The reasons for doubt are one-by-one slipping away. Unbeaten in seven league games, only one goal shy of first-place, and having won a home game (well, you know what I mean) from a losing position for the first time in well over three years, these are all the hallmarks of a side that can stay around the upper end of the division. The main caveat being, there are 37 games still to play.
The task now is to keep things going, with this away trip to Burton Albion another test of what this side is capable of.. A defeat wouldn’t be the end of the world, but having the mentality to keep putting in maximum effort despite having the safety blanket of 15 points on the board after seven games is what will separate the teams that stick around at the top from those that drop away.
Once again, all eyes are on whether Mark Robins final starts Callum O’Hare following back-to-back stoppage time goals from the Aston Villa loanee. While O’Hare clearly offers more drive in midfield than our current starting XI, I suspect that Mark Robins may be content with O’Hare playing that ace in the hole role from the bench right now, as opposed to having someone like Jordan Shipley or Zain Westbrooke on the bench who are less capable of changing the game if brought on.
Elsewhere, a key selection decision may be in central defence. We saw the best and worst of what Kyle McFadzean could offer last week, his aerial presence from set-piece situations and willingness to force things in possession played a role in our comeback, however, he also never looked too far away from getting caught out or making a defensive error. While Dominic Hyam and MIchael Rose are calmer, more mobile presences at the back, we possibly lose a little aggression at the back when they are played in tandem.
Injuries affect the rest of the team selection decisions for Mark Robins. If fit, Brandon Mason should come back into the side despite some good performances in his stead by Sam McCallum. Issues with Liam Kelly and Jamie Allen leave us short in central midfield – aside from the Callum O’Hare conundrum – and, while largely impressive on his debut last week, playing Liam Walsh at the base of the midfield three leaves us exposed to physical opposition.
Last Time We Met
Our meeting with Burton Albion at the Ricoh Arena back in March was the closest we had come, prior to last Saturday’s win over Blackpool, to winning a home game after falling behind.
The first-half was almost all Burton Albion, with them pouncing on some defensive uncertainty to take the lead. The Sky Blues came out for the second-half with a determination to turn the game around, equalising through a cool Tom Bayliss finish, who then sent Luke Thomas clean through on goal minutes later.
With Thomas doing what he did all too often in a Coventry City shirt, fluffing a one-on-one opportunity, the game soon quickly spun out of control. First, Bright Enobakhare picked up a silly second yellow card to leave us with ten men. Then, Lee Burge was pressured into a poor kick, setting up Jamie Allen to score the winning goal for Burton.
Manager – Nigel Clough
Very much a safe pair of hands, despite Burton Albion losing several key players over the summer – goalkeeper Brad Collins and winger Marcus Harness, in addition to current Sky Blues Jamie Allen and Kyle McFadzean – with Nigel Clough in charge, it always seemed like the team would be able to absorb the blow despite the limited resources available.
After a summer of shopping in the free and loan market, often well behind in the pecking order for the better players, Clough has kept Burton ticking over in mid-table, well within reach of the top six places. A resourceful manager, Clough likes to operate with a small squad and hand opportunities to young players or experiment with players playing in different positions to their natural ones.
Who To Look Out For?
Although Burton have lost several of their better performers from last year, there is still a very strong core in place that Nigel Clough has been able to build around. From John Brayford and Jake Buxton in defence, Scott Fraser and Stephen Quinn in midfield, to Lucas Akins and Liam Boyce in attack, Burton have some stellar and very reliable performers that form the basis of this side.
Scott Fraser in midfield has been the star man over the opening weeks of the campaign, a tall, energetic and technically-gifted central midfielder, Fraser has notched three goals and two assists thus far. With the experienced Stephen Quinn playing the sitting role, Fraser has been complemented by the running of Ryan Edwards as the third in Burton’s midfield trio, the Australian started his career as a flying winger and offers excellent ball-carrying skills along with a level of grittiness in his work-rate.
Liam Boyce and Lucas Akins further forward are wonderfully selfless players who could both probably get more goals for themselves if they didn’t put so much on the line for their team-mates. Akins can play just about anywhere on the pitch, but his pace and physicality work well in a wide position, while Boyce tends to lead the line but pulls wide to bring others into play.
In addition to the exciting Everton loanee Nathan Broadhead (likely to be injured for this game), two key pieces of summer recruitment for Burton have been in defence, with Manchester United loan keeper Kieran O’Hara recently capped by the Republic of Ireland and John-Joe O’Toole – often seen as a goalscoring midfielder or striker – being converted into a centre-back.
Areas To Exploit
Burton have been susceptible to counter-attacks this season, the result of the lack of defensive pace that comes with having an ageing backline and looking to play high up the pitch through spells of possession As they are the home side, they are likely to want to dominate this game, Jordy Hiwula and Wesley Jobello being switched on for counter-attacking opportunities will be important here.
With that weakness from counter-attacks in mind, Burton are likely to be especially keen to come out of the traps quickly and take a lead they’ll be confident of protecting with an experienced back-line. If we can deny them the ability to control the game in the manner they are looking for, we’ll have a chance in what is a tricky away game.