Your Dons say: Can style defeat substance?

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THIS weekly blog is a chance for fans to have their say on all things MK Dons. This week Dominic Damesick thinks they might need a ‘Plan B’ to beat Preston.

On Sunday the Dons will face a big test, in front of the nation, when they travel to Preston. It will truly be a showcase of the two contrasting styles in League 1 football.

Preston have pace, power, aggression and will be cynical when they need to be – like all Graham Westley sides. The Dons have technical skill, patience and an aesthetically pleasing style, as Karl Robinson insists upon.

Yet, this is not to say that the Dons’ style of football is, necessarily, any ‘better’ than the style favoured by Westley. Ultimately, the ‘best’ style will be the one which gets the result on the day.

If Preston are victorious on Sunday, no amount of foot-stomping over bullying tactics and claims that the Dons play ‘real football’ will get back those three lost points.

The Dons need to be wary of two things going into Sunday’s encounter. Firstly, they must try to avoid getting wound up by the Preston players. Westley’s sides, despite his claims that it is an unfair reputation, are well-versed in the art of gamesmanship: niggling fouls, time wasting and going to ground easily.

Robinson has probably had nightmares about Stephen Gleeson losing his head, and subsequently his focus; or Alan Smith being surrounded by a red-mist, before putting one of the Preston players in hospital, and putting himself in the stands for the next three games.

Yet, Robinson surely knows that Preston will use such tactics, and hopefully has taken measures to drum into his squad the importance of keeping calm and in control, and channelling any frustrations into producing a determined, fearless performance.

Secondly, Robinson’s side have to find a way to counter Preston’s physical threats. The Dons, for all their technical brilliance, are a remarkably small side – and this will especially be the case on Saturday in the absence of Gary MacKenzie and Anthony Kay – and are devoid of any express pace.

Preston, on the other hand – with the likes of David Amoo and Akpo Sodje in their side – have the speed and height to really hurt the Dons, especially on the counter attack and from set-pieces.

It might be the case that the wing-backs have to curb their attacking instincts, not only to stop the counter attacking threat of Preston, but to try and keep the number of high crosses being pumped into David Martin’s box to a minimum.

Martin, for his part, will have to be brave when coming for the ball, and be prepared to take a few bumps.

Having seen sides managed by Westley play before, Robinson will know that Sunday’s game has the potential to descend into a physical, no-holds barred fight. In such an event he needs to have a Plan B.

He needs to be able to call upon something different as he did so successfully last Saturday against Portsmouth, if his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and classical passing style are proving ineffective.

That might involve: putting Alan Smith – a man who loves a battle – up front to ruffle a few feathers; or resorting to three at the back in order to put two up front, and push Preston higher up the pitch; or trying Jay O’Shea on the wing to beat Preston with quick feet rather than possession football.

It is hard to know what will be most effective, but Robinson is paid to make such judgements, and his decisions – and tactical nous – will be scrutinised especially closely on Sunday when his side takes to the pitch in front of the nation.

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