Burton Albion 0 Yellows 1

Now, I do understand how the media works. How it distills complex multi-layered stories into a simple central narrative fit for half interested punters who, ultimately, pay its bills (let’s face it, it’s not you and I, because we’re usually at the match).

So, I understand why Setanta’s central theme yesterday was all about Burton and ultimately its failure. The transition from ‘non-league’ (for this read a non-competition) to football league is the greatest in English football and I understand that this makes good airtime.

But it would it have been too much to acknowledge that a sixth of Burton’s record crowd were not there to celebrate their (surely) imminent ascent. Or that Adam Chapman’s goal was from a drawer someway beyond non-league. That, perhaps, something is happening at Oxford that is good and exciting.

Or perhaps it would have been nice to talk to some Oxford players or staff after the game. Or, as a minimum, perhaps they could have blamed Burton fans for the post-match pitch invasion instead of claiming it was irate Oxford supporters.

Yup, the Conference and its devil mouth piece hate us. Love the money it makes from our profile, but hate us. We are jumped up privileged university students who are being rightly spanked for the ‘crimes’ of being jumped up privileged university students. Like a bunch of boorish toffs, we travel the country expecting others to roll over and let us take their young. But, hah, good, solid, hard-working ‘proper’ non-leaguers made up of postmen and plumbers being dragged up by their boot-straps are rubbing our snooty noses in it.

These stereotypes are convenient; it is widely ignored that Burton are more stable than us and that this all but assured their promotion from day one. In this sense our turnaround is more remarkable than their promotion. The results, of course, have been an important factor but the financial difficulties, points deduction, the fan revolution and the sheer bloody legacy and expectation make this a story richer and more intriguing than that of the champions. Not that Setanta will ever acknowledge that, that would spoil the story.

We will forever be the bete noir of the Conference. Next season we will compete against toughened non-league perennials and ex-league victims of incompetent and criminal administrations (unlike us, of course). Our story and our success will only ever be for us alone.

Altrincham 1 Yellows 0, Yellow 2 Burton Albion 1

In the car park there was a transit van painted like the Dream Machine – yes, it seems that the mystery surrounding Friday’s fire attracted Scooby-doo and the gang. You just know it was Firoz Kassam in a rubber fright mask. He would have got away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids…

To stretch an analogy to breaking point, the biggest mystery of all has yet to be solved. How can you lose to Altrincham and then dominate and win against Burton – the team I have down as favourites for the title.

Currently, my thinking is pace – we have, for the first time, a team that enjoys playing at the Kassam. It enjoys playing a high tempo, expansive game. Murray spreads the play, Haldane, Yemi and Deering prowl the flanks, Constable and Guy pull defenders all over the place. One of the reasons Phil Trainer has had a goal-rush is because he’s been able to exploit the space being created behind the front two.

The problem, then, is guile. When pitches are small and teams are compact, breaking them down is going to be difficult with the personnel we’ve got. I’m not necessarily suggesting that we need more creativity in midfield – Adam Murray is pretty capable at mixing up his passing. The key, I think, is in the efficiency of set pieces. When we gain territory, we’ve got to make it count better than we do currently. Oddly, our season may be defined by the number of goals our centrebacks end up getting.

Us 0 Burton 3

Just because two things correlate, doesn’t mean that one thing is causing the other. So, it may be true that teams lower down the league have more borderline decisions go against them, but that doesn’t mean teams are made poor by bad refereeing decisions. Derby County, for example, are not a Champions League contender on a bad run.

