No dour, end of the season, sleepy fixture this next one. For one reason or another, the atmosphere at the Banks’s should be electric tomorrow.
Firstly, the protests, despite the earnest wishes of the club, just aren’t going away. The last game of the season was always going to be the true measure of the discontent amongst the fanbase, as it has been targeted all along by the protesters as the game the wanted to make the biggest impact. That alone should make things a lot louder!
Secondly, there is the initiative by the Trust to try and get fans to bring back some of the missing hundreds, in the “Back to the Saddlers” campaign. Quite how much notice is going to be taken, overshadowed as it is by the protesters, is another matter, but let’s hope that enough turn up to show that gates can be improved if the product and the marketing are right.
Lastly, and by no means least, we are playing the hated Franchise FC. Nothing has given me greater pleasure this season than watching Paul Ince (to depart at the end of the season) make a right pig’s ear of his return to Milton Keynes, as they have faded away, out of the play off picture, to the point where we will overtake them if we win tomorrow. (Since going back, his record is won 23, lost 23, drawn 9 – 1.41 points per game, as against won 33, lost 10, drawn 12 – 2.01 points per game – the first time around). For every fan who hates the way that money has come to totally dominate the game, to the extent where the feelings of the customers amount to nothing any more, the thought of finishing above them ranks second only to the hope that, one day, they’ll finish below AFC Wimbledon.
Out of the game for the Saddlers are Dwayne Mattis, who has failed to recover from his Achilles injury and whose place would have been in danger anyway, given the improved performances from the midfield lately, plus, of course, the released Sam Parkin and Rhys Weston.
I, for one, would love to see Clayton Ince given a start in his last game before retirement, so fans can give him a proper send off.
As for the Franchise, they are in real problems, as they were missing no fewer than 11 first team players last week. Even 40 year old coach Alex Rae was forced to turn out, only to get sent off and banned for this game. One or two of them (notably leading scorer Jermaine Easter) may be fit for the game, but Caretaker Manager Karl Robinson says that he will not risk anyone unnecessarily.
Goalkeeper Willy Gueret (thumb) and Sam Baldock (hamstring) were injured against Leeds a fortnight ago while Mat Doumbe and Peter Leven are suspended. Doumbe serves the second of a four-game ban, Leven is out for the second of a three-match suspension but David McCracken is back from a ban of his own. Aaron Wilbraham (calf), Danny Woodards (hamstring), Mark Carrington (back) and Stephen Gleeson (knee) are also out.
We have, of course, been finishing strongly at home, with those four wins on the bounce. The Franchise, on the other hand, haven’t won since beating Swindon at the beginning of April. Overall, they have one more point from their away trips this season than we have, with exactly the same number of defeats (11). With their current form and problems, I’d expect a home win.