Date: 28th December 2011 at 4:15pm
Written by:

Boxing Day brought Burton a win that keeps them in the play-off places, but they made hard work of it against a Northampton Town side that played with ten men for 72 minutes of the game.

When the team was announced there was an audible groan from the sizeable Brewers following when both Macca and Adam Bolder were announced as the central midfield pairing, with one supporter making it known to the many standing around him that “no way will we get a win today with those two in the side”. On recent form you`d maybe have to agree with him and, as it happened, that prediction seemed valid indeed as within 60 seconds of the start the home side were ahead.

Ex-Brewer Lewis Young won a corner out on the Burton left that was initially half-cleared, but the ball was immediately played into the area again. In total there were four Cobblers attempts at goal and finally a Ross Atkins parry dropped to Berahino, who was left with the simple task of tapping the ball into the net. Worryingly, not once did a Burton player attempt to make contact with the ball.

Ah well, there were still 89 minutes left to claw something back.

In fact it took Burton about thirty seconds from the restart to equalise, with a Maghoma ball from the left being allowed by the Northampton defence to drift across to Cleveland, who was allowed to drill the ball home across the keeper from the edge of the box.

1-1 and we surely wouldn`t allow the second-bottom side in the league to go ahead again, would we? Oh yes we would….

I`ve long been of the view that Ryan Austin, as effective a central defender as you`ll get at our level, is sometimes prone to mad rushes of blood to the head that prove to be expensive in terms of goals and suspensions. This time though I have to sympathise with him as he conceded a penalty that only the referee appeared to see. A Northampton free kick was played in from the centre and with Austin and Langmead (I think) jostling for the ball, the referee awarded the home side a penalty that no one in a claret and white shirt appealed for. Not even Langmead! Anyway, given it was and Michael Jacobs duly dispatched it, sending Atkins the wrong way to put the home side ahead again.

For a few minutes after this goal both sides seemed determined to match each other when it came to woeful passing, but then on 18 minutes the home side`s number 14 appeared to lead with a raised arm against Macca and was shown an instant red card by the referee. It was Macca who minutes earlier had conceded the free kick from which Northampton earnt their penalty, the free kick being given for a foul on Johnson, the Northampton 14, and it appeared that an attempt at retribution by the Cobblers defender went horribly wrong. On the bright side he at least got to the showers long before his teammates messed them up.

And so it remained 1-2 from the Burton perspective, but against ten men you wondered just how long the home team could hold out.

As with the previous weekend against Dagenham & Redbridge, Burton didn`t seem to press home their advantage and seemed content to hold onto the ball, but never had the foresight or intelligence to create openings for Calvin and Billy up front. The front two couldn`t be faulted for their movement and running, but they were let down by a negative midfield who either under or over passed the ball around the pitch. Northampton, 2-1 up and a man down were quite happy to hold onto their lead in this way and the only scare they did receive was a long distance attempt by McGrath that was narrowly wide of the target.

So the half ended and as the players trooped off there were many mentions from the away support that Chris Palmer needed to come on if we were to stretch a limited Northampton side. Evidently the manager thought we were doing a pretty effective job as it was, so sent out the same eleven men for the second half.

The second spell continued in the same vein as the first, with Burton unable to create and Northampton sitting back, looking to pour forward on the counter attack whenever possible. It was difficult to single out any player who could possibly create an opening, so step forward Ross Atkins.

Berahino broke forward and the ball fell to Atkins, on the edge of his area. With a display of ball control akin to a five-year-old with a limp, Atkins contrived to lose possession, allowing the Northampton forward to hit the ball across goal and onto the far post, bouncing clear. Stanton had covered back, but it was difficult to see whether he could have stopped the ball had it been more on target.

Thankfully Burton got away with it and shortly afterwards we were equal thanks to a masterful tactical decision by the manager. McGrath made way for Palmer (hurrah!!) and the midfielder received a ball from Zola and smashed a shot straight in from around 20 yards out. It was a masterful finish and a great way for the player to score his first goal for the club.

The Northampton faithful, and some players, complained bitterly that Calvin had hand-balled as he took the initial pass from Webster, but the referee deemed no wrongdoing had been committed, so Burton, for the second time that afternoon, found themselves back on level term with their hosts.

Shortly afterwards Atkins made amends for his earlier mistake by acrobatically saving from a Northampton player as he connected with his head and attempted to score with a downward header.

Finally Burton managed to get ahead for the first time, courtesy of a Justin Richards penalty. Richards, on for Calvin, attempted an overhead kick as the ball was crossed in by Amankwaah, but tangled with a Northampton defender. There didn`t seem to be a foul to be honest, but the referee, maybe evening things up for his first-half decision against Rhino, pointed to the same spot and up stepped Richards to coolly put the ball into the right-hand corner, sending Shane Higgs the wrong way.

And so the whistle blew and three points saw Burton rise to fifth in the table. My overriding thoughts afterwards were that we were extremely poor against a very limited team, yet somehow managed to get ourselves out of it and go home with the points.

Listening to the supporters as we filed out of the stadium, I overheard three very valid points being made by different people:

1. We cannot defend as a team (several people mentioned this).

2. Macca and Bolder just doesn`t work – they were unable to open up the bottom and second-bottom teams on consecutive weekends (many people mentioned this).

3. Cleveland just cannot cross a ball (my brother, watching his first ever Burton game, mentioned this).