I’ve already discussed the performance of referee Scott Oldham at length today as I thought it was worthy of its own article - give that a read too if you’re feeling in the mood... Instead, in this piece, we’ll try and focus on other aspects of the evening.
- We didn’t lose - another game passes where we’re unbeaten at the Stadium of Light in league action. We haven’t lost on home turf this season yet and that bodes well for the rest of the campaign - and with two games coming up at the SOL, we need to ensure we keep that run going. We’re still unbeaten in the League in 2019 too, impressive considering how often we seem to concede daft goals and go behind.
- We found a way to come from behind once more. I said it after our spirited comeback at Rochdale on Saturday, but this team just doesn’t know when its beaten. Even when they’re tired or not playing particularly well I still feel like we have a goal in us, and yesterday night it was up to Grant Leadbitter to turn provider from a set piece once more.
- Whilst we only scored once we created plenty of chances. With just a bit of luck we’d have won - Charlie Wyke battering a volley off the bar and Grant Leadbitter’s superb left-footed strike off the post were close calls that, had then been an inch or two lower or to the side, would have resulted in a goal. I think over the course of the ninety minutes we can feel hard done by in that respect.
- We’re second in the table with a game in hand. Had you said to me after the cup final loss that we’d be sat little over a week later in second place with a game in hand I’d have snapped your arm off. Let’s not underestimate how significant our results this week have been - we mustn’t dwell too much on the negatives because right now positivity is what we need to push forward. Haway!
As has often been the case this season I came away from the game a tad worried by the performance of our central defenders. The full backs did well as they always tend to do, and Bryan Oviedo looked sharp and a level above at times - testament to his professionalism when you consider just how much football he’s missed this season - but the two lads in the middle did very little to satisfy the supporters with their individual performances.
It seemed to go from bad to worse for the pair of them, who grew more and more conscious of their mistakes as the fan groans rightly intensified. Whilst some aspects of their game were positive - Baldwin got a goal, and Flanagan made a great covering challenge when Burton looked certain to score in the second half - generally they both struggled and were the source of many decent spells of possession breaking down.
I often wonder if they’re being asked to play in a way they aren’t necessarily comfortable with. Their passing out from the back is erratic and generally poor, and when you’ve got decent players like Grant Leadbitter coming short to retrieve possession it’s bewildering why they’d then look to launch long balls forward.
Generally the pair have been fine this season, so I don’t want to dwell too much on it.
We need them to be refocused for Saturday as its another huge game, and we can’t do anything about the last performance. That said, I couldn’t talk about the game without passing comment on their display - it was perhaps another reminder that we’ve not necessarily got a settled defence, even with just a handful of games remaining.
Could Jimmy Dunne get another chance to play on Saturday? I wouldn’t be shocked.
Tiredness & Fatigue...
What was obvious to everyone both on and off the pitch was that the Lads were feeling the effects of having played four games in the space of nine days.
The squad was stretched - signified by the fact that there were a distinct lack of options on the bench - and those out on the field were pretty much the same players who had featured in the majority of our recent games.
The 120 minutes at Wembley on that huge pitch, two away fixtures on awful surfaces at Accrington and Rochdale and then a game at the SOL (which rivals Wembley for size) was always going to take its toll on our legs.
That’s perhaps where I have some sympathy with Flanagan and Baldwin. Whilst I’ve said above that they were a sore point in our performance last night, both of them have played every minute of all of the aforementioned four games - perhaps its just a case that we aren’t as sharp as we need to be to put away decent teams like Burton, who in my eyes are one of the best sides we’ve faced at the Stadium of Light this season.
We’ve got three days to prepare for the next game, where we can only hope that the lads are refreshed and we have a small handful of players back from injury who could be the difference in tight matches.
McGeady, Maguire and Cattermole could all feasibly make the squad for the Coventry game and had they been fit for last night I think they’d have all started, so to be able to call upon them in a game we really must win could be pivotal.
Let’s just hope we have no further injury problems to contest with. Right now we need as many players available as possible in order to ensure we maximise each and every opportunity to win three points.
The games are going to get tougher but a big push is needed towards the end of the season - and players who are carrying knocks might have to nurse them in order to ensure they can play in all of these massive games we have coming up.