Likewise, just because the big teams have run-out music (Manchester United – This is the One by Stone Roses, Arsenal – Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim), doesn’t mean run out music makes the game anymore exciting. The recent switch at the Kassam to Guns and Roses’ clarion call – ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ does not make the ground, in any way, a jungle – as yesterday’s lame defeat proved.
Let’s face it; if you and I can’t wait for the season to end, and Darren Patterson can’t wait for the season to end, it is difficult to expect the players to care too much about what happens in these games.
But they’re professionals, you say, they’re paid good money, you say – and you’re right (though the money probably isn’t as good as many perceive). But, as everyone knows when things are going bad at work, the fact you’re a professional and being paid is not always enough to make you care. As a fan, the motivation for wanting to win – the cultural programming that aligns our status with that of our chosen club, the time and money we’ve wasted as punters – is different to the players; to them it’s just a job.
So like kids having a kick around in the park, there was a lot of enthusiasm at the start of yesterday’s game and we looked pretty good. But as soon as we went behind it was apparent there was little point in trying to claw it back. We’re just a team idling towards the end of the season. Everyone was just waiting for someone to shout ‘next goal wins’ so we could all go home. Next season the results it may be worse, they may be better, they may be the same – but it is likely that the input – the effort, in particular, will be completely different. As awful as yesterday’s result was, it won’t have much of a baring on how we shape up for next season.

Burton 1 Us 2

A bloggers’ pressure is that feeling that you have to find something to say. A football blog waits for no man, one game comes and you need to write up your thoughts before another beckons. The pressure, I’m sure you can tell, is almost unbearable.

The Setanta deal offers a new pressure for the club this season. We appear to be Setanta regulars, the Thursday scheduling invariably means the next game will move to Sunday. We’re going to be put into the position of always playing catch-up.

During the Glory Years, we always seemed to have games in hand; which was considered a good thing. Nowadays we seem to have a habit of crumbling under that kind of pressure. Going into games knowing what result is needed is not good for us.

Needing a win is one thing, but one suspects its where there’s an opportunity to extend a lead or make up some ground where we’ll really foul up. Certainly that seemed to be the case last year.

That said, we’re sitting on six points following Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burton when I’d have been happy with four. There’s still a lot of tests ahead; we probably won’t have a decent idea of what kind of force we are until we’ve finally got through the absurd situation of eight games in September. Just to get that into perspective; we won’t play that many games in October and November put together. This early sprint for positions could get ugly.

Burton: men swear

A totally featureless game yesterday. Nick Harris et al were harping on about how desperate we are and how nail biting it all is, but they’ve got airtime to fill. There’s little to fear in the play-offs apart from ourselves. Burton’s performance was typical of all the play-off contenders; organised, reasonable approach play, no punch. There were 15 points available to the six main play-off contenders yesterday and just 8 were picked up. This is a league not blessed with consistency.

It was difficult to judge our own effectiveness given the tactical impotence that resulted from the injuries to Burgess, Johnson and Quinn. We do know, however, that we can play, we don’t concede much, and sometimes, just sometimes, we really can let rip. Finding the magic formula to make that all come together on the right day is key, as Chris Hargreaves mentioned, it may simply be the carrot of Wembley is enough to raise our game.

Speaking of which, was there a air of dissent in Hargreaves’ post match interview? His comment was that we need a settled team and system, and stop chopping and changing. He also mentioned the dropping of Carl Pettefer, which seemed an extreme decision – unless he was rested; it just wasn’t clear.

I’ve got to agree; throughout the season we’ve been effective as a 4-4-2, 5-3-2 and 4-3-3. Every player has had their purple patch. We’ve a decent squad with obvious weaknesses, but it’s now time to settle on a way of playing. These players aren’t good enough to play in a squad rotation system. March is out the way, the title is decided. The final month is now the time to bed a system in.

It’s possible Jim Smith is deliberately changing things to see how partnerships work out and to get match sharpness up; particularly up front. He may already have a firm idea of how he’s going to play April and May; even though it didn’t look like it throughout March. Now is the time to settle. For me, we’ve got to start with Yemi and Duffy up front; for no other reason that over the season they’ve been the most effective. Zeboski and Robinson can come off the bench depending on the progress of the game. Zeboski didn’t look great yesterday, but, in part, that was because he was involved. He doesn’t look a 90 minute player – though again, he may only be playing 90 minutes for match sharpness. He may well be most effective coming off the bench.

Mr Smith, the decision is yours.