With seven games to play and sat in 22nd in League One, it feels like an obvious understatement that the Shrimps are desperate for a win to assist with their survival chances.
The quite incredible aspect is that despite being winless in twelve, we’re still only two points away from Fleetwood in the magical twentieth position. Of the bottom five sides, none of them have been able to put together any kind of consistency.
Just a couple of wins could push any of the sides clear of danger, as Gillingham have found since the appointment of Neil Harris. Since his impressive appointment, The Gills have gone from ten points from safety to four points clear (stat courtesy of Gillsintheblood).
Gillingham’s upturn does seem to mean survival now rests on getting above both Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon.
Three points against a Burton side, who appear safe for another season, would go a long way to boosting hopes. Albion are winless in six games away from the Pirelli Stadium, so they do offer a potential for three critical points.
What are they expecting from the game? The last game with us they caused us all sorts of problems in attack so do they envisage more of the same?
“The context around this game reminds me of Easter 2019 when Burton headed down to Roots Hall to play a Southend United team fighting relegation to League Two. Burton were beaten on the day by Southend who were full of fight and spirit and simply needed the result far more than Burton ever did.
This game feels to me like a massive opportunity that Morecambe need to take. It’s clear who needs 3 points more, and Morecambe are facing a team out of form, playing poorly, without a clean sheet since the end of November and who have conceded the first goal in 13 of their last 17 matches. I’m anticipating Morecambe fight simply because this matters more.
The meeting back in October fell in Burton’s favour because of Morecambe’s committing numbers forwards though, and perhaps that could work to Burton’s advantage here. Capitalising on set piece situations and counter attacks has got the Brewers the bulk of their points and wins so far.”
“I would like to think so, however, we have only won 2 of our last 11 outings. We made hard work of our victory back in October, managing 22 attempts with set pieces being our main focal point of attack, and I feel that will be where we are most dangerous again.”
In Derek Adam’s pre-match interview he made no bones about the fact that it was down to the players to put in the required performances to survive in this relegation fight. He mentioned that the squad is thin, which combined with fairly consistent players selected, suggests he has faith in a portion of the squad but not all. For this reason, I don’t foresee wholesale changes from previous games.
The one factor which could change that – however – is the fact that he reported illness in the squad. He didn’t elaborate on who or how many were unavailable so this could throw any predicted lineups in jeopardy.
In our last game against Wigan Athletic, we started with a back four for the first time in Derek’s six games in charge. I’m not sure to what extent we can take from the game from a selection standpoint. On one hand, we were defeated 4-1. Yet on the other hand we know Wigan are likely for automatic promotion and we did stay relatively competitive until poor defending in the second half allowed the Latics to finish with a comfortable win.
I predict we’ll match up with Burton who are likely to go a back four and just try and edge the game by being as tight as possible.
“Who he chooses to play, especially in the midfield and forward positions is unpredictable. Even now in April, I think you were to ask Burton fans what the best XI was, you’d get a mixture of responses. The whole season has felt like a pre-season in some ways with Hasselbaink unsure about his best formation and personnel for getting consistent results.
The move to a 4-2-3-1 better makes use of the wide players that Burton have, but it’s still not clear who exactly makes up the best midfield three possible, and what specific roles suit each player within that three. I’m sure everyone has their opinions on it.”
“Jimmy is becoming quite known for making multiple changes per game, due to a mixture of things including individual poor performances, injuries, players regaining match fitness and a general heavy workload of matches. Seven matches compressed into February eased into four fixtures throughout March, however, it has certainly been our toughest period of the season. We had last Saturday off, with our last fixture being against Charlton on March 19th, and since then players will have had time to come back from injuries and knocks and recover from that period.
Picking a Burton Albion team this season has been like picking names out of a hat! We never know from week to week which team will start the game, however, I feel that we will stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation that we have used in our last couple of matches.”
“Burton’s main strength undoubtedly has been the team’s set-piece threat. The Brewers have the highest set-piece xG of any team in League One (and are currently underperforming it as well). A big reason for that is the delivery of throw-ins from full-back Tom Hamer and the delivery of corners and free-kicks from midfielder Joe Powell.
