I arrived at this game in a conflicted state. I was slightly grumpy due to being forced to shell out an extra £22 to change my train tickets to a Monday (thanks Sky, thanks DCFC!). To make matters worse, I’d proceeded to lose my return ticket, meaning another £27 gifted to East Midlands trains. What a numpty. On the other hand, I did see one of my all time heroes, the one & only Nigel Clough, while having a burger with Seasick Steve & wife in Byron before the game. Add a pint of Railway Porter in the Brunswick & I was more or less chilled out & ready for an important game.
The team news was not too different to what we all sort of expected. Thorne straight back when a few thought he might have been given a bit more recovery time. Carson managed to buck Clement’s ludicrous goalkeeping rotation policy by staying in the team for 2 games in a row. The undroppable Tom Ince was out after a knock in training, giving Weimann only his 2nd start of the season. A chance to impress for him (well, not really, as it turned out). Butterfield & Johnson were making their home debuts. I was interested to see what splurging £10 million does to the creativity of a team’s midfield (I think the jury is still out on that one..)
The game…? A good performance against a team who defended stubbornly & will clearly be play off/promotion contenders by the end of the season. Several players (Keogh, Russell, Christie) were outstanding, we kept the tempo up for most of the game, looked in control throughout (probably for the 1st time this season) & had a fair amount of good chances. We had two goal line clearances (one from a fabulous cross from Christie & another from a header from Keogh). Heaton had a great game in goal, comfortably saving from long range shots & headers from Martin & Thorne. I wonder if Heaton’s in danger of being rotated out of the team after a performance like that.. Vokes was fitfully dangerous for Burnley up front but didn’t take his chances well. Other than that, they concentrated on defending & staying in a solid shape. Obviously, all teams who come to the iPro do that but Burnley are more effective than most. They’re hardly going to light up the division with their attacking vigour.
Obviously, it’s games like this where we’re going to need that little bit extra in the final third, that bit of magic that only players like, for example, Will Hughes can give you. Otherwise, it’s all about getting some width & whipping dangerous crosses in. We certainly had a lot of joy down the right flank but Christie only fitfully managed to put really dangerous balls in at the right height. Perhaps, if Clement allows him a decent run in the side, rather than rotating him out, then he’ll have time to get more confidence in his crossing. He clearly is a confidence player, as the excellent & honest interview with Owen Bradley after the game demonstrated. I could be reading to much into it but it seems to me that being rotated out after playing well isn’t the panacea for squad team spirit that Clement likes to think. Especially if it only applies to some players. Why aren’t the forwards or central defenders being rotated?
This was yet another game that demonstrated how well the defence has progressed this season, exemplified by Keogh’s simply fantastic performance. He didn’t put a foot wrong defensively, charged forward in his usual decisive style & was a significant goal threat in Burnley’s area. He has to be a shoe in for player of the year if he can keep this up.
Shackell also did well I thought, he had Vokes in his pocket for most of the game & his solidity dovetails perfectly with Keogh. No longer does he have to cover for the failings of others, he can now concentrate on his own game. Alex Pearce must be wondering if he’ll ever get a game or, indeed, why he joined us. He’s not the only one.
How did the £10 million boys get on then? I thought they did well but there is a lot more to come. I was intrigued about Butterfield. One 3 minute YouTube video & some stats showing he was the most creative player in the Championship last season, was all I knew about him. He looked skillful & tidy in possession, was a lot more mobile than I expected & knocked the ball around well, without really demonstrating that he could slip a killer ball through to Martin, Russell or Weimann. Maybe that’ll come in a few games. Maybe he’ll find his shooting boots too. Having a go from outside the area is all well & good but you’ve got to hit the target.
Johnson was more impressive. I was expecting some robust work from him but his passing range surprised me. Full of honest endeavour too & surely potential captain material before long. Both players are certainly an upgrade on Hendrick & Bryson.
Talking about honest endeavour, I thought Johnny Russell had a great game. Martin? Didn’t really get the service & when he did get ball to feet it didn’t quite come off. Weimann? It didn’t really work for him, which is not really surprising seeing as playing wide is not really his position. Like Pearce, he must be wondering why he’s here & what his role is. Not unlike Darren Bent really.. Some fans were wondering why he wasn’t thrown on late in the 2nd half when we should have been chasing a winner. Well, as Owen Bradley said after the game, our problems weren’t in finishing chances off but in creating chances in the 1st place. Bent wouldn’t have helped us.
So. A draw wasn’t brilliant but I think we’ve got to take solace from the fact that we played well against a decent team, never looked liked conceding & are clearly progressing. I feel positive about visiting Milton Keynes & think we’ll win. It’ll be a lot more open, which I think suits us. Let’s just hope Clement doesn’t feel the need to drop our reliable goalkeeper & our rejuvenated right back. Time will tell.