Wycombe Wanderers boss Gareth Ainsworth has encouraged his side to remain grounded after the Chairboys saw off MK Dons on Thursday evening to take a two-goal advantage into the second leg of their Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi-Final.
The Buckinghamshire outfit, who clinched the last remaining Play-Off spot, struck either side of the break to beat the Dons 2-0 at Adams Park
And Ainsworth has called for calm heads going in to the second leg at Stadium MK on Sunday evening.
“We are totally aware that this is only half-time,” Ainsworth said. “I would be naïve to think that anything is done yet. With a 2-0 lead at half-time, we’re in a good position.
“I’m going to play it as that as well. I’ve told the boys, ‘this is going to be the longest half-time break you’ve had for a while’. I’ll be giving them a team talk just before the game on Sunday. It’s all about recovery now and getting them boys back in shape.”
It was defender Ryan Tafazolli and leading marksman Sam Vokes who made the score-sheet, and Ainsworth highlighted their individual contributions to the team, as striker Vokes notched goal number 17 of the season.
“When Ryan Tafazolli scored that header, I jumped higher than him on the touchline,” Ainsworth laughed. “I can’t help but get involved.”
The 48-year-old added: “When you’ve got a player like Sam Vokes making that ball stick and flicking things on up front, you’ve got to use him to his strengths. That second goal just epitomised what he’s brought to this team from signing from Stoke.
“Eight years ago, he was playing in the Euros Quarter-Finals. To have him here, the humility on the guy is ridiculous – he’s taken over the mantle from [Adebayo] Akinfenwa who came on at the end there. It’s a real great Club to be at.
“The substitutions that I made showed that I wanted to go for it. Lewis Wing and David Wheeler were two attackers coming on to try and get some more goals. Jason McCarthy hit the bar, Jordan Obita had a chance and Garath McCleary went through. We definitely opened them up.”
The Chairboys boss was full of praise for the Wanderers faithful, who packed out Adams Park to create an atmosphere to remember.
“I’ve never seen Wycombe bouncing like it was tonight,” he noted. “I’m so proud of that. That is progress from where we were eight or nine years ago.
“We deserve the result. MK are going to come at us on Sunday, without a doubt. We know what that’s like, we’re always in that position. It’s going to be a very cagey game, I’m sure, and an interesting one.”
MK Dons looking to seize home leg "opportunity"
MK Dons head coach Liam Manning, on the other hand, emphasised the “opportunity” that the weekend presents for his side to get back into the tie.
The 36-year-old insisted it will be the visitors to Stadium MK who will be feeling the heat when the two teams lock horns once again with a place in a Wembley Final at stake in two days’ time.
“I think back to Boxing Day where we had 45 minutes to turn around a 2-0 deficit,” he explained. “The fact we’ve got 90 minutes is a terrific opportunity to go again and try and put it right.
“It’s really important we don’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. It flips the pressure on Wycombe a bit. They’re coming to our place on our pitch, and they’ve got a lead to hold on to. To a certain extent, we’ve got nothing to lose going into the second game.”
Breaking down the Dons’ performance, the Norwich-born coach maintained he was pleased with his side’s first half-hour but admitted they were outmuscled by a Wycombe side set up to counteract their style of play.
“Although you’re on top, Wycombe always carry that physical threat; you can see that from the first goal that they scored,” he stated. “They remain so dangerous. That’s what the players spoke around after. We have to work hard and be brave to dominate the game with how we want to play.
“I won’t make any excuses. You have to remember their age and experience, and that plays a part of it. It can also bring some positives in that they can bounce back, and they are resilient – they haven’t been tarnished by too many moments like that.”
MK Dons will be without Josh McEachran for the second leg, after the midfielder was issued his marching orders for a second bookable offence in the second period.
“It’s a blow,” Manning added. “Josh has been terrific for us. There was no malice in it, it was just slightly mistimed. It’s part of the game.”
But the 36-year-old is confident the Dons' fanbase can more than match the crowd at Adams Park on Sunday.
“We need the fans to get behind us and generate an atmosphere to give the lads a boost and give them that drive. That’s the challenge: our pitch, our noise, our atmosphere, our fans.”