Sunday 13 November 2022

Take The Point, Could Have Turned Out Worse

Ahead of yesterday’s game I suspect we were, on balance, expecting three points, not as a given but as likely. During the game those expectations fluctuated considerably. In the aftermath I’d say we would best be content with a point, not because we couldn’t have won it – after 36 minutes we would have been very disappointed not to and we might well have scored a decider in the final 10-15 minutes – but because it all might easily have turned out a good deal worse. Burton will no doubt point to their 25 attempts on goal to our 12, with 10 against four on target. That would be to ignore the fact that we came away with something because of some very good finishing, not luck. All part of the game.

The team was flagged as having three changes, with Sessegnon returning in defence, effectively for the suspended Clare, with Chin moving to left-back and Inniss and Lavelle in central defence (and Elerewe on the bench making up our options on that front). Dobson and Fraser again in central midfield, while Campbell started on the left, Rak-Sakyi on the right, and Kirk given the job of sort of second striker/number 10. Morgan and Payne were on the bench, as was Forster-Caskey, while Aneke and Blackett-Taylor provided the forward options. Then three became four as news came through of Wollacott being injured in the warm-up, MacGillivray getting the gloves sooner than he expected, while Asiimwe was added to the subs, with no back-up keeper now available. 

The early exchanges were quite frankly dire, with a good deal of head-tennis and Burton pressing, looking to long throws and corners to load the box, while we struggled to get or keep the ball (other than balls played square in our final third). We hadn’t threatened at all, whereas Burton had forced MacGillivray into the first of a number of tips over the bar from headers, but on 26 minutes, out of the blue, we went ahead. For once instead of the square pass Inniss saw space and moved forward into it. Burton failed to close him down, or get their back line tight, and he was able to look to the right then play the ball forward into the path of Kirk between two defenders. Still a lot to do but his first touch was good and with his second he planted it past their keeper and into the far corner of the net. A finish Sir Clive would have been pleased with (although fair to say it would have been a routine one for him).

On 30 minutes we had a scare as a ball in from their left was well gathered on the ground by MacGillivray, bravely going in where it hurt to claim it and taking a bang on the head. As he received treatment of course the concern was he would have to go off, and be replaced by who? It was a question left unanswered by Garner after the game and fortunately we didn’t get to find out. 

On 36 minutes our cup overflowed as we scored a second, again out of the blue. Long ball forward and Stockley managed to get a touch. Kirk took a chance and moved in anticipation, again between defenders, collecting the ball inside the box. It sat up nicely for him and as he’d noticed their keeper advancing off his line he put in a perfectly judged chip just clearing his outstretched arm and into the net. 

At this point we’re thinking if it’s this easy to score against them all we need to do it keep it tight at the back, more chances and goals will follow, and we take away the three points. The thoughts lasted a minute or so as Burton were awarded a free-kick on the right side (apparently Garner thought it was either offside or a free-kick for us, although his remonstrations were more muted than against Ipswich). The ball was whipped in dangerously and Oshilaja was all over Dobson to plant a firm header into the corner, giving MacGillivray no chance. Just as when Morgan was left vainly trying to grab a centre-half against MK Dons, so here too the match-up was very much to our disadvantage. Perhaps Burton did their homework, clearly we have work to do on the training ground.

OK, going into the break two up would have been very nice, still take 1-2 and regroup. That also was not to be as Burton took advantage of some very slack defending. The worked the ball around on the right side, when it appeared we had a number of opportunities to break up the attack. When it was put into the box their guy miscontrolled it but it went to another inside the box. As our defenders, most obviously Inniss here, stood and watched him, he brought the ball down with his chest and hit the volley past defenders and keeper.

On the overall balance of play level at half-time was not unfair on either side, but the fact was we’d blown a two-goal lead as a result of defensive frailties. And we had not played well. No control in midfield meant no decent supply to the wide pair, so we played it around at the back many times and scored twice by exploiting their open back four in moves which went quickly from back to front. Just how the shortcomings of both sides would play out in the second half was at that point completely unpredictable. There was no thought of ‘next goal wins it’.

We had a couple of chances early in the second half to retake the lead, with Sessegnon firing just over after good work by Campbell, while Kirk had one blocked. Instead just before the hour the advantage went to them, with question marks again over the defending. Our goalkick resulted in MacGillivray sending it long, with as the post-match TV analysis pointed out our centre-backs having parted for a possible pass. When it was returned their forward picked it up and was able to advance with no real challenge and he put in an excellent shot which flew beyond MacGillivray into the net.

At that point, with Burton’s tails up, we endured a period when the game could easily have been put to bed (although just how many we have to be behind to be out of the game is a difficult question to answer of late). Predictably Aneke and CBT were brought on, for Stockley and Campbell, but before they had a chance to settle Burton had forced another tip-over from MacGillivray and from the resulting corner Oshilaja missed a sitter. They were looking likely to score at every set piece by now.

Payne and Forster-Caskey were introduced, for Kirk and Dobson. And glory be, on 75 minutes, very much against the run of play, we were level. Aneke did well on the right touchline to wrestle possession and then played a peach of a ball forward, beyond their back line and into the path of Rak-Sakyi, who had moved to the central position with the changes. He too opted for the lob, with greater height than Kirk’s earlier effort but the same end-result as it sailed well over their keeper then dropped very neatly into the empty net.

With still perhaps 20 minutes to go the odds surely favoured one or other sides scoring again. And in this period we did have the better chances, although Burton continued to threaten from set pieces, forcing more MacGillivray saves. Blackett-Taylor, who again showed the ability to go past his man with ease, on either side, fed Rak-Sakyi, who opted to go right and saw his shot blocked well, then we had a moment of pure comedy as CBT left two defenders on the ground only to so horribly slice the shot it went for a throw-in. Morgan came on for Fraser and in four minutes of stoppage time we had the final chance, with another Rak-Sakyi shot blocked. Just not to be, for either side.

What to make of it all? Garner talked afterwards about players being tired and as CATV talked of afterwards it did look like a game too many for Dobson and Fraser in particular. They were overrun in midfield and it seemed that every second ball dropped to a Burton player. The result was, although the stats show we had 55% possession, most of that was knocking it around at the back. Our goals came from the few times we got the ball forward quickly and were able to take advantage of their defensive shortcomings with excellent finishes. We’ve now conceded nine goals from the last three league games and that speaks for itself. Let’s just be grateful the fixture list for the next month is not heavy, hopefully gives us the chance to get some of the injured back (although let’s note that Chin put in a shift yesterday).

1 comment:

  1. We seem to be recreating Swindons last season , 12 months later. High no. of goals scored and shipped, I would settle for a good (if ultimately unsuccessful) run -in to the play-offs, just to make it interesting.That assumes that the team is bolstered in the window, which there must be serious doubts about it happening.
    Those 1st 2 goals were peaches, just hope Kirk is charged with self belief and starts a personal goal rush.
    As for Brexit supporting owners- well that would be a surprise question for TS on the next CAST meeting! I can live with that bit easier than I can the human rights issues of the Saudi's. But Newcastle fans won't give a fig.


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