For the last two seasons, Burton have had the footballing equivalent of that last pint you really want but know is unwise, losing a play-off semi-final to Bradford in 2012/13 and the final to Fleetwood last season. Their start to this campaign, seven unbeaten in the league until they ran into Wimbledon last Tuesday and the scalps of Wigan and QPR in the League Cup, suggested that they were well placed to go one better this time out.
The success of Gary Rowett’s team has not gone unnoticed, with Championship crisis club Blackpool recently making a clumsy approach for Rowett, reminiscent of a drunk making a pass at somebody only to split their head open on the floor after missing the kiss they leaned in for. Rowett’s decision to rebuff this advance was made of the same flinty pragmatism as his team, though his crass media statement saying he’d rejected a job that Jose Riga still occupied did him no favours.
It is not hard to see why a desperate club would look to Rowett. His team generally find a way to get the job done – their two legged play-off semi-final with Southend last season being a perfect example. Down to 10 men after an hour of a first game interrupted by a downpour, they held on grimly for a 1-0 win, before muscling their way to a 2-2 draw at Roots Hall in the return to secure a Wembley date.
While neither of these performances were aesthetically pleasing, they were effective. It is tempting to think that the lessons Rowett learned as a player in John Beck’s notoriously physical and nihilistic but successful Cambridge team of the early 1990s, are an enduring influence on him.
They set up for a physical battle at Wimbledon, with a giant team, spearheaded by the powerful figures of Ian Sharps at the back and Lucas Akins up front. Unfortunately for them, they encountered a Wimbledon side unwilling to take a backward step to this, and fought fire with fire. That two of their goals in Wimbledon’s 3-0 win were scored by the huge Adebayo Akinfenwa is probably the most obvious illustration of this. When Akins was forced off injured just after the half hour, it threw a team already trailing to Matt Tubbs’ cool finish into a state of flux which Akinfenwa was able to exploit minutes later.
It would be unfair to characterise Burton as an outfit dependent on slightly more sophisticated pub team tactics though. Besides, it isn’t as if Burton are alone among their League Two contemporaries in not minding a bit of the rough stuff. Their second half showing, dreadful defending for Wimbledon’s third goal aside, demonstrated that Rowett was trying to address the problem Akins’ withdrawal gave them and, at Robbie Weir’s tireless prompting, attempted a number of short passing sequences at odds with a physical approach.
Saturday’s defeat to fellow promotion-chasers Bury was an unfortunate follow-on to the Wimbledon game, but it is almost unheard of for a team at any level not to endure a sticky patch. If Rowett can keep thinking beyond a single tactical template as well as keeping his streetwise outlook, he will be well placed to ensure that Burton don’t slur their words and burp this time when they ask League One if they can come in for coffee.
Burton fans: Will Gary Rowett stay to finish the job of taking you to League One? Do you think that the criticism of your style of football is unwarranted?
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