Throw-ins provided from range by Hamer tend to target one of two areas, either the front post where Sam Hughes often lurks or the edge of the box which Conor Shaughnessy runs onto. Both men aim to get a flick-on from this throw which takes the ball deeper into the box and into the path of oncoming runners. It’s been a very mixed bag this season as to its success rate, with some opponents dealing with it comfortably and others not being able to handle it at all. I personally much prefer the throws targeting Shaughnessy at the edge of the box as Hughes is often doubled-up on by opponents at the near post and there seems to be less successful when the throw targets there.
Joe Powell’s corner deliveries are fired at pace deep into the box, where often you can find one of Sam Hughes, Conor Shaughnessy or John Brayford running in to attack the ball. The presence of other bodies within the box means loose balls are often latched onto as well, especially when they drop within the six-yard box. Powell’s free-kicks in turn often float deeper to beyond the back post, where the ball can be sent back across goal for someone to latch onto.
Another reason for Burton’s set-piece threat is the commitment of numbers forwards. Everyone bar the goalkeeper is in the opposition’s half for throw-ins and corners, with a lone man left on the halfway line (normally someone more athletic like Deji Oshilaja). It is a big gamble leaving just one player back, but the idea behind it is to force the opposition to keep numbers in their own box or risk getting overloaded as the set-piece comes flying in.”
“Everybody has mixed opinions about our strengths. Personally, my feeling for this season has been our set pieces. Whilst a lot of teams have begun to introduce long throw-ins into their game, I feel we have been very effective with them.
When the right players are fit, we have a lot of height that we can bring into our attacks, and in our last victory against Fleetwood, we were brought back into the game from 2-0 down with two goals that were initiated from long throw-ins. At times this season, our work off the ball has also been very good, winning matches with less possession of the ball and nullifying threats.“
As Ed mentioned, Burton have the highest expected goals from set-pieces in the division according to The Analyst with 22.2.
They also have the highest expected goals from set plays vs open play ratio in the division i.e. the highest proportion of their chances are from set-pieces with an xG ratio of 0.41.
Another aspect that I found interesting was how Albion appear to be strong at getting the ball into the box relative to their league position. According to Wyscout, they average fifth for touches in the box per game with 17.56.
Perhaps this could link in to Tom Hamer’s throw-ins? Any opportunity to get the ball in the box from the sidelines will tend to go into the box. That being said, in the reverse fixture we were undone by a short throw-in for their first goal…
“Burton’s decision to leave just one player back for set pieces is always a massive gamble. Against Charlton it backfired early on when Craig MacGilivray collected a Hamer throw, launched a drop kick upfield, and got Conor Washington in behind to score. I also remember an incident right at the beginning of the season against Sunderland, when Aiden McGeady got in behind on his own and Burton were spared by him trying to lift the ball over Garratt rather than slot it past him. If Morecambe have a fast option left up top and the clearance upfield is accurate, then Morecambe could absolutely hurt Burton on the break from their own set piece.
General football from open play has been really, really disappointing. Far too often the football is direct with no purpose, just sent upfield in the hope that the second ball drops to a player. I really believe that Burton at the moment are a decent group of players not being used.”
“Not being able to have a settled side for much of the season is probably the biggest weakness. We started the season extremely strongly, winning our first three matches, however, injuries then started piling up and we went on a seven-game winless run. No clean sheet since a 2-0 victory over Doncaster in November 2021 is also another big thing that has made up for inconsistency for most of the season.”
Another aspect in which Albion score relatively low is their progressive runs. They average 9.23 progressive runs per game which puts them rank 20 in the division according to Wyscout.
A progressive run is a continuous ball control by one player attempting to draw the team significantly closer to the opponent’s goal.
According to The Analyst, Burton have the second-highest direct speed in the division with 2.18. This isn’t a weakness but simply shows they perhaps focus less on working the ball forward slowly and prefer to get the ball in the opposition half at the earliest chance. It may provide somewhat an answer in terms of why progressive runs are slightly lower than expected.
Opportunities Against Albion
“With Burton’s defensive vulnerability and lack of a clean sheet for so long, it feels like any form of decent attack can cause issues at the moment. Burton’s very direct style of play means that collecting the second balls is pivotal to them progressing up the pitch. If Morecambe’s midfield position themselves better for collecting those second balls, they’ll turnover possession regularly and can capitalise from there.
