Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Half a masterclass: the Mighty vs Burton Albion

The fires of passion... 

Here's what I'm hoping is happening pre match. The lads are in the changing room, when Critch comes in. They glance up to see their normally mild mannered boss speaking to Colin Calderwood quietly. The big man turns to them and says... 

"Right lads, imagine this isn't me, but that it's Critch" 

...before launching his right foot straight into the door of the dressing room, which splinters and falls off its hinges. 

Silence falls. 

"That," says Critch, with impeccable timing "is what I want you to do to Burton's defence tonight

The atmosphere is electric. They're not used to this kind of thing. There's usually a diagram, a talk, a reminder of the importance of fluids and ball retention. Sometime a powerpoint. Perhaps Mike Garrity will clap a bit. This is different. Even Big Gaz is paying attention. He's stopped rolling a fag and is looking at Critch with a raised eyebrow... 

"Yes Gary?" 
"I see what yer sayin, like, but, like, why didn't you kick the door? Why did big Col do it?" 
"Cos I'm a little impish fella Gary and I'd just bounce off it" 
"Ah, I get yer now" 
"Is that everything Gary?" 
"Oh aye, I like it Boss. Canny. I like it, Clever like..." 

Critch nods. He's got a look of pure determination. His face is steel. His eyes burning coal. 

"Colin, come here and stand next to me and stare at the lads would you?" 

"Right lads, imagine this isn't me staring at you, but it's Critch" 

Then the little man lets fly... "I want blood, I want guts, I want fucking thunder. I want fucking THOR HIMSELF.... I want those cunts to know they've been in a game after 5 minutes. I want them on their fucking arses after 10, I want them in fucking tears begging for mercy after 15. I want blitzkrieg, I want the fires of fucking hell raining down on their goal line... Do you understand me? DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME?... Yes Grant?" 

"What about the stuff we normally do about recycling the ball and filling in behind each other"

"Good question Grant.... Fuck that shit. I want all out warfare. I want Dresden 1944 to seem like a fucking picnic in the park compared to what we unleash on them. Ollie, if I see you run forward then check back, you'll be checking into the Vic, do you understand? (Colin, stare harder at him) Garbutt, if I see you pissing about with your alice band, I'll shave your fucking head, Sullay, fuck that tracking back and shadowing shite you normally do, just run at them, fucking do whatever you want as long as it's good. Dougs? For fucks sake, would it hurt to have shot sometime? Simmsy?" 

"Yes boss?" 

"Say I'm a fucking man

"Er, I'm a man" 

"No, say it properly" 

"I'm a man" 

"No, I'm a FUCKING man, fucking shout it lad...Shout it! Colin, stare at him until he does it properly" 

Then Critch goes round the dressing room, head butting each player and screaming "GET UGLY YOU FUCKING CUNTS, DO THEM, DO THEM, DO THEM" He's got blood running down his forehead by the time he's finished, which he smears down his face and uses to fashion his hair into crimson horns before walking the team out to their new run out music (below) - Bloomfield is lit, not by floodlights but by flaming torches and the game is all but won, before we've kicked off. 

What of the selection roulette wheel? CJ, Stewart out, Demi and Matty V in. On the bench though, there's great excitement as Ethan has been found! Even better, there's Brad Holmes amongst the sub, something that makes me very happy. A goal is a goal, but it's worth just a little bit more if it's a debut goal by local boy. 

Burton jog out, and it seems they've borrowed Fleetwood's shit grey kit. Sadly, we come out to Ten Pole Tudor, not Aphex Twin and worryingly there's no sign of Mike Garrity sacrificing a goat on the touchline... C'mon Pool, get into them for fucks sake! 


Chissy is into moaning about late flags after just 70 seconds. Shortly afterwards he mistakes Sullay for Ollie Turton. No, me neither. The real Sullay is then scolded for not making a tackle, that had he made, Chissy would no doubt have described as 'silly' or 'unnecessary' in chiding tone. 

