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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Big Match Preview

League One
Milton Keynes Dons vs. Leeds United
Saturday September 26, 15:00, stadium:mk

League One pacesetters Leeds United make the trip to Buckinghamshire this weekend to take on fellow high-flyers Milton Keynes Dons in a battle between two of the division's fancied sides.

It's also a clash between two young and up-and-coming managers. Leeds' Simon Grayson built his reputation taking Blackpool into the Championship, and then keeping them there before moving to Elland Road and his boyhood team.

Across Lancashire, Paul Ince failed during his brief tenure at Blackburn, but has had previous success at Macclesfield and in his first spell with the Dons before returning to the club during the summer.

And MK, losers in the play-offs under Roberto Di Matteo last season, have got off to a good start this time around. Five wins have been collected in their first eight games, including an unbeaten away record where they've only conceded one goal.

Their form has been a little more patchy on home soil though, including a defeat to Huddersfield and a win over Norwich in their last couple of games at stadium:mk.

Leading lights in the Dons side include striker Jermaine Easter, a summer signing from Plymouth, who has already bagged seven goals in all competitions.

Indeed, no other MK player has scored more than one, so much will depend on the former Argyle man finding the back of the net. The midfield creativity of Jason Puncheon and Jemal Johnson should also prove a threat to the visitors.

Their defensive solidity, emphasised by their 1-0 win at local rivals Wycombe last weekend, is built on erratic goalkeeper Willy Gueret, and defensive pair David McCracken and Darren Powell.

Leeds boss Grayson led Blackpool to promotion from League One in 2007

They're likely to be busy too. Leeds are averaging two goals a game in League One so far this season, with top scorer Jermaine Beckford on six, and Bradley Johnson chipping in with five from midfield.

Grayson's squad is enviable, with the likes of Jonny Howson, Robert Snodgrass, and Luciano Becchio to call upon, the West Yorkshire club look to be the strongest contender for promotion to the Championship come May.

Their success has arguably been built from the back though. Just four goals have been conceded, with keeper Shane Higgs, a summer signing from Cheltenham, in top form. Centre halves Leigh Bromby and Patrick Kisnorbo have also struck up a sound understanding.

The side's home form is almost impregnable, with last weekend's 4-1 win over Gillingham their 15th consecutive league victory at Elland Road. However, the unbeaten Whites have also already taken maximum spoils on the road at Colchester, Wycombe, and Walsall.

Grayson was also pleased with his side's performance in their League Cup defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday night, when Rafa Benitez's side were more than matched in the 1-0 loss.

With both sides liking to play football, Saturday's game has all the makings of a classic. The emphasis will be on Ince's side to take the game to Leeds, which may well leave them vulnerable to the away team on the break and another United victory.

Nobes's Prediction: Milton Keynes Dons 1 Leeds United 2

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