We went to bottom-placed Burton with Tuesday’s triumph undoubtedly in our minds, and claimed all three points in a card-strewn affair that was played at a high tempo for most of the game, but in which our superior quality and organisation came out on top. Oh, and Big Chas scored his umpteenth goal of the season as we won 3-0, his second half effort adding to strikes from Leadbitter and Gooch.
To say it’s been a canny week since the nonsense at Shrewsbury is a bit of an understatement. No salary cap, Wyke’s foursome, Lincoln dealt with, takeover complete, and Jim Rodwell on his bike – if that doesn’t put fans and players alike in a positive frame of mind, nothing will. While part of Mr Rodwell’s remit from day one was to ensure the club was sold – and in that sense he’s achieved his aim – he’ll not be remembered fondly at SR5. From his first four announcements being “cock-up, apology, cock-up, apology” and the season ticket refund fiasco to the effective dismissal of John Cooke, he’s hardly enhanced his CV. One of the immediate effects of his departure is the announcement by Chris Waters, the club’s supporter engagement fella and one of the good guys at SAFC over recent seasons, that he’ll be returning to full-time work soon. Welcome back, Chris – can you play central defence?
Tuesday’s victory almost inevitably came at the cost of another broken centre half, so I was half expecting a reprise of the McLaughlin/O’9 partnership, with the former telling the latter what to do and when. It seemed to work against Lincoln, and even allowed Luke some forays up the pitch as we strove for a late winner. Never mind Burton being bottom of the table, it’s not stopped them doing the business on us in recent games. Since our first encounter with the Brewers back in November 2017 (it seems like only yesterday, not three and a bit years back) saw James Vaughan and George Honeyman seal victory in Burton, we’ve managed but a solitary goal in the subsequent five encounters – and Burton have equalled that twice and outscored us on three occasions. As the mathematicians amongst you will have worked out, that gives a head to head record of played six, drawn two, lost three and adds Burton to the ever-growing list of our bogey teams. I’ve managed to see them play seven times, as we had a spare day before an end-of-season clash at Molineux and were having a weekend in Nottingham. Burton is only a short train-ride away, so we had a great lunchtime bevvy, watched the home side put Grimsby out of the league, then travelled with the Grimsby fans back to the station. It was reassuring to see another set of fans disconsolate at the end of a season, and a day later we were grateful for our Prem status being already assured as we lost 2-1, with Michael Turner and debutant Jack Colback seeing red in the dying stages – the latter after being on the field barely five minutes.
Anyhow, back to the present, and with there being no chance to visit the Dog in Burton, it was feet up in front of the telly yet again to listen to how Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink recently returned to the club he left five years ago and injected a bit of life into them –lets it out of them this afternoon, eh, Lads?
O’Nien McLaughlin Sanderson Vokins
Gooch Leadbitter Power © McGeady
...at least that was my initial formation when I saw the names on the team-sheet – either 4-2-4, 4-4-2, or 4-3-3 depending on how you pigeonhole Geads. Vokins was in, presumably as a result of McFadz’s bang to the head in midweek, so I assume he’d be at left back. Perhaps O’9 and Power would swap places, and perhaps there’d be plenty of activity from the bench of Matthews, Maguire, Diamond, Jones, Scowen, Winchester, and Neil. Strength in depth, Lads, strength in depth – and with the fear that recent form has created regarding Geads and Wyke, perhaps the opposition might leave gaps for O’Brien and Gooch to exploit. Perhaps the gossip coming from the club about trying a 3-4-3 was true, but I somehow doubted it, what with the relative inexperience of Sanderson and Vokins. Let’s see….and with BBC Radio Derby reminding us that a win would take Burton out of the relegation places, we lined up in our away kit of blue shirts and socks and red shorts, defending the goal to the right of the camera for a change. I think that’s the end that we’d have occupied.
