.
“We’ve got more to come,” he said. “There’s a coolness, and a calmness to the way we’re playing at the moment. They don’t look like they’re breaking a sweat, we look continental in the way we play.
“Stephen Gleeson is playing in a new role and he was a class above on Saturday and that needs to carry on for the rest of the season. Gary MacKenzie is getting fitter and fitter, Shaun Williams has been sensational.
“And he may well argue with me, but I think it’s been Dean Lewington’s best season to date. He looks fit, he has that competitiveness, and he could have a testimonial here soon. He is MK Dons through and through.”