Pompey dive back into League One action this weekend as they make the trip to Stadium MK to face MK Dons. The international break may well have come as a welcome break for Danny Cowley’s men after a maiden League defeat to Wigan at the DW Stadium.
After a full-throttle start to the season from the Blues, a week off to recuperate was needed. Cowley’s pressing style certainly has its rewards, however, injuries to Marcus Harness, Clarke Robertson, and Shaun Williams have already displayed that his methods could take their toll over the season. So, a week off is far from the worst outcome.
This weekend’s MK test isn’t an acid test as such, however, if the Blues can bounce back comprehensively against a much-fancied team, it will arrest fears of the good early season form being a mere early-season flourish.
MK have had a mixed start to the season, albeit with some extremely tough fixtures. Sunderland, Ipswich, Charlton, and early season front runners Burton have all crossed swords with Liam Manning’s men. A win on Saturday would send MK above Pompey and turn their mixed start to the season into an extremely good start.
It is fair to say that the appointment of Manning as Russel Martin’s replacement was simply to continue the excellent blueprint the now Swansea manager had implemented at the club.
Martin’s style certainly had its critics initially, however, the belief and persistence from the club have certainly reaped rewards and since turned MK into one of the favorites to flirt with promotion this season.
Statistically, it’s clear to see that the Buckinghamshire side have kept the same principles that saw them thrive towards the end of last season. They have scored 9 goals in League One this season, 5 more than the Blues.
Significantly 7 of these goals have come from open play. MK don’t rely on set pieces and create plenty of chances through their progressive style of play that drags opponents out of position before exploiting the gaps with their clever ball-playing midfielders and forward-thinking players.
The likes of Scott Twine, Josh McEachran, and Matt O’Riley are all excellent options to feed the likes of Mo Eisa and Troy Parrot, and Max Watters up-front.
The main characteristics of Martin’s Dons were keeping the ball extremely well, playing out from the back at every opportunity, and creating plenty of chances. It is fair to say that has continued into this season. Liam Manning’s side rank fourth for short passes completed and first for the number of shots from inside the box.
However, a common theme of MK this season has been a failure to capitalise on their dominance in possession and the number of chances they create; their most recent fixture against Cheltenham being a prime example of this.
Manning’s side created a host of clear-cut chances and mustered 14 attempts on goal, however, they were only able to salvage a point due to a late Hiram Boateng strike.
It is fair to say that Pompey will need Gavin Bazunu to continue his superb international form on Saturday if they’re to gain anything at Stadium MK.
Another avenue to Pompey success at Stadium MK will be their ability to press the home side in their attempts to play out from the back. Pompey’s press has been well-documented this season and against a side that looks to play out at every opportunity, winning the ball high could be the catalyst for a Blues win.
The likes of Ryan Tunnicliffe, Ronan Curtis, Ellis Harrison, and new boy Marlon Romeo all possess the physical and dynamic edge over MK’s silky ball-playing midfielders.
If the Blues can press the home side into giving the ball away in their half, then Cowley’s men have an excellent opportunity to gain all three points.
Ultimately, this game should be decided by which team executes their style of play more effectively. If the home side can play round the Pompey press, a dominant home performance with plenty of chances created wouldn’t be a surprise.
However, if Pompey can prevent MK from playing their free-flowing football and capitalise with an early goal an away win for the Blues would not be out of the realms of possibility.
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