You might have noticed a bit of a fuss in North Wales last Summer, as Wrexham finally ended our exile and returned to the EFL. Our opening fixture was meant to be a triumphant homecoming....and then MK Dons came along. The ultimate party-poopers, they triumphed in a dumb-founding 5-3 win, and now they look to complete the double in a mouth-watering match-up.
THE WREXHAM ANGLE
A week is, indeed, a long time in football. Seven days ago, Wrexham were licking our wounds after a fourth consecutive defeat, but two games and six points later we find ourselves three points behind long-term league leaders Stockport County with a game in hand.
Last Tuesday's vital if hard-fought win at Sutton stopped the rot, and on Saturday the latest installment in rivalry with Notts County, our new best enemies, saw a return to that pleasingly familiar sight: a confident Wrexham, backed by vociferous support, playing with control and claiming a fine win.
The victory was not without its challenges: both Ryan Barnett and James Jones, who had each been outstanding, broke down and will be doubts for MK Dons. George Evans also didn't recover from the injury whih forced him off at Sutton in time to line up on Saturday. However, with defensive injuries beginning to clear up, Phil Parkinson has deep reserves to call upon, and the impressive cameos off the bench in the last week by Luke Young, Ollie Palmer, Jack Marriott and Jacob Mendy showed that there are plenty of players raring to go if given the chance.
THE OPPOSING VIEW
The Dons have been operating on a "one for you, one for me" basis in 2024, alternating wins with losses through their last nine league matches. If they maintain that pattern, Wrexham will be more than happy, as MK Dons come into this match off the back of a win!
Having ended 2023 with a nine-game unbeaten run which thrust them back into the heart of the promotion battle after an Autumn slump cost manager Graham Alexander his job, the Dons have been frustrated by erratic form which had seen opportunities to strike for the top three squandered.
"We want a string of good results together," Assistant Head Coach Ian Watson told the Milton Keynes Citizen. "You can never predict it in football, results are a bit up and down at the moment so we're looking to smooth them out. We're looking to improve as a club, the players and the staff.
At this point of the season, you're starting to look at how many games you've got left, every game becomes a bit of a cup final and results can fluctuate.
"You're naïve if you think you're not going to have a bad spell or a bad game, all teams have it. This run seems to be a bit extreme because of how results have been going. The league is full of good players and teams, and they're all desperate to do well."
Injuries have played a part in The Dons' inconsistent form, and strikers Max Dean and Ellis Harrison, plus goalie Filip Marschall, all missed last Saturday's game at Swindon.
"It could have been a better January with the injuries," Watson explained. "It's up to us as coaches to get everyone to the level they need to be, so responsibility lies with us and we want them to go out and express themselves.
"When everyone is fit and healthy, you're always wary because in football, you get spells where you pick up a couple of injuries.
"The timing has been tough, and the people it has happened to all seem to be in the same position. Max was flying for us and was pivotal to what we were doing, but picked up that injury. We were keen to get Ellis in because he was chomping at the bit, and then he picked up a little injury.
“He just partakes in a role in their team, it was different when he was here, he was the main man, he had freedom to play and do his own thing.
“But there it’s more strategic and it’s very well coached, proper possession-based, dominate the ball, make the pitch big when they’ve got it, close the space when they haven’t.
“I’ve been really impressed from what I’ve seen in them, but Kemp is a great fantastic player for this level but he’s just one in a club there.
“I think they’ve got a lot of players that are just as good as him, that’s the problem. They’ve got some fantastic players and you think with the type of team they have; they should be top three maybe top four…they have one of the best teams in the league for sure.
“Considering Dawson (Devoy) has now turned into one of our best players and couldn’t even get into their squad just shows where they’re at.”Kemp has faced Wrexham twice already this season: he scored twice and managed an assist for Swindon in the extraordinary 5-5 draw at the Stok Cae Ras last August, but was powerless to prevent us from enjoying a 1-0 win at the County Ground on Boxing Day.
HEAD TO HEAD
With three defeats in three games at Milton Keynes, Phil Parkinson's side will be looking to achieve a first for Wrexham at Stadium MK. Our first two games away to The Dons didn't actually take place there: their temporary home at the National Hockey Stadium played host instead.
Our first game against them, in December 2004, was a sorry affair as we just weren't competitive. We were always chasing the game after Nicky Rizzo's seventh minute opener, and it was no surprise when Wade Small scored two more in the second-half to complete a 3-0 scoreline.
In April 2008 we suffered a highly controversial defeat there. Lee McEvilly scored the opening goal and Brian Carey's side looked comfortable until, seven minutes before the break, referee Keith Hill stunned everyone by giving a penalty against Lee Roche for handball and sending him off!
Keith Andrews scored from the spot but the Red Dragons looked to have earned a point until Clive Platt's winner in the 85th minute, though many felt the ball didn't cross the line!
To round off a disappointing day, by the end of the game we were down to nine men with Simon Spender in goal because Mike Ingham went off injured after we'd used all our subs!
Our first visit to Stadium MK came just a month after Wrexham beat MK Dons, who were top of the league, for the first time, thanks to a brilliant late goal by Neil Roberts. That victory was a rare bright point in the season we were relegated from the EFL, and the return match brought us back down to reality with a bump.
The Dons were 2-0 up after ten minutes, although Wrexham held on and pulled a goal back on the hour when Roberts scored a penalty which he won himself, but the promotion-chasing hosts scored two more to complete the 4-1 scoreline.
The list of Wrexham's top scorers against MK Dons is hardly lengthy! Neil Roberts has scored three of the seven goals we have managed to put past them, and the 3-5 defeat which started this season is the only time we have scored more than one goal past an MK Dons keeper in six attempts.
TODAY’S OTHER FIXTURES
Ben Tozer's 500th league appearance.
Luke Young's 500th career game.
Luke Young's 250th Wrexham match.
Jordan Tunnicliffe's 325th career match.
Aaron Hayden's 250th career game.
Sam Dalby's 150th league appearance.
Max Cleworth's 75th league match.