Town Out to Maintain 100 Per Cent Start at MK Dons
Friday, 2nd Oct 2020 14:13
Table-topping Town visit the MK Dons on Saturday looking to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season against a side managed by Russell Martin, one of boss Paul Lambert’s former players.
The Blues, who lead Hull City and Lincoln City on goal difference at the top of the table, go into the game having won all three of their previous League One matches 2-0.
Town last won their first four league games at the start of a season at the beginning of their 2017/18 Championship campaign, while four successive clean sheets at the start of the league season would equal a club record most recently achieved in 1977/78 when they won two and drew two in the First Division.
The Blues won four league games in a row without conceding at the beginning of a campaign for the only time in the 1974/75 Division One season.
Lambert knows opposition boss Martin well from his spells as a player at two of his previous clubs.
“I had him at Wycombe when he was a young kid there and I’ll always say that I thank Russell, as I do all the guys, that played under me for that success because they are the ones that actually did it,” he said.
“I had him at Norwich as well and he’s a terrific pro, a good guy, a great person to have around and did great for us.
“So I’ve got nothing but thanks to him for what he gave myself and the teams that he played in.
“He’s a young guy starting out his managerial career, he’s going to have ups and downs, I’ve probably got a little bit more experience and games under my belt as a manager and he’s just starting out. He’ll find ups and downs on and off the pitch which I’m pretty sure he’ll handle himself.
“But I don’t view it as me against Russell. It’ll be nice to see him, we have the odd text now and again.”
Did he see Martin as someone he thought would go on to be a manager during his playing days? “You’re never quite sure about how people want to do it. People say we want to get into it and all of a sudden you find after a few games they think ‘I want to get back out of it!’.
“But he’s wanted to try it and see how he gets on. He’s a bright guy, he’s not a silly guy, so as I said before it’ll be good to see him.”
Asked whether his former players who have moved into management occasionally get in touch, he said: “A lot of them do, they still call me and text me, which is nice, so I still have a good relationship with a lot of them.
“It’s nice, and it’s not just on football terms, they’ll phone up and ask how’s things going and all that which is really nice. So I’ve got a good relationship with a lot the guys that have played under me.”
Lambert says he’s not sure whether the two managers will be able to have the traditional post-match drink together given the limitations of the coronavirus crisis: “I don’t know how it works. I know after the games at Portman Road there’s nowhere really to go because you can’t really mix as such.
“I haven’t a clue with the virus whether to have a drink or not have a drink, eat, don’t eat, eat with somebody else. I don’t know what I’m doing.
“It’s a strange situation, but I’ll hopefully see him and have a quick five minutes or so with him.”
The Dons are third-bottom having having drawn one and lost two so far this season - they lost their only home league fixture 2-1 to Lincoln a fortnight ago - but Martin has said he believes their performances have deserved more.
“He’ll know himself that you have to win games,” Lambert added. “That’s the nature of the game, you have to try and win. It doesn’t matter how well you’re playing or how bad you’re playing, if you can get results, then that’s the main thing.
“If you can do it with a bit of style, great. If you can’t and you get the odd one where you have to battle, great. But you have to win.
“And the more he’s in it, the more he’ll realise that’s the case. But if he’s happy with his team and how they play then it’s his opinion and that’s the only opinion that matters. As I said before, I’ve got nothing but good things to say as a person and as a guy.”
He added: “It’s really early. OK, they’ve lost a couple of games and drawn one, but it’s really early to judge. I don’t think you can really judge anything until about 10 or 12 games into it.
“Everybody’s still finding their feet and it’s a strange situation with the long lay-off, no fans as well. So there’s a long, long way to go, I wouldn’t put any significance into anything with three games gone.”
Saturday’s game is the Blues’ last league match for a fortnight with next Saturday’s home fixture with Charlton off due to international calls.
That means there’s a gap of 11 days following Tuesday’s EFL Trophy tie with Gillingham before Accrington Stanley visit Portman Road.