Burton appeared to win the toss and elect to stay the way they were and allow Grant to set things away by passing is back Power and us trying a long one to Gooch on the right, but it carried too far and the keeper mopped up. O’9 seemed to be playing as a third central defender with Vokins and McLaughlin pushing forward out wide. So that’s basically…
McLaughlin Sanderson O’9
Gooch Leadbitter Power Vokins
O’Brien Wyke McGeady
Geads cut in from the left and found Gooch unmarked at the far side of the box, but his shot was saved without too much trouble. First try to us, though. O’Brien then was fouled, with Earl being booked on only five minutes for the offence, and we had a chance to cross from the corner of the box. We didn’t, with Geads simply rolling it along the edge of the box to Grant, who, after initially looked as if he was a bit surprised that we were actually trying a training-ground move, basically passed it into the net from the edge of the D. Brilliant. Simple, but effective, and only six minutes on the clock.
We did well to defend at the expense of a corner on our left, which went right to the back for a shot that we charged down and cleared, only to concede a free thirty odd yards out. We packed the defence for this, which is just as well as Sanderson was on hand to knock a Burton header over the bar. This corner, on our left, was put behind at the other side for another, which Burton took low this time as they applied a bit of pressure. In fact, it had been just about all Albion since we scored – and they fired an awkward chance over the bar to allow us to catch our breath in the face of some varied dead-ball play from the Brewers. Gooch went down the right, jinked into the box and teed up Geads, who saw his shot blocked but won a corner on our left, which Leadbitter took but, on getting the return from Geads, crossed too deep. A near thing from O’Brien curled just beyond the far post as we upped our game and closed Burton down - which they made easier by trying to play it short out of defence.
On 18, Geads was booked for knocking their man up in the air in the very spot we’d set up our goal from, probably because he remembered it was the bloke who’d kicked him right at the start of the game. A Burton shot that was heading wide was headed goalward and taken well by Burge, and then our keeper had to rush out to hoof clear as the game continued in a very open fashion.
We worked our way up the left with a series of throws, but when Geads got it from Wyke he put his pass right across the pitch out on the far side. Neat work by O’Brien kept us in possession in the centre circle, but the move eventually broke down and we couldn’t quite get a cross in from the right despite decent work by Gooch. Vokins then got into the box but was forced to the line with no space to get a cross in, and we had to build from the back again as the game maintained its relentless nature. O’9 splattered an opponent in the centre circle and was a bit unlucky to see yellow as the ref carried on in card-happy manner on 27 minutes, and we were happy to give away a throw near the flag on our right. It came in very high and dropped like a stone, allowing us to clear and do likewise when a low cross came in from our left.
Gooch jinked forward again and slipped it through to O’Brien, but his shot from a narrow angle was blocked for a corner on our right. Grant took it, and the keeper caught it, simple as that. He rolled it out, Burton attacked, we defended it and attacked. Geads played in Gooch and his cross was headed away but only to Geads, who shot a yard over the bar from just outside the box. On the half hour, we won a corner on the left, which came in from Grant and was cleared only as far as the unmarked Gooch, who had time to work it onto his left peg and fire it in off the underside of the bar. Yeehah! 2-0. That’ll do nicely.
Burton then seemed to swap a few players about as they tried to get a grip of at least part of the game, but quickly conceded another corner on our left, this time with Geads crossing. A Power shot was blocked after the cross was cleared to the edge of the box, then Wyke and Carter clacked heads. A bit of head-rubbing was enough for their man, while Chas required a bit of vinegar and brown paper before we could restart. The big feller wandered off but came straight back on as we entered the last ten minutes of the half and O’9 defended well to force a goal kick. Gooch was next into the book when he arrived a tad late arriving at a pass that was slightly off its mark and the ref called for a new notebook. However, there was no booking for a naughty late one on O’Brien, and we let Geads dictate things when we played the free forward – with O’9 joining the attack down the left. Grant shaped to shoot but instead scooped a looping ball to the back post which the keeper did well to get to first. Burge was in action soon after, dropping to his left-hand post for a comfortable save, and immediately set us on the attack again, with his opposite number having to rush out of his box to hack clear. Vokins was nearly on the score-sheet when he met Gooch’s cross a couple of yards out, but unfortunately met it with his shoulder rather than his head and it bounced wide. If only it had been Chas, but he was probably still recovering from the latest foul, which the ref had rightly allowed to be played on – but he should have at least had a word at the next opportunity.
