MK Dons vs Bradford City preview
@Stadium MK on Tuesday 16 September, 2014
By Jason McKeown
As Manchester United were suffering the League Cup humiliation of being thrashed by a League One team – live to the nation – for most outsiders, the amusement was tempered by who the League One team happened to be.
The MK Dons. Disliked up and down the land for their dubious origins, and lack of humility over how they earned their status. The club who stole the identity of Wimbledon, back in 2003, in hugely controversial circumstances – a situation which exposed the impotence of English football’s governing bodies. Over a decade on, the storm has passed but the lingering resentment remains. You really shouldn’t be here.
And in a breathtakingly arrogant statement that sums up the club’s lack of self-awareness, following the Manchester United demolition manager Karl Robinson declared, “We get a lot criticism nationally for obvious reasons. But I don’t think anybody can talk about our birth or our existence in the Football League from now on. We’ve well and truly put ourselves on the map.”
Well Karl, I beg to differ. The idea that – because MK Dons have achieved something on the pitch – their history can be forgotten is ludicrous. Frankly, MK Dons can achieve promotion from League One this season, promotion from the Championship the next, and win the Premier League the year after and people will still deride their birth and existence. For as long as AFC Wimbledon are a football club, they will haunt the MK Dons. It is somewhat cruel that the Dons’ Manchester United pay day was achieved after they defeated Wimbledon in the previous round.
Of course, the people-in-glass-houses rule does apply here. Bradford City were formed exactly 100 years before the Dons – but similarly earned a place in the Football League without ever having played a game. Back in 1903, the FA’s desire to establish football in West Yorkshire – when Rugby League was the dominant sport in the region – led to City’s immediate election into the second tier of English football. Just like the MK Dons, City had no heritage and did not deserve their place in the second tier on merit. Cynical commercialism in football existed long before the birth of the Premier League in 1992.
Which has meant the fledgling relationship between City and the Dons is a complex one. Whilst there is a general disapproval amongst Bantams fans over the way that football came to MK, and the shameful manner in which Wimbledon fans were treated, it is rarely vocalised in the way that other clubs’ support bases appear to. Since the Dons were formed 11 years ago, City have visited Milton Keynes on five occasions – and not once was there ever talk of boycotts or protests.
We even have the dubious distinction of being the first opposition team to lose in MK, following a wretched 2-1 second tier defeat at their temporary National Hockey Stadium home in November 2003. And then in April 2008, MK Dons celebrated their first – and only – promotion by clinching the League Two title at Valley Parade, and the City fans who stayed back that day to watch their own team’s end-of-season lap of appreciation took time out to applaud their opponents and supporters.
I remember it as a strange uncomfortable moment where you were glad the football world wasn’t watching us clapping the MK Dons. We’ve always been a sporting bunch at Valley Parade – witness the home applause that greeted Ajay Leitch-Smith’s brilliant goal that clinched Yeovil’s victory over City a week ago. It didn’t seem to be in our nature, back then, to have booed or derided the MK Dons’ moment of triumph.
And perhaps, unlike MK Dons, our greater self-awareness over our history means there is an element of looking in the mirror and as we judge them, preventing exterior dissent.
We are fortunate that, back in 1903, such a franchise movement would have barely raised an eyebrow. And as generation after generation has kept football so popular in this country, City’s origins are barely known. Perhaps this is all that MK Dons can hope to rely on also, in terms of shaking off their unpopularity: for sufficient time to pass.
In the more immediate term, City face the first of two Tuesday night visits to Stadium MK with league points and a place in League Cup’s fourth round at stake. With a Saturday trip to Colchester sandwiched in-between, the players are on a mini-Southern break and – probably – facing a great deal of time on the motorway.
There are inevitable conversations around which MK Dons game is the more important to City, but in reality it shouldn’t be a choice – they both matter.
Three points this Tuesday will be the perfect Bantams’ response to back-to-back home defeats – and will also lay down a marker for the cup match seven days later. Equally, a defeat in the league will make the cup tussle all the more daunting. After defeating the Dons home and away in the league last season, City will be desperate to maintain their dominance in this fixture.
The visitors’ team news centres around defence, where they must do without Alan Sheehan for three games. Christopher Routis is primed for a league debut in the Irishman’s absence, and Routis will be familiar with his back four team mates after they all figured in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Oldham alongside him, two weeks ago. Had Sheehan remained available, Routis may have been brought in anyway with Meredith dropped or pushed into midfield.
Mark Yeates is also a big injury doubt after being forced off during the Swindon defeat, meaning it is likely Billy Clarke will revert back to the tip of the diamond and Aaron Mclean recalled up front. The temptation to make any further changes may be tempered by the growing injury list that limits alternative choices. Filipe Morais may have a chance of starting, after impressing from the bench on Saturday.