My grandparents used to say that if it was knackered, it had either "gone to France" (WW 1 reference) or "gone for a Burton" (given up and gone for a pint of Burton on Trent's most famous product, beer).
For most of this season, we've been a suitable target for either reference. Not today, as we not only kept our first clean sheet of the season, but popped in a couple of late ones from Vaughan and Honeyman to make our day a good one.
Much of the pre-match chat had been about the virtues of two up front, and whether or not Vaughan, for all his combative style, actually gets in the way of Grabban. With a couple of hours to spend in town as opposed to the single hour before Villa, there was plenty of time for relaxed discussion, quite a bit of which was about Watmore’s shocking luck with his knee. The environs of the Dog in Burton, one of the best pubs I've ever visited, encouraged such sensible chat, the barman ordered our taxi, and we arrived at the Pirelli stadium properly up for the game. Having opted for a standing ticket, I was eye level with the players as we kicked off away from the visiting fans. Trees, floodlights on pylons...a proper football ground, with the option to pay a few quid less to stand officially rather than in front of your seat. Terracing meant that your neighbours changed every couple of minutes, but brought the threat of being hoyed up in the air by Ruddy should anything nice happen.
Which it did.
Matthews O'Shea Browning Oviedo
McNair Catts Honeyman
Kicking away from the visiting fans, most of whom were clearly making the most of their visit to a new ground, we showed plenty of endeavour and willingness, in our pale blue kit, to stick to the shape Coleman had dictated. With the two Mc’s out wide, and Oviedo always willing to back up on the left, we threatened down the flanks without creating too much in the way of clear-cut chances. Or pretty football, to be honest, but we’ve long since stopped hoping for that and simply wanting a win. Burton, almost as desperate as us for points, ran hard in the early exchanges, giving McNair a hard time which resulted in a bang in the face – it’s a hard life, eh? O’Shea had our back four well organised and they protected Ruiter well – and, it has to be said, the big Dutch fella caught whatever came his way, and his kicks – well, they looked awful when they first left his boot, but curled back into decent areas each time. Nee Pickford, but not bad.
Oviedo’s low cross initially beat the Burton defence, but Grabban couldn’t get to it and the home side cleared, eventually building an attack of their own which we again cleared quite comfortably. In truth, the first half didn’t have many moments of quality and the excitement came towards the end, after we’d had a decent amount of possession in the opposition half and won a load of corners that we failed to make anything of. Unfortunately (almost) that excitement was at our end, when their lad had a great chance but hoofed it hopelessly just past my head instead of giving Ruiter any trouble, to the amusement of our fans. Almost immediately, they had another chance but put it just wide from distance.
0-0 at the break, which is pretty good for us given what’s happened so far this season, and it was about fair – we on the terraces were happy enough to be level, anyway.
No changes for the second half, and Burton fashioned the first chance which they put over the roof – not difficult at the far end of the compact and bijou Pirelli Stadium after they’d got through our defence far too easily. The snow/sleet/rain that had been forecast began to come down, getting our heads wet, which is a bit of a novelty in these days of all-seater, all-covered grounds, and in response to the falling temperature, we began running around a bit more to keep warm. Grabban got on the end of a cross from Oviedo, and we were ready to leap into the air in celebration before their keeper pulled of a great reaction save to keep the score level. As the game progressed, we were getting more crosses in from both sides, but, while he might score goals, Grabban’s nee Niall Quinn, and the home defence dealt with the high ones. We did try the more sensible option of low crosses, but, again, the home defence got bodies in the way, and it looked like being one of those afternoons when we’d keep trying but be thwarted at every turn. Not what we needed, so McGeady tried drifting inside to sniff out a chance for one of his trademark curly wifters, but he couldn’t work the space for a shot.
With 20 to go, McNair’s legs, and probably lungs, went and Gibson came on to partner Catts in front of the defence. Burton had a couple of half-chances which they failed miserably with, then Coleman made the decisive substitutions. Firstly, Vaughan replaced McGeady as we looked to rough up their defence a bit – and it nearly came off when he looked to be pulled down in the box. No penalty, and not too much complaining from James after the initial appeal. Then Asoro replaced McManaman and his pace proved decisive, putting the tiring home defence on the back foot and helping to win a corner. Oviedo curled it in, Catts (aye, Catts- what in the wide world of sport was he doing in the box?) flicked it on from the front post, and Vaughan hoyed himself at the ball to head in from close range at the back. Get in. Being only a few yards from the fans made it all the more dramatic, Ruddy did indeed hoy me in the air, and when we settled down, I found myself a few steps closer to the goal with a whole new set of neighbours. Terracing – doncha just love it? There were only five or so minutes of normal time left, and that goal seemed to kill Burton completely, with their chins visibly on their chests. Ooh Vaughany, Vaughany Vaughany Vaughany.
A few minutes later, Asoro did one of those stop/start things that left his marker for dead, and whacked in a cross that beat the rest of the defence and found Honeyman a couple of yards out. Boom, 2-0, end of story, and more lowping about and hugging strangers – but they’re not strangers, just fellow supporters whose names you don’t know. Ooh Geordie, Geordie Geordie Geordie. Cue even more joyous singing as I found myself propelled to the barrier at the very front and almost within touching distance of the net. Then the ref signalled the end of proceedings, we saluted the players, Coleman came onto the pitch and showed his delight, we made our way back to the buses in celebratory mood.
Something tells me we’re onto something good with our new boss – I know it’s early days, and he’s only presided over a couple of games, but his tactics looked canny and his substitutions made sense, changing our shape and baffling the opposition. I can see Asoro being a very valuable player as we look for options as well as Vaughan to help Grabban.
Man of the Match? I’d probably give it to Oviedo, as he seems to be the new Micky Gray, combining defensive solidity with attacking flair built on a fair bit of pace.
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