11 Christmas Turkeys: Burton Albion 3-0 Imps

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Over the last couple of days, three ghosts have visited the Stacey West. 

On Christmas Eve, it was the ghost of Christmas past with our article about great Boxing Day wins. On the podcast, it was the ghost of Christmas future, where Chris and I discussed how this really was going to be a winnable game. Then, as Dad walked out of the door on Christmas Day, the last thing he said was, ‘we should be going to Burton mate, we’re going to win there’ – the ghost of Christmas present, standing on my doorstep. Three declarations of victory. All bloody liars.

Rewind further to Boxing Day 2003. Paul Mayo’s penalty gives the Imps a 1-0 win, the second away win in a row on Boxing Day. We were on a roll, both in the division and in terms of the festive season. I’d sing ‘jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to win away on Boxing Day’. Remember that song? I doubt it because unless you’re 19 or over, you won’t ever have been able to sing it. Also, on the second recital, I might have made it up.

I’m not going to waste much of my time, or Christmas good mood, on yesterday’s game, just like I didn’t waste it on the usual suspects looking for a rise out of me on social media. There’s no point at all; it was a shambles of a performance. It’s hard to pick a single player out who had a good game, and within ten minutes of the kick-off, I’d wished I’d kept my £10 iFollow fee and spent it on golden beans because there would have been more chance of getting something productive from the purchase. I don’t like to be scathing about Lincoln City, but finding any positive in that awful game of football will not be possible.

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The team selection was even disappointing. Danny Mandroiu, soon to be known as the new Joe Walsh, is injured again. Ben House, one of the season’s surprise packages, has been ill and was also on the bench. Garrick was missing again, Bishop’s recovery didn’t extend to a start, and Jacob Davenport, a player with huge potential, is once again missing and seems likely to depart. In recent weeks, the team selection has offered us a few smiles, but there was nothing but disappointment in the air at who was missing.

Next up, Burton Albion. They’re ‘the sort of team’ fans think we should be beating, a judgement made by looking at the league table and seeing them below us. Of course, Chris and I made the same (somewhat lazy) judgement on the podcast, yet we were also wrong. We knew they’d got goals in them, that was never in doubt, but they also looked, on past history, as fragile as 100-year-old bone china. Sadly, to break bone china, you do have to drop it. To score goals, you have to shoot; by half time, we hadn’t had a single shot on goal. You won’t break anything fragile if you don’t go near it.

Before that, goals, three of them, all for Burton. They wanted to get in our faces straight off, whilst one or two of ours just seemed like they’d stepped away from their turkey and put their shirt on to play. Burton went 1-0 up quickly, and it got worse from there. The goal wasn’t particularly impressive; a set piece not defended well, which is odd. Out three at the back has been more than adept at dealing with pretty much any threat coming from wide areas and dead ball situations, but Burton made it look as easy as carving up the Boxing Day cheeseboard.

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We never recovered. Their second was a wonderful strike but wholly avoidable. Jack Diamond, who I thought had an utter stinker of a game, offered little protection to Sean Roughan, and when Johnny Smith cut across the area, the on-loan Sunderland man didn’t track him. It left the winger with time to curl in a wonderful effort to make it 2-0 and kill the game off before 15 minutes had passed. It wasn’t just Diamond’s fault, but for me the chance doesn’t develop if he’s done his job properly. In fairness, he’s been excellent so far this season, just not yesterday.

You’d expect a bit of fight from there, maybe an attacking movement or a few crunching tackles, but there was nothing. We were like a man tied to a chair dressed in PVC, whipped by the Burton Albion dominatrix, almost crying out in pain and loving every second of the utter humiliation. Before half an hour, it was 3-0, a soft penalty (if we’re being honest) for what looked like two players shirt pulling and one going down, but it was giveable (if only we’d have had Jarred Gillatt as referee, he wouldn’t have seen a thing). It really didn’t matter whether it was given or not, we had barely strung two passes together or ventured beyond our defensive third, so when Adebayajo smashed the ball into the roof of the net, it only confirmed what we knew all along – it wasn’t our day.

It prompted a change, we went two up top, but when one of your strikers is a better defender than a finisher, it doesn’t matter. I like Tom in certain situations, but if you’re chasing goals, he ain’t the man for the job. If you’re defending from the front, looking to do what we did to Ipswich or Bolton, he’s just the guy, but he didn’t get a sniff all afternoon. Ben House, who’d been suffering from illness, came on and was also ineffective. Mind you; it wasn’t entirely their fault – that’s like blaming an engine for not getting you to 90mph when you’ve put no fuel in it. There was nothing close to service.

