We focus on this weekend's opposition...
After a one week break, due to the demise of Bury, Bristol Rovers entertain MK Dons at the Mem without the presence of the ‘on fire’ Jonson Clarke Harris. JCH has been hitting both the net and the headlines in recent weeks with a string of impressive performances. Graham Coughlan will certainly have his work cut out coming up with a formation to overcome the loss of Rovers’ talisman.
The Dons meanwhile are struggling after their promotion last season. They are currently in 17th place having lost their last 4 games. Manager Paul Tisdale led the Dons to a 3rd place finish and automatic promotion in his first season in charge at Stadium MK bit things have not been as smooth this time with 4 victories and 7 defeats from their opening 11 fixtures. Their last victory was a stunning 3-0 away win at Blackpool on 14 September.
Last weekend the Dons were never really in the game when they entertained Burton Albion and the first goal, in the 32nd minute, came as the result of a sweeping move, Nathan Broadhead lifting a long ball from the centre circle into the path of Oliver Sarkic on the right and his instant, volleyed low cross found Liam Boyce, who threw himself at the ball to get enough momentum in the header, keeper Lee Nicholls getting a hand to it but not being able to keep it out.
The second goal came after 54 minutes when Scott Fraser looking up on the left, picked out Sarkic with a lovely pass. The former Leeds United forward twisted and turned to make a yard of space for himself and curled a delightful shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Burton defenders stood firm as the Dons attempted a fightback but the Brewers still looked dangerous on the break and Boyce had seen two good chances to add to his tally saved before he slid in a shot from 10 yards in stoppage time to complete a 3-0 away win.
Boss Tisdale bemoaned the bad fortune of his team after the game, “We’re not having circumstances go our way. We’re certainly not having it as we expected or hoped, but we have to deal with it. We’ve had some really good performances really but got nothing from it and it’s amazing how it can sow a seed of disappointment. We have to march through that and show personality, togetherness and all those things intangible that we know make up a team.”
“We won’t be the first or last team this year to have a dodgy run. Life is not being made easy by circumstances, but the players are good enough and we have to find a way to be good enough as a team. I’m asking the players to take a deep breath and relax, and I have to tell myself to take a deep breath as well. Sometimes with these things, it doesn’t rain but pours and that’s how it feels at the moment. We have some good players but plenty missing, which doesn’t help with changes and options.”
“But we have enough good players that we have to get to play to their strengths and believe in themselves. They look like they’re trying too hard and are losing confidence, and it’s not the right time for me to be too pushy or critical.”
“I’ve done this a long time and I know in every week, you have got 101 different topics you could discuss, talk about or coach, but can’t do all and pick one or two. The job I have is picking the one or two topics we think are the most important to get us wins and clean sheets, and go from there. Maybe it’s a time to go back to basics or step away from players and give them space.”
All the games between Rovers and MK Dons have been played since 2006 and the Dons certainly have the advantage with six victories to Rovers three, with three games drawn.
One notable feature of games between the clubs is how close they are. There has only been one 0-0 draw and the biggest winning margin has been 2-0. The only time that one team scored 3 goals in this fixture, they both did, in a remarkable 3-3 draw at Stadium MK on 18 October 2016 when Matty Taylor completed a very late hat-trick to stun the home team.
The last time the teams crossed paths at the Mem was on 28 October 2017. Rovers ended a three-game losing run, having seen a Rory Gaffney effort cleared off the line in both halves, they were relieved to see Tom Nichols notch a rare goal.
On 65 minutes, Nichols pounced on Ed Upson's mistake and calmly slotted home. Seven minutes later Gaffney added a powerful second to wrap up the points.
After the Burton defeat defender, Baily Cargill reflected on what his team need to do ahead of this weekend’s fixture, “We’ve got time to go back to the drawing board on Monday and find out what we’re doing wrong and make sure we put that right. We’ll work a lot on defensive issues this week and we’ve got to be positive, there’s no point being down in the dumps and being sad about losing games. We need to get our chests out and make sure we’re ready for the fight against Bristol Rovers.”
“We’re in a bit of a sticky situation at the minute, I think maybe if we were confident and doing well, the goals would’ve gone in and the chances we had today we might have taken on another day. We need to get back to basics, get our confidence back and get back on the horse. We’re a good side, we’ve got some good players in our dressing room, we need to stop thinking about the past and just focus on the next game."
It's not just Rovers who will be without a star striker on Saturday Paul Tisdale has confirmed that 20-year-old Sam Nombe is on the injured list after he was left out of the squad for the defeat to Burton Albion. He joins fellow frontmen Rhys Healey and Joe Mason in the treatment room.
Tisdale noted “That’s going to be long term,” regarding Nombe’s injury, “We are looking into the New Year with him. We’ll be looking at a number of other players coming back before he’s fit. It’s a real shame for us but also for him because he was doing so well. Sam came in and took his chance so it’s an awful shame that he’s now in that injury queue. It’s an opportunity for the next person now.”