The inside track on MK Dons' Will Grigg interest, Russell Martin's departure and the players Sunderland will need to watch
Sunderland are preparing to face MK Dons this weekend – but what can the Black Cats expect at Stadium MK?
The Dons finished 13th in League One last season and have appointed a new head coach in Liam Manning on the eve of the match – with the 35-year-old replacing Russell Martin who left for Swansea.
After the team drew 3-3 at Bolton last weekend, we caught up with Toby Lock, sports editor for the MK Citizen, to get the inside track on Sunderland’s next opponents.
How have MK Dons fared in pre-season and how are they shaping up?
TL: “Three weeks ago, I'd have said pre-season was fairly smooth going! Since then, the manager has gone, thrown the club up in the air and they've tried to land on their feet the best they can. Dean Lewington did a great job at Bolton and came within 20 seconds of a win, but it wasn't to be. But a new head coach has been appointed, and we'll see what he chooses to do for the game tomorrow.”
How much has Russell Martin's departure hindered the side?
TL: “Massively. The rumours were clearly flying around in the dressing room before the Carabao Cup game with Bournemouth and their second-half capitulation came as a result of that, in my opinion. But after he left, the sense of disappointment, anger and frustration about how he left was used to pull the squad together, and Saturday's game at Bolton was as unified as I've seen a Dons team in a long time.”
Which players will Sunderland need to keep an eye on?
TL: “Scott Twine and Troy Parrott look to be great additions to the side. Both like to be on the ball and make things happen. Twine has taken to the team like a duck to water in pre-season, while Parrott has only been involved in one squad since signing from Spurs, but you can see his qualities already.”
What system are MK Dons likely to play?
TL: “The new head coach has only been in the job a few hours, so I'm not sure yet! But I expect for the first game it will be much the same as what we've seen from Dons over the last season. A patient passing side, lots of possession and a few hairy moments along the way!”
Will Grigg spent the second half of last season on loan at MK Dons, could they try to re-sign him?
TL: “I doubt they'll match what Sunderland want for him - a large part in him still being at the Stadium of Light to be honest. And that has been reflected in Dons going out and signing three other strikers - Mo Eisa, Troy Parrott and Max Watters - instead of Grigg. But he's a hero to the Dons fans, and they would have loved to get him on a permanent basis.”
Where do you expect MK Dons to finish this season?
TL: “It's impossible to tell after one game, especially with a new man now in charge. If I'm feeling ambitious, I'd say play-offs; if I'm hedging my bets, I'd say a top-half finish would be great, given the level of spenders and hitters in the division this year.”