Beating rivals on Friday will be the missing puzzle piece for MK Dons
It was one game MK Dons fans wanted to win last season, but it would also be the scene of one of their most embarrassing performances too - but now's the time to make amends.
Losing 2-0 to AFC Wimbledon at the Cherry Red Records Stadium last March, Dons were ‘bullied’ by the home side according Dons boss Robbie Neilson.
It was undoubtedly the low point of the season. While the club had parted with Karl Robinson after six-and-a-half years, been in a relegation scrap for a few months and gone nine months without winning at home, getting turned over by AFC in such lifeless fashion was the biggest blot on the CV.
Having beaten them in the league, FA Cup and League Cup down the years, all at Stadium MK, winning in London is the final piece of the puzzle for Dons now.
And on Friday, Neilson’s side have the chance to make amends and avenge the ghosts of last season.
“We were disappointed when we went down there last time, and we don’t get a lot of opportunities to play them,” said Neilson.
“It was a strange situation, and a strange build-up to it because it was more than the actual game itself. There was a lot of talk about the policing, but it was a good atmosphere to be honest with you, I enjoyed it. It was intense, but it was an experience.
“It’s a totally different team now. There will be very few players who played in the game last year that’ll play again this year.
“It’ll be a new experience for them all, but it’s the same for AFC.”
“Last season, performance-wise wasn’t great so we want to make amends and build some momentum,” added defender Scott Wootton who missed both games last season with a knee injury.
“Everyone in football is aware of the rivalry – I remember watching the first FA Cup game on TV.
“We’re all aware of the history, but we’re all just focussed on putting on a good performance and coming away with three points.
“There’s a hype around big games like this. Someone who isn’t aware may have a quiet word with someone about it and they’ll be filled in.
“We’re just focussed on our game plan and try not to get caught up with all the stuff on the day.
“Of course, we have to go there and be committed, but we’re only looking at how to win the game. From what the lads have said, last year wasn’t too bad.
“Anyone who’s not aware of the atmosphere, as soon as they go out for warm-up and the crowd starts to arrive they’ll understand.”
The tortured relationship between the clubs, the bitterness and venom shared among fans gives the match more of an edge, because while there are only three points on offer, it’s the one Neilson knows the fans want more than any other.
He added: “We spoke about this game right after the Rochdale game - while it was a good result, the biggest thing for the club and for our fans is Friday night.
“The players understand that, but we have to make sure we’re up for the game and we win our battles.
“The players sense big games, and we’re really looking for it. It’s a huge game for us all, coming off the back of a good result on Saturday.
“We want to win it, irrespective of who we’re playing so we can get up the table.”