Matthew Crichton: MK Dons currently sit third in League One, but given Rotherham’s 11 point gap and Wigan’s three games in hand, is it a case of securing third spot and maintaining great form for the playoffs?
Liam Connolly: First off I think there is still a chance of automatic promotion this campaign, even if it is slim. We still have to play both the top two and we all know how unpredictable this league is.
But at the same time, we are not secure in the playoffs. Two or three bad results and we are looking down rather than up.
One of Liam Manning’s key pillars is momentum - and that is vital in the last few months of the season. Of course keeping great form is a priority, but I wouldn’t rule out this great form allowing us to spoil the automatic party.
MC: 36-year-old Liam Manning was a surprise appointment back in August, but he seems to have your side playing some fantastic football - do you think the club have unearthed a gem?
LC: Liam Manning has been nothing short of fantastic. A neutral yet cultured head coach at the head of the coaching staff has guided matters on the pitch and helped us tremendously - as a team and as a club and it is a great time to support MK Dons.
The past few months has seen Manning adapt the side to become a flexible and adaptable outfit. One that can play more direct football as much as it can pass it around the whole team.
Manning and Sporting Director Liam Sweeting have molded a group of players and staff that can go far and if Manning is indeed a gem, let’s hope we can keep this gem hidden a little bit longer.
MC: Your club recently signed former Premier League and Sunderland striker Connor Wickham on a free transfer, how has he performed so far?
LC: I mentioned the recent urge for adaptability and flexibility in this Dons side. The signing of Wickham defines that to a tee.
The 28-year-old’s physicality and build allows us to go more direct and almost guarantees us numbers in the box, an element of which we have struggled in achieving this season.
Wickham has been building up his fitness since joining in January, but Wickham said himself he is close to full fitness so despite his lack of minutes and goal contributions, both will come sooner rather than later.
MC: 22-year-old midfielder Scott Twine has the second-highest goal contributions in League this season with 13 goals and nine assists, what attributes does he possess that makes him so good at this level?
LC: Twine possesses many attributes that make him a player that is way ahead of a third division level, but one that makes him stand out so much is his determination and sharpness.
From speaking to previous clubs Twine has been at and here at Dons, you can see his head is always switched on, on and off the pitch.
His extensive time in the film room allows him to study his free-kicks for example enhances his performance, making it higher every time, making him a perfectionist at everything he does.
MC: During the January window, MK Dons lost Matt O’Riley to Celtic, Alex Fisher to Swansea, as well as Max Watters, Peter Kioso, and Ethan Robson to loan recalls - were you concerned that it would derail your season?
LC: I do not think many Dons fans were extremely concerned - purely because there is so much faith in Liam Sweeting to get the right players in the door. People knew talents like O’Riley would always move on to bigger things and European football at that.
And the players brought in during the January window have justified this lack of concern. Jamie Cumming from Chelsea already has 5 clean sheets to his name, Conor Coventry the past 3-4 games has been a maestro in the middle of the park and Theo Corbeanu has been the impact player we’ve been crying out for.
The loss of Watters and lack of ‘replacement’ has personally frustrating for me, especially when you see the comments coming from Cardiff but overall MK Dons had a fantastic January window and the lack of concern was justified.
MC: Given that your form has continued to stay strong despite so many departures, would you say the club is comfortable with losing players to higher leagues and adequately replacing them?
LC: MK Dons as a club has been trying to implement a model which looks similar to the likes of a Brentford ever since Russell Martin became manager.
Investing in young, exciting talents from lower leagues, developing these players over 1-2 seasons and moving them on fees with significant sell-on fees in the future, to allow the model to maintain and grow moving forward.
I feel you have to be comfortable with losing these players when you know what eventually is coming into the door. And that is full credit to not only Sweeting but the board in part for having faith in this model from day one.
Some clubs and their fans would not stand for this much turnover of players but the Dons seem to have created a culture to which is super strong at the core throughout the club, allowing these talents to come in and kick on straight away.
MC: Away from home, MK Dons have only lost 3 of 16 matches, scoring 31 goals in the process - what makes your side so effective on the road?
LC: I think it comes down to a point made earlier, adaptability. So many times this season we have seen the Dons stay neutral for the first 15-20 minutes of away games and see how the opposition approaches the game and adapt accordingly.
As the question highlights, this strategy has been effective more times than not so I would expect the same this weekend.
MC: What style of play can we expect to see from Manning’s side and which eleven players do you think he will select?
LC: I am expecting a bit more of a direct approach from Dons on Saturday. Not lumping the ball 90% of the time but strategically utilising our more explosive talents like Kaine Kessler, Corbeanu and Twine to have high-impact bursts and opposed to complete domination.
Saturday is going to be an experience not many in the squad would have faced in the past, so it will be intriguing to see how this group reacts.
3-4-2-1. Cumming (GK), O’Hora, Darling, Lewington,Kaine, Kessler, McEachran, Coventry, Harvie, Parrott, Twine, Eisa.
MC: Sunderland beat MK Dons 2-1 earlier this season, what is your prediction for the score this time around?
LC: I have gone 1-1. Despite the situation around Sunderland currently, they are still a very good home side, the second-best in the league in fact.
Dons would take a point here I feel, it would hurt any hopes of automatic promotion chances but with this game potentially being a trial to a playoff-like atmosphere and game, Manning and Co may see this as a key test to which Dons have to get something from.