Sunday, 26 February 2012

Jermaine makes the Brewers droop

After Tuesday's game with AFC Wimbledon, the two main gripes of the fans were the tactic of playing one striker up front at home, and the absence from the side of our (alleged) record buy Jermaine McGlashan.
Mark Yates responded by rectifying both of those wishes and the response was as comprehensive a 2-0 home victory as you could wish to see.
Yatesy felt that some critics were too harsh after Tuesday, but after taking one point from nine at home, the fans' reaction was borne from frustration of failing to capitalise fully on home games where a win or two in those games could have given us breathing space at the top.
It is maybe more understandable that fans will see it that way when the team then turns in a display like this one, realising the potential that the squad has and leaving fans wondering why the quality of the football we saw today couldn't have been produced in one or two of those previous three games.
'We got two goals, but could have had 10' said Yatesy afterwards and it was hard to disagree with him this time after Jeff Goulding's missed penalty and several more good saves from the Burton keeper Ross Atkins.
I may be facetious to suggest that we had more shots in the 90 minutes today than in the previous three home games put together - but it felt that way. Every time we came forward we looked incisive and dangerous.
McGlashan was undoubtedly the catalyst for that, as he got one left-back dragged off before half-time, his replacement sent off with 16 minutes of coming on, won a penalty, scored a goal, tried to claim the second  and was denied at least three more by the goalkeeper. Not a bad full home debut...
He has been out of the side for two games, and may have had a point to prove, and he certainly did that.
We have seen from him already that he will be an asset for us, but my caution would be that, as with most wingers, we cannot expect him to play like this every game. Someone after the game said to me he will either be a nine out of 10 or a five, and that might be the case.
But let's enjoy this wonderful display. Today was a nine - or even a 10. He was unplayable.
From the moment Marlon Pack's first-minute cross flashed past Jeff and Alan Bennett, we were irrepressible - good passing, neat touches, good movement and link-up in the final third and excellent work-rate and pressing when we lost the ball.
The switch to 4-4-2, which saw the dropping of Kaid Mohamed from the starting line-up for only the second league game this season and Luke Summerfield for the first time since September was a bold move.
It was a shame for Summers - but if one of the midfield three is to be left out, it isn't going to be the League Two player of the year nominee or the man chomping at the bit to face his former club, now is it?
That formation has not exactly been a success for us - we played it in the 4-1 loss at AFC Wimbledon and at home to Plymouth, when we battled through to win late on, and in the opening game at Gillingham.
It meant that we had Kaid's nine league goals, Darryl Duffy's eight and Summers' four (the highest tally of the midfield three) on the bench - but it didn't leave us short of potential firepower.
The major surprise was Josh Low keeping his place after his indifferent display on Tuesday, but on the other hand it was good to see us play two 'orthodox' wide men, and two strikers and the four of them dovetailed together superbly.
The early goal was a great fillip and Jermaine finished it well after good work from Josh, and gave us the confidence to express ourselves and keep Burton on the back foot.
They simply could not cope with us, and put in some dubious challenges which the referee didn't punish quickly enough with cards, until the hapless Patrick Ada's cameo appearance.
Jimmy Spencer hit the woodwork, then came the penalty - maybe a slightly fortuitous decision - but I felt Jeff's penalty was decent and the goalkeeper pulled off a good save.
That set off that nagging worry that we needed the second goal, and Ada's two yellow cards for a pair of ridiculous challenges on Jermaine helped our case.
That was his debut for Burton - he looked so rusty it was ridiculous and was totally rinsed by Jermaine as Danny Blanchett had been before him.
But even then we saw the value of the re-signing of Jack Butland, as, having had very little to do, he pulled off a stunning save to deny Adam Bolder.
We then went up the other end and got that second goal with Sido Jombati getting the final touch although Jermaine wants to claim it, and that was a big relief and allowed everyone to relax a bit.
Atkins in the Burton goal was excellent - he saved at least three times from Jermaine, once from Alan Bennett and made a few other stops as we could have run riot.
Aside from Jermaine, Russ Penn was back to his energetic best against his former club, Marlon was delivering sublime passes and I thought Jeff and Jimmy up front linked up superbly - I have read posts from some fans giving them stick on the Robins Nest, but I thought they both worked hard and gave the Burton centre-halves the runaround all game.
But I feel it would be a good move if we were to bring in, as seems likely, Steve McLean from Yeovil to bolster our forward options - it keeps everyone on their toes and gives us a different option.
He was prolific for Scunthorpe when first he came on loan from Rangers, and has a decent scoring record in the lower divisions, and it is good to see us looking at this calibre of player.
At the other end, the back five were solid and made it three clean sheets in a row, and bar two saves from Jack didn't have much to trouble them.
We know that the back four and goalkeeper has not been the problem at home, with only nine goals conceded in 17 games now - it has been at the other end, and credit to Yatesy for changing the system and finding a formula to make us more dangerous.
It might have been a good time to play Burton, with a few injuries and confidence levels low, but once again these are the sides we have to beat and we looked like a top-three side in a home game for the first time in a while - if I was doing marks out of 10, no one would get less than an eight.
We have opened up a little cushion - four points on third-placed Southend, six on fourth-placed Shrewsbury, and 15 points on eighth-placed Port Vale, so surely, barring a collapse only matched by the England's middle order batsmen of the 1980s, we will finish somewhere in the top seven.
Torquay finished seventh last year with 68 points, only five more than we have now, and I would suggest that 80 points should be the next target, and we see where that takes us.
Yatesy is right when he says all we can do is keep picking up points. Other teams around us have games in hand, and some of those are against each other, starting with Shrewsbury-Crawley on Monday, so points will be dropped along the way.
Northampton are next, and that has to be targeted as a win given their plight near the bottom of the table, followed by the trip to Morecambe before that much-awaited five game block of Swindon, Gillingham, Shrewsbury, Oxford and Southend in 20 days during our mad March.
A week is a long time in politics - and football as well. After going to Dagenham last Saturday on the back of one point from nine, we end this Saturday with seven from nine, and three clean sheets.
How quickly things can turn round.