Four added minutes were announced, and Burton tried a long one down our left which Burge was quickly down onto, covered by Sanderson, as a clever flick had got the ball into our box. The ref chose not to see Wyke’s shirt being lifted up his back, but eventually gave us a free on hallway out on the right when Vokins was dunshed over. After another couple of minutes’ to-ing and fro-ing, the ref blew for the break and we went in, I would think, very satisfied with our work. It had been a frantically-paced 49 minutes, with our superior ability probably being the difference and having forced the home side into a change in formation as they tried to do their manager’s bidding and pass it about at the back – which is a bit daft when some of their defenders are slower than Jan Eriksson. More of the same in the second from us would do very nicely, but we could do the Brewers more damage by using the pace of Diamond and/or Jones, and the guile of Maguire in the latter stages – a bit like Tuesday, but with a lead to maintain - or, hopefully, extend. Look, if Will Grigg can score for MK Dons, we can score more than two at Burton.
No need for changes for either tactical or fitness reasons as far as we were concerned, so it was down to JFH - but he did nothing, which was a surprise, and Burton restarted proceedings. Eventually, as the ref forgot to start his watch. They tried to attack, but we closed them down and they were forced to play it all the way back to their keeper. McLaughlin slid in to block a shot, and from the throw they won a corner on our right, which we defended well, as the home side tried to stay on the front foot, desperate to get a goal back. O’9 picked it up after we’d passed it around at the back, and set Gooch away. When his cross came in, Wyke couldn’t get his foot around the shot and the move ended with Power shooting wide from distance before Gooch swapped wings and helped build another attack, but it was Burge the next keeper in action, tipping a deflected shot onto the bar and over. That preceded a bit of pressure from the corner, but we were up to Burton’s efforts and when we broke, Clare was booked for dragging down Wyke with a very clumsy tackle from behind out on our left. Grant took it short to Power and Vokins switched play to the right, but the home defence won the ball and they built an attack which ended when Geads hoofed it out of the box only for Wyke to be wrestled off the ball – and despite both the defender’s arms being around him, no foul was given. Score a few goals and you lose all the ref’s sympathy, seemingly. O’Brien chased the ball, and Carter, to the goal line, and a push from our man sent their feller into a bit of a tizz as he turned and grabbed O’Brien and their players piled in from all over. Earl, who’d already been booked, got another card for grabbing Aiden’s collar and trying to push him over the hoardings, and was off. O’Brien was booked for his part in events, as was somebody – not the gaffer – on our bench. I think whoever it was had called Earl a rude name. I know I had.
Well over half an hour to against only ten opponents, and only two of those had been playing in defence. With two balls on the field, Gooch wriggled into the box with the correct one, to the line, and cut it back for Power to see his shot blocked. Burton had gone to a flat back four, which left far fewer players up the field – but five minute into the half they attacked and somehow avoided scoring by hitting the post and us getting it off the line before Burge scooped up the loose ball. Far too close to comfort, Lads. A minute later, when a Sunderland attack foundered on the Brewers’ defence, they brought on three subs in an attempt to get more of the game. We had to defend a long throw, with Sanderson getting in the way and booting it away from the middle of our box and Smith fired way over our bar. O’9 burst over halfway and went past a couple of opponents before Carter knocked him over and was booked for whining about it. We’d been having a decent amount of the ball without really threatening the home defence, and they, despite being a man down, were giving it a go, perhaps meaning that it was perhaps time to liven up the midfield – and Mr Johnson must have read my thoughts, because he made them.
