It had to happen sooner or later, didn’t it? We’d lose a game of football (something we’ve been bloody good at over the last few seasons, so we have to give our heads a shake and remember who and where we are), and people would get a bit upset. Typically, we lost an earlyish goal, but then went one better/worse and let in a second. Our now commonplace comeback yielded just the one goal despite some frantic moments in front of the visiting fans, so we brought back nowt. We were out-thought at the vital moments and didn’t have quite enough to knock the Brewers out of their stride when it looked like we might in the second half. Nearly but not quite.
Much of the week has been full of the non-football stuff – that is, the off-field, on-going saga of The Invisible Two. Although one did show up, he was as far from match-fit as it was possible to be, and we gave him his P45. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but my guess would be that our new regime have done their homework, have taken the correct legal advice, and have a case as watertight as a Seaburn Eiderduck’s hint end. We gave Papy a month’s unpaid leave to find another club – surely that’s his agent’s job? – but he took another forty days to come back, then said we wouldn’t see him again. So we sacked him. I doubt if anyone will take a chance on him, as I suspect you don’t need to do Due Djilibodjidence to see that he’s a wrong’un. As for the other one, let him keep sending photos of his feet and a swimming pool. Add these two to the likes of Rodwell and Alvarez, and it’s cost us about £40 million for 147 appearances, most of which didn’t last 90 minutes. No more of that nonsense.
In complete contrast to that behaviour, several players, including Catts, and Mr Donald himself joined the fans fitting new seats, just to emphasise that we’re all in this together (well, apart from The Invisible Two), and Jack Ross revealed that every time we win, someone donates a goat, on his behalf, via the World Vision UK charity, and the goat finds its way to an African child. There’s one for pub quizzes in a few years – but we were more interested on the way down in whether McGeady would be fit to contribute at Burton. Both teams have seen huge changes in personnel, but Burton have retained their Sunderland-born manager, young Cloughie. Plenty to discuss in the Dog, where conversation is king and the TV footy is in a corner if you want it, rather than in everybody’s face.
Taxi to the ground, stuck at the back of the terraces before a really nice steward lady showed me and Glynn to a nice spot at the front, and we lined up:
Matthews Loovens Baldwin Oviedo
Maja Wyke Sinclair
Well, we all spent a good deal of time working out who was playing where in our fluid up-front line-up, but we were generally happy with the individuals on the pitch, although I thought that Flanagan perhaps deserved the nod ahead of Matthews. Kicking away from the terraces where the majority of us were standing, and with our ankle-height view, we saw close up how hard Burton were prepared to work. Not that we didn’t, with Gooch and Honeyman their usual busy selves, but the home side looked more likely to produce something – once again, the opposition were physically bigger than us, particularly in midfield, and the three up front battled well but with no return. Oviedo created the first chance of the afternoon when his cross looked to have set Maja up, but he couldn’t trouble the home keeper. In a fairly (typically) physical game, the sort that would have Premier League players running for cover, Burton gradually got on top, and just when we thought we’d survived the “concede early” period that’s been the bane of this season, we conceded. A cross wasn’t dealt with on about 20 minutes, and the ball sat up nicely for their Allen to put away a chance that Jozy Altidore would have struggled to miss. Bugger – can we do it yet again, and salvage something from going behind? Nah. We battled away, but generally looked more likely to concede another than equalise, and on 36 gave away a free-kick – and once again, we didn’t deal with the cross. Surprising, considering Baldwin’s ability in the air, but McFadzean was there first to head home. Right in front of us, and that was the killer, as not even the most optimistic on the terraces could realistically see us getting two, never mind three, goals.
As if things weren’t going badly enough, Wyke and their keeper banged into each other and Charlie didn’t get up, eventually leaving the field on a stretcher with all sorts of medial paraphernalia attached to his leg. Apparently it’s the same knee that he damaged last season, so let’s hope it’s not the same injury. Anyhow, Maguire was the obvious replacement, and on he came, bringing something a bit different to our game up front, but Burton continued to do what they’d been doing – double up on Gooch, sling crosses in, and attack the central defence. Sound familiar? There was obviously a fair bit of added time (4, I think) because of Wyke’s injury, but it was the home side and not us that were in control of that. We didn’t change anything for the start of the second half, and almost fell further behind early on, but McLaughlin produced a couple of good saves to keep us just in the game – and that seemed to spur us on a bit. Sinclair, who'd looked quite lightweight against a no-nonsense home defence, was replaced by McGeady after only five minutes, and instantly gave us a very different option with his close control. A few minutes after his introduction, he helped get the ball to Maguire, who didn’t look to have much on when he went past his man about thirty yards out, but he turned and hit an absolute beauty into the top corner. Whoop-di-doo, a screamer, terraces, bouncing about in a manner not befitting my age, and just a glimmer of hope that we could do the almost impossible and actually get something from the game.
For a while it sort of looked possible - to the more optimistic amongst us. McGeady shot wide, the visiting fans raised the roof as we had our best spell, and the players responded. Gooch was on the receiving end of a bit of a naughty challenge on halfway, but was put back together and got back on his feet. Oviedo drew a fine save from the home keeper, and we looked like we might get level in the melee that followed, but it was a Burton boot that connected and the ball flew clear. Ross threw caution to the wind for the last ten minutes, replacing Loovens with O’Nien and trying to get the Lads to pile forward, but real chances just didn’t materialise. Four added minutes were announced, we roared the Lads on, but we could get nothing, and Burton ended up winners - deservedly so.
It’s not the end of the world, and we were far from rubbish, despite claims to the contrary by the lad stood next to me. Sure, there are glaringly obvious things we need to put right – winning crucial balls into our box would be a good start – but the manager has acknowledged that, and we have to remember that this team didn’t exist two months ago, that Wyke’s still not properly fit (and might be knackered again), that opposing managers do their homework, and that we don’t have a divine right to anything.
Man of the Match? Maguire, I think, for a beautiful goal and the fact that he, along with McGeady, changed things for the better. Still early days, and we’re still fourth.