Player by player
Jack Butland - Stunning save in the second half and another good one at the end of the first. Two dominating takes from crosses as well. Ninth clean sheet for him in 14 games for us.
Sido Jombati - First goal at home and a good weapon coming forward, linking up well with Jermaine McGlashan down the right. Defensively sound as usual.
Luke Garbutt - Good set-pieces again and also had few alarms defensively. Heads off on England under 19 duty after another solid game.
Alan Bennett - Few problems at the back, but made one good clearance. A threat at the other end and denied a goal by a good save.
Steve Elliott - Third clean sheet in three since his return to the side. Surely not a coincidence...
Marlon Pack - Back to his dominating best. Showed his full range of passing and the switch to a two-man midfield didn't faze him.
Russ Penn - Also back to top form as he showed his old club what they are missing. Was clearly up for the game and put in some thunderous tackles.
Jermaine McGlashan - Unplayable. One left back taken off, one sent off. A well-taken goal, claimed another, had another three of four efforts saved, and won a penalty. Can't do much more than that.
Josh Low - Bounced back well from a poor game on Tuesday. Made the goal for Jermaine and also won a 50-50 challenge in the seccond half. On this form, has plenty to offer and needs to show it more often.
Jeff Goulding - Denied from the spot by a good save but followed his good shift on Tuesday with another and looked a lot happier with Jimmy alongside him.
Jimmy Spencer - Worked very hard and his hold-ups and lay-offs were excellent. Hit the bar and was unlucky not to get on the end of some other half-chances.

Substitutes
Darryl Duffy (for Jeff Goulding 74) - Came on with the game safe but looked a little rusty.
Kaid Mohamed (for Josh Low 74) - Good outlet for us late on as we consolidated the points.
Junior Smikle (for Jermaine McGlashan 86) - Allowed Jermaine to come off to a rapturous standing ovation and will enjoy the win bonus.