Sunday, 11 November 2012

They all count...

When a team is looking to mount a promotion challenge, the difference between success and failure can often be a thin one.
A dropped point here, and unlucky defeat there - but one thing teams have to do when they are in our position is to find a way to win.
Those tight, tense games, like this one was, are the ones that have to be won, and the ones which will be looked back on with great satisfaction if we get what we want in May.
I don't feel that there is any doubt that we deserved to win the game, but equally Burton could have nicked it on the break and it was a great relief when Chris Zebroski was in the right place at the right time to nick the winner.
It isn't the most spectacular goal he has ever scored, but in the context of our season it could prove to be a very important one.
I am sure Burton will feel aggrieved after a stoic defensive display and some dangerous breakaways were not rewarded but they have enough about them to stay in the top half.
Almost all of our threats on their goal came from Billy Jones' set-pieces, Alan Bennett hit the bar, Zebroski shot wide and there were countless melees and scrambles from the left-back's pinpoint deliveries.
It was to Burton's credit that we did not create much from open play, bar a Russ Penn header in the first half and a shot from the same player in the second which the keeper saved well.
Burton learned their lesson from last season when Jermaine McGlashan ripped them to pieces and they went through three left-backs in the game at Whaddon.
They doubled up on him straight away and kept him quiet, and on the other side Kaid Mohamed was also largely ineffective - and again to their credit Burton forced them to frequently switch flanks to find more joy on the other side.
I felt Zebroski was an effective spearhead with good movement and justified his selection even before grabbing the goal, which was his fourth of the season.
Zander Diamond and Marcus Holness looked very strong at the back for Burton - and they seem to have a much better backbone, while Anthony O'Connor did well at right back, and Nathan Stanton likewise on the left side.
In our midfield, Russ Penn was exceptional against his old club and should have got the man of the match award. He was taken off - somewhat strangely in my view, but he had run his legs off for 77 minutes.
Darren Carter and Marlon Pack started the game well, but then seemed to fade a bit, and seemed to drop a bit too deep, leaving a gap between the back six and front four in the second half.
One of them at least needs to push 10-15 yards further up the pitch, as they can be too close to the centre halves - maybe Carter should get up with Penn and leave Pack deeper - effectively making us into a 4-1-4-1 system with the wingers pushing on.
Defensively, we looked sound for most of the game. Elliott and Bennett carried on where they left off at Gillingham, and largely kept Calvin Zola quiet.
The only real chances he had were gifted to him by lax passing further up the field - Mo made one error which ended with a shot into the side netting, and we had an escape with Matthew Paterson's offside goal just before half-time.
Like us, they had a potent corner-taking weapon in Chris Palmer and his deliveries posed a few problems for Scott Brown - but he didn't really have a difficult save to make until the dying seconds.
I have mentioned Jones' fantastic set-piece deliveries, but he was defensively sound as was Sido Jombati on the other side, and both of them had more joy going forward than our orthodox wide men.
It is a fourth clean sheet in a row, and keeps up Benno's unbeaten record this season - played 11, won seven drawn four is the skipper's record in the side this season.
It wasn't a surprise to see Mo taken off, but it was to see Jeff Goulding come on first. I thought Shaun Harrad might have got the nod, but then he did replace Penn later on.
My only thought can be was that Yatesy was looking for Jeff's guile and touch to find a way to unlock Burton, but neither of them were particularly effective when they came on.
Zeb's winner now makes it 11 goals between our four forwards. When you consider that Tom Pope has 17 on his own for Port Vale, that one consistent reliable goalscorer does seem to be our slight Achilles heel.
Some fans are crying out for two up front, especially at home. But our current system suits the players we have - go to 4-4-2 and we have seen plenty of times that we are left too open - and then which midfielder would be left out?
It couldn't be wither of the wide men or you cut off the service to front two, so one of Penn, Carter or Pack would therefore have to be sacrificed. A big decision.
So another win, one defeat in 12, four successive clean sheets, level on points with second-placed Port Vale - yet the view of many is that we are not playing as well as we did last season.
But we are finding ways to win games, and have looked a tight, well-drilled unit in recent games, even though we are not firing on all cylinders in the final third.
Next stop Rotherham and the delightful Mr Evans, on the back of a 5-0 defeat he described as the worst performance by a team he has managed. That will be fun, then...