Burton are all long throws and driving the ball at our box at every opportunity, aiming for the channels and running hard on the shoulders of our backline. 

I've got to be honest, whilst others seem to see long throws as some sort of filthy low art, akin to some kind of tuneless peasant voice spoiling the glorious classical symphony of passing football, I'm always envious when a team employs them. 

Kaikai is described as 'careless', then gets a roasting for changing his boots. 

Burton have an early injury and have to replace a player. Demi wriggles and writhes on the right, he always seems a bit out of control, like a stick caught in a the swirling vortex of water, bobbing and spinning  then suddenly, with barely an inch of back lift lashes an effort from the right of the box that looks to be heading in but is headed away at the last moment. 

Burton respond with a neat snapshot at the near post then shortly after, a long throw that's flicked on twice before being nodded down but wide of of the far post. It's a let off and so is a moment later where Pool fail to complete a clearance and see it knocked it back in, their striker is beyond our defence (that has stepped up) but only his lack of control saves the day. 

They work another moment, a curling shot that looks to be going wide but is tipped behind anyway by Maxwell. The corner isn't immediately dangerous but again we can't complete the clearance and a deep ball is swung in from wide left, Carter gets in front of Garbutt and nods it in. Fucking hell Pool.

We offer little in response other than Garbutt corner swung right under the bar that causes the keeper to flap but no one pressures him. Burton continue to press, continue to give us no time and it's evident again that our creativity is too deep and we're trying to play football but just getting nowhere, then banging it long and losing it. 

Finally we see a bit of play. Sullay is inside, receives and turns, spreads it quickly to Yates who spots and feeds Garbutt outside of him. The ball is driven low to the near post, it looks like a clearance but Simms keeps it alive, blocking, hacking and eventually causing it to deflect to Virtue who lines up a screamer but connects only with air. It's something at least even if it was never really very close. 

We manage a gorgeous first time pass from Dougall leading to a crossing chance that Sullay makes a mess of. We then put together a nice passing move that ends with Virtue making a good connection but a block then sends it looping and spinning away for a corner. We work it short, it seems a great chance for a cross from the corner of the box but Sullay, again, makes a mess of it. 


Seasoned readers will know I will not have anything said against Kaikai. Tonight is not his best game. That's I think a polite description. This is Sullay as other see him. It's like he's trying to be the player people claim he is. Again, Simms is not a target man. This is going to sound daft, but if we had another right sided centre half fit, I'd be tempted to chuck Dan Ballard up front to win the ball and cause a few problems. That's how week we've been up front. 

Maybe the master plan was to save the door kicking and head butting till half time? Let Burton tire themselves out and then unleash hell in the second half? I hope so because when Ollie Turton had been the most consistent attacking threat, you can tell the first half hasn't gone to plan. Demi's had the odd moment, Dougall has tried to pass it but nothing has worked and they've been way better than us


So, Embleton comes on and Simms makes way. What does that mean? 5 in midfield? A calypso football festival of 20 pass moves finished off by lone star Jerry? To be honest I don't care as long as it's better than that showing. 

We do manage a better start. A bold move with a landmark for the game as Sullay completes two passes in a row including spreading the play well and then being the nearest to getting onto the end of a Mitchell cross-come-shot. 

It doesn't last at Burton force Ballard to head just over his own bar from another stupidly good cross, then cause all sorts of panic from the resulting corner, the ball flashing across goal... 

We're higher up the pitch and looking better but the converse is that they're cutting through us with even more ease at times. Embleton has made a difference, working across the midfield, exchanging with Sullay. Mitchell plays a glorious little chip and Virtue races on to it. He hits hard,straight into the head of a defender who goes down as if he's been shot but Virtue just stalks past him. There's intent in the players where there was only apathy or helplessness. From the corner, it comes out to Mitchell who drives it hard and Virtue is inches away from making contact with a fancy back heel that would have been a lovely moment. This is better. 

