Around the 60 minute mark yesterday, with the scores poised delicately at 1-1, we launched an attack which was seemingly deflected out for a corner. The ball looped up high, but instead of going into the stand as expected, it wound up back on the penalty spot.
Not long after that, one of the guys behind me shouted get it forward, and Griffiths did just that, he punted it high, but before the ball had cleared 40-yards, it was blowing back towards our keeper. Oddly, in all of the expert analysis across social media, I’ve not seen the conditions mentioned once. Not a single, solitary time. It seemed to me that in the first half Burton opted to play with the wind behind them, and at half time the wind changed direction. Look, that’s not why we lost, but it was a contributing factor in what was an entertaining, if not a disappointing game of football.
Fan reaction always amuses me as well as making me a little angry. There really is the overriding feeling that ‘win = good, loss = bad’, without any real context. If we’d won yesterday, which was just as likely as a defeat until ten minutes from the end, the Appleton Out brigade would have stayed in their box, and the smug ‘I said stick with him’ gang would be all over your feed. One stupid moment defined who would be chirping up and who would be watching Netflix and staying silent. Personally, I really enjoyed my evening of After Life, thank you very much.
You can say what you want about me, club stooge, rose-tinted glasses, whatever; yesterday wasn’t as bad as it seems by the reaction. Burton Albion are a decent team, better than the likes of Accrington, Morecambe and Doncaster, that’s for sure. They’ve got good players in Powell, strong players in former Imps target Sam Hughes, and they had a game plan which they executed. We did too, by the way, and there was very little in the teams. Very little. My honest opinion, to save you ploughing through all 2000-odd words of this article, is that a couple of our players didn’t turn up, and that cost us. Genuinely, it’s that simple.
What I would also say is this: I said before the game Burton tended to beat the teams that they’re ‘better’ than, lose the games they’re expected to and sprinkle a couple of draws in there. Honestly, I haven’t changed that opinion. They’re just a bee’s ballbag ahead of us, in terms of physicality and application. They’re a team that has been playing together for more than three weeks, and it showed. Ours, whilst looking good on paper, are still feeling each other out, and that also showed.
I suppose the big news was Adam Jackson coming back into the side, and Max Melbourne missing out completely. Of course, that triggered plenty of people, with an inquiry taking place as to why Max didn’t keep his place. I like Max as a personality, he’s shown the right application and attitude and he’ll have a good career elsewhere, but there’s never been any ambiguity; he’s not got a future here and one late goal against Plymouth won’t change that. Adam Jackson is a better centre half, we’ve been clamouring for him to come back and yet when he does, it’s a reason to have a pop at the manager? I don’t get that. This was the first time in months the team has come out and there was genuine excitement as to who might be playing, not an apprehension of who wouldn’t. As a fan of Max Sanders, a player we do expect to see develop, I was a bit miffed he didn’t get a run out, but the boss likes Lewis Fiorini. Me? I’m 50/50. Some days he plays very well, he’s been on a good run, but others he looks a little lightweight.
I thought the game started at a frenetic pace with mistakes at both ends. When the errors are unforced and from both teams, I think you have to credit the weather a bit. It didn’t feel blustery in the Coop Stand, but when you glanced at the corner flags you could see how difficult the conditions were. It’s the same for both sides, I know that, and I think it’s why there seemed to be a glut of half chances, misplaced passes and errors in those mad first fifteen minutes or so. There were chances at both ends, and it could easily have been 1-1 before the fifteen-minute mark. We didn’t get into our rhythm at all, with a bobbly pitch causing the odd problem too. On the radio, they said the pitch was dry, hence the bobbles, but it was noticeable on more than one occasion, that the run of the ball at our player’s feet was not quite as true as we’d have liked.
That said, credit Burton. I’m not here saying the weather cost us the game, or a bobbly pitch or a referee who just discovered his whistle made a noise and wanted everyone to hear it. Those elements made it a frustrating afternoon, but that wasn’t why we lost. However, contrary to what seems like popular belief, we didn’t lose because we were rubbish either. At the end of this page, there’s a graphic that shows the attacking momentum for the game; both sides had spells, the difference was in their spells, Burton scored two. We scored one.
Josh Griffiths did make two wordly saves, the first of which came in the first period. That stop, from Conor Shaughnessy, kept us level at the break, but we had our chances as well. The difference was our stops came from the keeper, whilst the Burton stops came from blocks, tackles and last-ditch defending. Don’t let the fact we lost cloud your judgement; we weren’t outplayed in the first half, although 0-0 was perhaps a fair reflection of the scoreline.
I do have to mention Charles Breakspear, the referee for the afternoon. He didn’t get any major calls wrong, but he wasn’t conducive to a free-flowing game. The things that annoyed me were his insistence on pulling back quick free kicks not taken from the right place; we’re talking five yards or so. He pulled us back two or three times when we looked to be on a swift attack, which much of our game is about. However, sometimes the retaken free-kick was from the same place he deemed wrong moments before. Sadly, he didn’t show the same attention to detail when it came to throw-ins, with Burton often stealing fifteen yards or more down the line. It’s all part and parcel of the game, I’ve no issue with it, but be consistent at least. I did have to laugh when got knocked over by the ball, he must be made of cardboard to go down so easily;’ if it had been a player, he’d have been booked for diving! On a serious note, he did often seem on top of the players, impeding play, and I just felt he had a ropey game without any major decisions to make. I fear had he had a big call, a penalty shout or something, then he could have been a liability.