Does Lambert feel that time off will be needed to rejuvenate his squad after such a hectic start to the season?
“I don’t think you’ll need to do that because in the month of October you’ve got so many games, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, coming up,” he said.
“The guys are in a really good place at the minute. They’ve had a long, long time off due to the virus. That’s not a problem. We’ve a really good atmosphere in the place at the minute and the guys are playing really, really well, so we’re in a really good situation at this moment.”
Lambert will, barring undisclosed injuries, almost certainly stick with the side which beat Rochdale last weekend, the latest of their three 2-0 wins.
Tomas Holy will continue in goal behind a back four of - from the right - skipper Luke Chambers, Toto Nsiala, James Wilson and Stephen Ward.
In midfield Andre Dozzell will be joined by Jon Nolan and Teddy Bishop, while Oli Hawkins will be the central striker with Gwion Edwards to his right and Freddie Sears to his left.
Kayden Jackson is likely to be on the bench for the first time this season having recovered from his groin injury and with James Norwood out for at least six weeks with a torn hamstring.
Luke Woolfenden and Alan Judge may also be among the substitutes having got over groin and hamstring injuries respectively. Flynn Downes again also seems likely to be on the bench.
Defender George Williams is set to return to the MK Dons squad after a calf injury but on-loan Norwich midfielder Louis Thompson isn’t yet ready for a return after an ankle niggle and Kieran Agard remains sidelined with a knee problem.
Dons manager Martin, who took charge in November 2019, says he is looking forward to locking horns with his old boss.
“I worked with the manager for six years as a player, so that adds a little bit,” he told the Dons’ official website. “
“They’ve started the season really well. The fact that I played for a club that Ipswich don’t think very fondly of for a long time and that I had a really good record against, probably adds a little bit.
“For me it’s a game that, obviously I have a huge amount of respect for their manager and what he did for me and my career, the faith he showed in me as a player a long time ago.
“So I look forward to seeing him but it’s a game that I want to win, a game that we want to win, a game we’ve worked extremely hard on this week and it’s a game that the players should look forward to.”
Despite their disappointing start, Martin says his team tended to perform well against the division’s higher flyers in 2019/20.
“Our record, especially at home last season, against the top teams in the league - Oxford, Portsmouth, Rotherham and Coventry away from home - we had a really good record against those top teams,” he added.
“It feels like Ipswich will be up there where they are now, or there or thereabouts, because they have a really strong squad and they’ve really changed from what they were doing last season - and it seems to be really working for them and really effective.
“So it’s a really good challenge for us, one I want the players to embrace, one I’m looking forward to and excited for.”
The Blues and the Dons have only ever met on four occasions, three times in the league - all won by Town - and once in the Carling Cup in 2007 when the game ended 3-3 before the Buckinghamshire side won a penalty shoot-out 5-3.
At Stadium MK last season, Jon Nolan’s first goal of the campaign saw Town to a 1-0 victory, the same scoreline as their only other league visit, in the Championship in 2015.
The midfielder turned home an Emyr Huws cross in the 12th minute to secure the Blues, who remained second in the table, their third win on the road of the season.
The Portman Road fixture was among those due to be played after 2019/20 was curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Veteran MK Dons central defender Richard Keogh was interesting the Blues in the summer having previously been an academy schoolboy and ballboy at Town as a youngster.
Saturday’s referee is David Rock from Hertfordshire, who has shown seven yellow cards and no red in three games so far this season.
Rock’s only previous Town match was as a replacement referee in the 3-0 defeat at Watford in March 2011.
Having been the fourth official, Rock took over from fellow Hertfordshire whistler Grant Hegley in the 10th minute after he had suffered a hamstring injury, showing yellow cards to two Hornets and no Blues.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Chambers (c), Donacien, Ward, Kenlock, Nsiala, Wilson, McGuinness, Woolfenden, Dozzell, Bishop, Downes, Huws, Nolan, Judge, Lankester, Edwards, Sears, Hawkins, Jackson.
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