And then we score. Sullay suddenly explodes on a run, the ball is lifted over the top, he controls in the area but he's squeezed out and the ball is cleared. Garbutt slides in though to win it back on the corner of the box, the ball pops up, hits Embleton, falls nicely for Garbutt who has got to his feet, takes a stride and hammers it from the left hand side of the box into the bottom corner. A lovely finish. 

We're alive. At last. Embleton sweeps it wide. Sullay kills it, steps inside and crashes it inches past the post. So close. We work it again across the pitch, patient but sharp. Yates peels off his man, coming from the penalty spot to the near post to find space, Virtue spots him and Jerry crashes it into the near side netting. Just a minute later, Virtue finds him again with a really impressive long ball but Jerry stumbles as he takes it. 

Chopper Kaikai intercepts, we ping it about until Turton has it on the by-line and only a desperate challenge can divert it behind. Two corners follow, both cause problems and much scrambling and hacking but not even a Kenny Dougall acrobatic sideways aerial karate style leap and kick can force it home. 

The minutes tick by... Burton come back into it slowly. A long ball over the top is turned towards goal, it looks fairly harmless but Maxwell fumbles and Turton has to hack it clear. The passing had lost it's crispness. Fouls are being exchanged. Pool need an injection but the bench is light and it's difficult to see who would bring a cutting edge if not Brad Holmes.

Then Sullay spins and spreads it beautifully, he's been reborn this half, he's looked everything he wasn't in the first... and again we work it to the byline via Turton and an excellent overlap from Virtue and again a drilled ball across is close but not enough... 

The game ends with Burton in the corner and us belting it long and chasing it down but neither side can really put the pressure on. 


In some ways, the second half was the most encouraging bit of football at home in ages. It was as if Critch actually did what I suggested in the intro, albeit probably in a more mild mannered way of asking pointed questions in a slightly huffy voice.

We had a go, we sustained pressure for a period of time which is what we haven't been doing. Whether Sullay had a cuddle with Critch, a good hard stare from Col, Mike G offered to by him a wham bar if he played better or they threated to ring his mum if he didn't sort it out, I have no idea, but the difference in his play when invited to roam by the presence of Embleton was marked. This was shackles off Sullay and he's way better than stood on the touchline looking lost Sullay. 

Embleton himself made a big difference, he didn't stand out for any one moment of sublime skill but he ran hard, moved well, exchanging places with Kaikai. He was physical, his ball use was intelligent and his intent was always forward, creative, probing. This made space for Virtue who also used the ball really well at times and started appearing in the box. The full backs bombed on. Risks were taken and risk paid off. Demi ran without a care, he created, he harried, he tried things out. He played well. 

I thought Jerry was unlucky and showed some really clever movement tonight. Sometimes I'm critical of him not moving as he could, but several times he created lovely space, invited the ball and just couldn't quite take it in or quite find the shot. 

It's probably shows we're trying to convince ourselves that we are top 6 material that I'm talking up a good second half display that rescued a point after a dire first half performance. That said, we were without CJ, Madine, Ekpiteta, the Viking and Stewart who are probably 5 of our most 'top 6 players' and whilst that's not a valid excuse for how dismal we were first half, it's reason to not abandon all hope just yet as that isn't our best 11 by some measure and there was little on the bench to inject the last bit of energy needed to win the game. 

Had we played like we did in the second half from the outset, we'd have won it. That's a pointless observation, because we didn't, but we've been starved of a convincing performance at home and that was half a convincing one, even if the first half was completely unconvincing and we let a shithouse team with a long throw and a bit of huff and puff piss all over us. 

Critch got it wrong and then he got it right. I don't mind a manager getting it wrong and it's encouraging to see him getting it right and getting a response from the team at half time as that's not been uniform to date. Again, none of that really smacks of 'the Pool are going up' but maybe it gives us a way of playing without Madine that isn't so cursed by failing to retain the ball in forward positions and maybe Embleton has a purpose after all. If we are going to get into the playoffs, we need to play like that second half at home more often and we need to grasp at the creativity offered as we've really lacked it.  


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