THERE will be nowhere to hide in front of the TV cameras this Sunday, but MK Dons won’t be shying away from the task at hand when they aim to get back to winning ways against Preston North End.
Bailey Wright’s 90th minute equaliser at Deepdale still stings for those who made the long journey up to Lancashire last season, having watched Dons control most of the game. Sound familiar?
The two teams will lock horns again in front of the cameras, just as they did at stadium:mk last December. Paul Parry’s seventh minute strike was the only goal of the game on a freezing cold Saturday night, in a match that certainly won’t be remembered as a classic.
The game was the last that long-term Dons target Neil Mellor would start in his career. Hobbling off in the first half, the former Liverpool striker would make just one more substitute appearance for Preston – four months later – before being forced to retire from football altogether at the end of the season, still in his 20s.
In the past, Dons have had an unnerving habit of going missing when it came to playing on the big stage, or in front of the TV cameras, but boss Karl Robinson insisted this week that those days are well behind them.
But after disappointing draws with Coventry and Portsmouth, the game will be a tough test of Dons’ promotion credentials.
Preston boss Graham Westley is one of the game’s love him or hate him characters, but unless you work with him or he manages your club, most people seem to fall into the second category.
Often accused of ‘dark arts’ during his Stevenage days, Westley recently said he was “sick to death” of his teams constantly being accused of gamesmanship in light of Preston’s win at Doncaster last week.
Westley defended his players after two were accused of making the most of injuries to waste time in their 3-1 away win – the sort of accusation he has become accustomed to in his two years as a Football League manager.
Fans and managers of opposing clubs would often point to his alleged ‘time-out’ tactics – when a player would go down with a knock mid-way through a half, giving the rest of the team a chance to congregate around the dugout and receive instructions – as the main source of their frustration. However, Westley has always denied such tactics.
And whatever people may think of him, the 44-year-old boasts an excellent managerial CV, including back-to-back promotions with Stevenage. It has taken him a while, but with the help of four former Boro players, he seems to be winning over his Preston critics this season.
Sat two points and three places behind Dons in eighth place in League 1, it’s been a somewhat Jekyll and Hyde first quarter of the campaign for the Lancashire side, who last Saturday became the first to lose at Oldham this term – four days after winning at the Keepmoat.
They were also a victim of Walsall’s early-season renaissance, but have made a reasonably good start and look likely to challenge for a play-off place, with Akpo Sodje currently leading the scoring charts on seven goals in all competitions. And former Wycombe hitman Stuart Beavon is also in decent form with four strikes.
With that in mind, Dons will need to finally convert a few of the bucketful of chances they create each game, and pick up just their second league win on the road.
Robinson’s men will face few tougher away games than going to Preston, so a win at Deepdale – in front of the cameras and the rest of League 1 – would make their rivals sit up and take notice again.