Amid everything going on off the pitch, the team on it have now gone five games unbeaten breathing life into what had looked to be an ailing play-off bid. While this upcoming home game against Burton Albion being potentially the sixth remaining home game before another trip into the sky blue yonder further highlights the farce that is unfolding around us, a return to the actual playing of football hopefully provides some relief against everything that is playing out.
Unless there are any injuries that haven’t been disclosed by Mark Robins pre-match, the current starting line-up is unlikely to be tampered with. The only likely change seems set to be in restoring Luke Thomas to the XI after he was somewhat mysteriously dropped to the bench for last week’s win over Accrington Stanley.
With three crucial games coming up over the next week, we have a big opportunity coming up to announce ourselves as genuine play-off contenders. While the season can unfold in unexpected ways, it feels as if anything fewer than seven points from these games will give ourselves too much of a job to bridge the gap. Whether the concerns over keeping players fresh for upcoming games affects Mark Robins remains to be seen, but seems unlikely.
Given the timing of this game in a week where the off-field drama has ratched up a fair few notches, Mark Robins’ man-management skills are going to be important to ensure focus remains on maintaining the kind of form that could put us in the play-off picture. With concerns over the future state of the club, there will inevitably some players who could lose focus, however, it’s also potentially an opportunity to build something of a siege mentality.
Last Time We Met
If there was one word to describe Burton’s performance against us when we last met back in November, it would be professional. After a fairly even first-half where Burton dominated possession but the Sky Blues were a threat on the counter, the Brewers stepped it up a gear in the second-half, taking the lead via a set-piece, and comfortably seeing the game out without breaking much of a sweat. It was the first league defeat for the Sky Blues since the five-game winning run and started one of several sticky patches this season which could well be the reason our play-off bid falls short.
Manager – Nigel Clough
It has been something of a rebuilding season for Nigel Clough and Burton Albion this season after a two-year stay in the second-tier. Budgets have had to be cut, meaning Clough has had to be resourceful in his use of the players at his disposal, as well as in the loan and free transfer market. A series of injuries over the course of the season, particularly in defence, have forced Clough to shuffle his pack quite radically at times and play players out of position when needed, but a likely mid-table finish and a run to the League Cup semi-final will be a decent return from what could have been a more troubling campaign.
Like Mark Robins, Clough tends to prefer to build his teams from the basis of a solid defensive unit. For the first half of the campaign, Burton were stronger at home where they could dominate possession and pass their way through sides, but more recently, Burton have struggled at home and been better away from home where they can utilise their counter-attacking threat.
Who To Look Out For?
Burton currently only have one out-and-out striker on their books in Liam Boyce. The Northern Ireland international started the season in impressive form both in leading the line in attack and scoring goals, however, his goalscoring form seems to have tailed-off over recent months, perhaps a result of the reliance his side have on him. While not the tallest, Boyce competes well physically, while having the technical ability to link the play effectively.
If there is one player that sums up Burton’s season, it is Lucas Akins – the Swiss Army footballer – who has played in just about every outfield position possible for the Brewers this season. Primarily a pacey and fairly physical winger, Akins has regularly played as a lone striker or at full-back season, and even had a stint filling in in central defence.
Elsewhere, Burton have a strong and settled midfield three in Jamie Allen, Stephen Quinn and Scott Fraser. All three combine a good mixture of work-rate, physicality and technical ability, with Allen tending to sit in front of the defence and providing licence for Quinn and Fraser to push forward. Wingers David Templeton and Marcus Harness have been key sources of creativity and are likely to provide Burton with their counter-attacking threat.
Areas To Exploit
Burton are likely to sit in as a starting strategy for this game to avoid exposing their defence to the pace that we have on the counter-attack in Luke Thomas, Jordy Hiwula and Bright Enobakhare. As in the earlier meeting between the two teams, the key to this game for us is likely to be in making opportunities on the counter pay-off, particularly if we can get opportunities to run directly at centre-backs Jake Buxton and Kyle McFadzean.
Like us, Burton tend not to be the most clinical of sides, so there should be an extent to which we can look to soak up some of their attacking pressure, although they have much more of a physical presence about them than ourselves and are likely to be able to exploit one of our biggest recent weaknesses – set-pieces.