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For me, it broke down in the first half for two reasons. Diamond offered Roughan zero protection on the left, meaning Burton could attack down the flank at will, which they did. On the right, Regan Poole had an uncharacteristically horrible afternoon, slicing clearances and misplacing passes, which meant both flanks were ineffective and vulnerable. Sanders and Virtue couldn’t get a kick – they passed badly, and they looked lethargic and laboured. That meant we were second best down both sides and across the middle. When Joe Walsh went off, it left just the two centre-backs with a lot to do, the two forwards isolated and, in my opinion, an eager and willing Charles Vernam as the only one with much of a bright spark in him, albeit one dampened in a terrible performance. Oddly, it felt a bit like Burton and us a couple of seasons ago – they were awful then, we attacked at will, targeting the attacking right, and they had Vernam as their only bright spark, only to take him off early.

In the second half, things got mildly better, in as much as we didn’t concede again, but we could have done. They had a clearer penalty shout on Sam Hughes than their actual penalty, Poole seemingly dragging him down and handling at the same time. We did offer a bit going forward, a bit like how having low-fat custard on your sticky toffee pudding after two helping of Christmas dinner and two desserts are helping your diet; there was effort, but it was far too little, way too late. Ted Bishop came on, and we did try to pass it a bit, plus, we even had a shot on goal from Vernam, which was as exciting as it got until the final ten minutes or so. Credit the supporters behind the goal, who were vocal throughout and louder on the iFollow feed than the home fans. However, when you’re celebrating a shot on goal, at 3-0 down, it is more wry humour than anything.

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I can’t really say much more. If we were still playing now, it would be Burton Albion with goals (who knows how many), and the Imps with nil. Burton could have taken their keeper off, and they’d still have been balls-out favourites for the win. They were the Christmas crackers, and we were the turkeys, slaughtered, roasted and there for the yellow shirts to pick over.

I’m going to finish by trying to pick a couple of positives, so that your Christmas experience doesn’t feel totally ruined by Burton. It won’t be easy, but it’s all I’ve got.

Burton Made Us Look Worse Than We Were

One thing football fans do is judge their team’s performance purely on their own efforts. This is a fallacy, and one fans are almost always prone to. Two teams make up a football match, and Burton actually made the game, and us, look worse than we are. Dino Maamria’s sides have a habit of doing that – they break the game down, and make it tough to watch, but do so with a certain style. Their set pieces were well-rehearsed, they had pace when they broke forward, and they played nice stuff at times, but they mixed it up with a  broken, chaotic game that didn’t allow us rhythm. The pitch was awful, and not suited for our passing game at all – well done to the Brewers for playing to their strengths.

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Charles Vernam

No player did well, but I have to credit Vernam for at least looking interested in the first half. I hate that saying ‘they don’t look interested’ because no player goes out to lose a game, or turns up and thinks they’re not bothered, but one or two did look that way yesterday. Vernam is different, I like that he tries to make things happen, and our first shot came from him. I took some stick on social media for picking him out, but I say he was the best of a bad outfield bunch, and I stand by that. I’m not saying he had a good game, but I do think he looked bothered during his time on the field, and some, even though we know differently, did not.

Boxing Day Results

Boxing Day always throws up a few freak results, and as I said, we’re not exactly known for travelling well on the 26th. My rudimentary research, which I’m happy to have corrected, shows only two Football League away wins since beating Port Vale 1-0 in 1980. They came in 2002 (Macclesfield 1-0) and 2003 (Boston 1-0), although we did win away in the GMVC against Boston in 1987. The last time we scored more than two and won away on Boxing Day was Doncaster in 1975. The gods, and the ghosts of Christmas past, were against us.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. You can’t sugar-coat a turd, and our Boxing Day performance was awful once again. We didn’t compete; we were out thought, out fought and on the coach home before we’d played 15 minutes. However, it doesn’t reflect an overall trend – we’re good and bad in equal measure. We are where we are, and I say the same after big wins. We’re on a journey which transcends the odd result, a run of defeats or even a spell of bad play. Yes, it was awful and yes, we’ve dropped down the table, but we got up the table in the first place and where we are now, with the greatest of respect, is still above where many felt we’d finish. Sadly, you have to take the rough with the smooth because that’s what following Lincoln City is all about.

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