As we were setting up the free, Scowen came on for Leadbitter, Winchester for McGeady, and Jones for Vokins. Presumably we were confident in our ability to manage with only two defenders on the field – I know I wasn’t, but then I’m a Sunderland fan and not used to such things. Sanderson got onto the end of the free when it dropped, but blasted his “proper defender’s effort” from beyond the back post high and wide. Burton piled forward from the goal kick, winning a throw which they took long but when the won the ball as we cleared, put it way over. On came sub four for them, on 70 minutes, with the wonderfully-named Fondop-Talom making his debut in place of Atkins. He spent most of the twenty minutes he had on the field barging into our defenders and tackling as if he’d been taught by somebody whose stopwatch was two seconds slow. Anyway, Sanderson’s long ball set Wyke away, and, as he had nobody in clos support and he was moving toward the corner flag, he sensibly let the challenge win us a corner on the right. James slung it in to Sanderson, but his effort from among a crowd of players bounced just wide of the front post. A decent low save by the home keeper when Jones’s shot came in from distance sent the rebound to Wyke, but his effort hit the foot of the post and bounced away. No goal for the big man today, I thought. With all those extra midfielders on, we moved to four at the back, with Gooch at left back, and tried to use our numerical advantage to good effect by making the home side chase all over the shop. Jones played in Wyke just inside the box, and the big feller seemed to turn in slow motion to scoop his shot along the ground and inside the keeper’s right-hand post for his sixth of the week. Nice on, Charlie, and, with only twelve to go, game over, I think.
Having got his goal, and won me a couple of quid again, Charlie was replaced by Diamond to generous applause from our officials and management. No sense in risking Charlie’s goal-scoring legs at the hands (or boots) of those uncompromising home defenders. O’Brien moved slightly infield to become the focal point of our attack, and he did his best to keep possession, turning back when necessary to find a team-mate. A quick Burton break down our left won them a corner off Power, but Burge took the looping cross under no pressure at all. Yet another Burton sub came on 81 minutes, when Smith - who’d probably been their most dangerous player – came off and Taylor went on. Scowen and O’Brien worked it well on the left to keep the ball before Gooch switched wings and we passed it about sensibly with Winchester sitting a bit deeper and carrying it forward when a gap appeared. No need to bust a gut, Lads, that’s the way to do it, and on came Maguire, a master of that sort of thing, with five to go, in place of Power. I suppose that makes O’9 the captain – not that we needed one at that stage.
Another long throw caused us a bit of a problem, but when Burton found room for a shot it was well wide. After another period of pressure and passing by us, Fondop whacked O’9 with a wayward arm and was booked, with the ref wandering across to book Hasselbaink while he was at it, as their manager had been whining at the fourth official for most of the second half. We played it around at the back as five added minutes were announced and Burton heads dropped the prospect. Jones covered a lot of distance from the right into the middle to feed Maguire, who turned nicely and tried a left-footer with the keeper matching the curling effort, diving to his right to make the save.
Eventually, with nearly six minutes added minutes played and Burton having a bit of a go, the ref put Burton out of their misery and for some reason they played Local Hero over the tannoy. Trying to wind us up, or what?
A very convincing win, with the only downside being the over-severity of the referee in booking our players while allowing Wyke to be - as has become the norm - kicked and pulled all over the shop. We dominated the game for all but a period after the break when Burton went for broke, but simply played more effective football with better quality players and better discipline. The ten substitutions were shared equally by the two sides (to be honest, I’ve lost all notion of how many you’re allowed these days), but while theirs were made out of desperation, ours were made out of the desire to keep what we already had. Basically, Grant’s early strike settled us, Gooch’s blast put us firmly in the driving seat, and Big Chas sealed it.
Man of the Match? No weak links today, as the score-line suggests, and another fine game from O’9 at the back. Wyke did quite a lot of decent laying off, and while he didn’t appear to have his shooting boots on for most of the game, still managed to score a good goal and be a constant worry to the home defence – if not the referee. The home side knew where the danger would come from, and made Geads work hard to create what he did, while Power continues to look a lot better in midfield. However, I think I’ll give it to Gooch, who did a lot of positive things, coming close to setting up goals on several occasions, and scoring a beaut before finishing the game by filling in at the back to allow all those substitutions to see us safely over the line.