In Focus: MK Dons and Wycombe full of confidence ahead of tasty play-off clash
Wycombe’s meeting with MK Dons kicks off the EFL play-offs on Thursday night and the Buckinghamshire derby is shaping up to be a cracker.
Liam Manning’s Dons were unable to break into the League One automatic spots on the final day but have been on a relentless run of form in 2022.
The Chairboys, meanwhile, enter the end-of-season lottery on the back of a similarly impressive streak and love nothing more than upsetting the odds.
Ahead of the first leg at Adams Park, we preview a tasty play-off semi-final encounter.
The year of the Don
It was not an easy first couple of months of the campaign for MK after Russell Martin left on the eve of the season for Swansea, leaving Manning to be subsequently appointed.
But a phenomenal run of form between January and early April saw them win 13 of 17 games and fire themselves into automatic promotion contention.
Unfortunately for them, an inevitable blip came in the form of a three-game winless run, allowing Wigan and Rotherham to remain in the top two ahead of last Saturday’s finale.
And despite their 5-0 rout of Plymouth at Home Park, victories for both the Latics and the Millers saw Manning's men miss out.
'Little old Wycombe'
Wycombe kept their side of the bargain on the final day by winning at Burton and — thanks to Argyle’s heavy defeat — leapfrogged the Devon side into sixth place.
A 12-game unbeaten run since the beginning of March has seen them take 28 points and allowed them to head into the play-offs full of confidence.
Vastly experienced boss Gareth Ainsworth knows how important that is too. He said: "In the last 12 games, no-one can touch us in this league for form.
"With all the big, big teams that are in this league, little Wycombe are the form team going into the play-offs."
Ainsworth has done a remarkable job at Adams Park over the past decade — and that is why they will head into the play-offs believing they can upset the odds once again.
After an unexpected promotion in 2019-20 was nearly followed by a great escape in the Championship last term, the Chairboys have once again out-performed clubs like Portsmouth, Bolton, Charlton and others to book a play-off spot.
They lost both league meetings to the Dons in the regular season but, having been here and done it before, Ainsworth is buzzing for a Bucks derby.
"We've got a chance going into these play-offs," he said. "There are four teams with a 25% chance. There are no favourites in this. This is not the league, this is a totally different competition.
"It has been a great season for MK Dons as well, they've had a great season. I can't wait for the game on Thursday, it's going to be awesome.
"We never stopped believing. It's a really big task at hand now, the Buckinghamshire play-offs — I can't wait."
Jewel in the crown
Back in January, MK lost keeper Andy Fisher to Swansea and Matt O’Riley to Celtic, while loanees Peter Kioso and Max Watters returned to parent clubs Luton and Cardiff unexpectedly.
They did not let that knock them off course though — and a lot of that is down to the performances of Scott Twine.
League One’s Player of the Season has been simply phenomenal from attacking midfield, scoring 20 goals, including plenty from outside the box, while also setting up a further 13.
He netted four in the win at Plymouth and if the Dons are to return to the Championship for just the second time in their short history, Twine will undoubtedly have a huge say.
After being named MK’s supporters’ player of the season, he said: "It has been a good season, better than I ever imagined
"I spoke to my dad last night and he said this last week has been unbelievable. It couldn't have gone any better. I'm so grateful."
While MK are not as possession-based as they were under Martin, they still average more than 58% of the ball per game.
Wycombe, on the other hand, have long riled opposition fans with their direct football and expertise in game management and average just 44% in comparison.
No team has had more minutes played by players 23 or under than Manning's side (31,900), while no team has had less than Wycombe (2141).
There is more than one way to win football games and these two sides illustrate that more than most.
When adding up the contrasting styles, the proximity of the clubs to each other, little love lost between the two sets of fans and the prospect of upsetting either Sheffield Wednesday or Sunderland in the final, this has all the hallmarks of another play-off classic.