That was disappointing all round. When you’ve conceded four goals – and to be fair it could easily have been six or seven, even though their first two were absolute gifts and their third and fourth sloppy on our part – there can be no complaints about leaving empty-handed. The fact that Burton’s defence also creaked badly and that on another night we might have at least matched their four didn’t disguise anything. They wanted it more than us and had a better attitude from the start (helped by the fact that almost from the start we gave them something to hold onto). Don’t think that’s been the case for any other game this season. Plus they had the standout performers on the pitch. Our makeshift defence was found out, run ragged and given little protection.
The line-up saw Pratley and Gunter retained in central defence, with Pearce and Oshilaja both on the bench, with Matthews and Maatsen making a back four in front of Amos. Gilbey started alongside Watson (Morgan starting on the bench), with Shinnie and Maddison providing midfield width, while Smyth was brought back in to start alongside Bogle, with Washington rested.
We started poorly, giving rise to the thought that against the team bottom of the league and with a tough game at Ipswich coming up on Saturday perhaps the mental attitude wasn’t right, or perhaps just that the changes we’d made left us a little uncertain. Also give credit to Burton. They were at us from the start. Perhaps they had done their homework and seen ways in which they could unpick us.
None of that excuses the two goals we gave them in the first half. A basic error by Gunter left their guy clear in on Amos, and although he smothered the first effort he kept going and scored the rebound. Later, after their guy had headed over at a stretch, Amos managed to blot his copybook with a howler, giving them possession. A dink over him and we were two behind.
In between the two gifts we had one or two moments, Watson claimed a penalty for a shove at a corner, but we were making plenty of mistakes at the back. Gunter misjudged a ball that was going to clear him and leave their guy in the clear, prompting a deliberate handball and a yellow. Presumably for an injury just after half an hour Bogle had gone off, replaced by Aneke.
Nevertheless, we managed to get back into it before the break with a scrappy but very welcome goal. A corner led to some head tennis and it finally dropped for Smyth, whose first effort from near range was blocked but his second went in. OK, you think take that, get to half-time and regroup. Instead there was still time for us to afford one of their all the space he wanted from a corner at the far post. Sloppy defending prevailed throughout.
Any thoughts about getting back on level terms not long into the second half went out of the window after about five minutes when we were undone by a training ground routine from a corner. Short one in, knocked back, cross in, guy puts in header which Amos saves at point blank range only for the rebound (again) to be converted.
That was followed by a double substitution as Maddison and Smyth went off for Morgan and Washington. And the impact was immediate, Morgan playing in Aneke, whose low cross was deflected and looped up for a header at the far post, then a Morgan shot was parried. And before long we had closed the gap. A ball into Washington and although his shot was blocked it came out to Morgan. His cross saw Aneke control it and swivel, hitting a shot on the turn into the net. By a distance the best strike of the night.
Now we did have the bit between our teeth, with Washington and Aneke combining well, Gilbey playing Washington in only for his shot to be saved. And Watson picked out Maatsen, whose cross flashed across the box without getting the necessary touch in. It was all to be of no avail as shortly after Williams came on for Gilbey we let in another. This one was down to sheer persistence, their guys just didn’t give up on a ball we should have cleared several times. Eventually it fell for one of theirs in the box and he scored.
With still 10 minutes of normal time (and six of stoppage time) to go there were more chances, in between the yellow cards we were picking up (after Watson came Gilbey, then Maatsen and Aneke, giving us five for the night). The last meaningful one for us saw Washington through but with a narrow angle. He cut back inside only to see his shot blocked it seemed by Aneke. But for good measure Burton almost had a fifth, taking advantage of more hesitancy in defence.
Tonight defensively most of what could go wrong did. Up front we created more than enough opportunities to win most games. Indeed, the stats show that both teams had 16 efforts on goal, with six on target for us and seven for them; we dominated possession with 63% and had eight corners to their three. But none of that tells the story. We were below par and error-prone, Burton were determined and exploited our weaknesses. It is a game that’s going to provide Bowyer and his team with plenty of food for thought, can’t simply write it off as a bad day at the office.
Amos – 6/10. Actually pulled off several fine saves, some of which saw the rebounds converted, but has to be marked down for the error.
Matthews – 7/10. Stands out in the defence for the fact that I can’t remember a howler from him.
Pratley – 5/10. Caught out tonight and bullied by their centre-forward. Not his fault of course, he’s filled in at the back manfully for us.
Gunter – 5/10. Really as for Pratley. Gave away the first goal, perhaps lucky to only get a yellow for the deliberate handball, uncomfortable throughout.
Maatsen – 5/10. By a distance his worst game for us. Small errors mounted up, miscontrols, his poor back pass resulted in a corner from which they scored. He will have been frustrated by it all but may be tired with the requirements of two games a week. He has been excellent until tonight.
Maddison – 5/10. Not good in the first half, far less of a driving force than on Saturday. Seemed to be improving in the second but was then replaced.
Watson – 5/10. Has to go down as a poor game. He’s there not least to protect the back four; and tonight they needed help.
Gilbey – 6/10. Started slowly but so did they all. Grew into the game.
Shinnie – 5/10. Not as conspicuous as he was when Maddison wasn’t in the team, a little peripheral tonight.
Smyth – 5/10. Did get his goal but otherwise rather anonymous, no sign of his pace being used to good effect.
Bogle – 5/10. Not especially good first half-hour and then went off.
Aneke – 7/10. Made a difference to our attacking threat and scored an excellent goal. Not sure if he has to lose a mark for blocking Washington’s goal-bound shot.
Morgan – 7/10. A real impact as we improved considerably going forward after his introduction.
Washington – 7/10. Also made a difference, unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet.
Williams – 5/10. Found it hard to get into the game when he came on for the final 15 minutes or so.