The midfield setup hasn’t felt balanced at Burton for a while, too often it’s been more defensive-minded or not having enough central players that provide the link between attack and defence. There’s been times where opposition teams have been able to carve through the Burton midfield on the ball like a knife through butter (Oxford at the beginning of March is a prime example of this). Conor Shaughnessy is a strong midfield presence if the game becomes an aerial battle but it is certainly possible for teams to work the ball through this Burton midfield and into the final third, where again they have looked vulnerable from crosses and cutbacks.
The aforementioned commitment to numbers in set piece situations undoubtedly leaves Morecambe with the opportunity to hit Burton on the break. Leaving a lone man back is always a high risk and has paid off more often than not over the season. That doesn’t mean it can’t be exploited though…”
“It is difficult to say, as you never know which Burton team is going to turn up! Different players will play extremely well one game, and then be poor the next. Individual errors cost us against Charlton and that would most likely be where your chances come from on Saturday.”
When Ed describes vulnerability from crosses and opportunities on the break, it makes me feel more confident with my team selection to include Adam Phillips. On his day, he has the ability to pick out match-winning crosses and pick a team off on the break. Partnering him with Aaron Wildig in central midfield brings back a combination who formed an effective duo last season. Wildig loves to make late runs into the box and Adam has the ability to pick him out with an accurate looping cross.
As you can see from Aaron’s last 75 shots from Wyscout, he loves to poach in and around the box with five goals from inside the six-yard box coming within this snapshot.
It’s also been mentioned Ben Garratt has not looked the most stable in the Albion goal. Ed mentioned his in-decision in the Charlton game and then against Fleetwood he fumbled at a free kick which led to a goal. If Arthur Gnahoua is playing, i’d love to see if swing any set pieces inwards from the right hand side with a bot of zest and test Garratt.
Garratt has the second-worst goals conceded vs expected goals against in League One with 54 goals conceded from 43.4 expected goals. Essentially, the chances against him he’d be expected to concede nearly eleven goals less than he has according to The Analyst.
Threats from Albion
“The set-piece threat provided from Tom Hamer’s throw and Joe Powell’s deliveries will usually target the taller defenders coming up from the back. Conor Shaughnessy, Sam Hughes and John Brayford have all contributed set piece goals in key games over the season.
Joe Powell is the most technical, creative player in the team. Very good at shielding the ball on the turn and when under pressure, he’s often been utilised in a central role or out wide on the right, and tends to be a player hard to mark because of his movement and ability to glide away from pressure when in possession.
Winger Jonny Smith is another notable threat. A very direct runner who carries the ball good distances upfield, he is a sharp, agile player who will often look to cut in from the right and onto his left foot. The end product from him is often mixed, sometimes it’s perfect and other times it’s wayward, but his great close control and quick turn of speed makes it hard for defenders to get the ball off of him.
Harry Chapman on the left-side is someone who should be as effective on the ball as Jonny Smith but he has been a frustrating player during his loan spell here.
The two post-window free transfers, Adlene Guedioura and Oumar Niasse, have made decent impacts since arriving as well. Guedioura is a forward-thinking midfielder who either sits deeper and looks to switch play or drifts into the right channel where he can provide deliveries into the box. His shooting from range is well known to plenty of us and that’s where both of his goals have come from so far.
Oumar Niasse is growing into the team having been out of competitive football for a long period. Generally someone who has decent hold-up play, I would say he’s still at his best when able to operate as the further man forward and make runs beyond the backline. His level of close control has also enabled him to get out of tight spaces and into shooting positions as well, best shown by his equaliser at Sheffield Wednesday and the winning goal against Fleetwood Town.”
“Our biggest threat is set pieces. Again, if the right players are on the pitch, we can be dangerous from them and cause problems in the opposition box.”
Simply put – having conceded the most goals in the division of 79 compared to a division average of 52.17, there are opportunities to exploit our defence. Burton appear to be fairly reliant on set-pieces and getting balls into the box at the earliest chance, so they’ll be encouraged to see The Shrimps have conceded 22 set-piece goals according to The Analyst – the second highest in the division.
LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!
With two points to make up to leapfrog Fleetwood and Wimbledon, whilst having ‘tougher fixtures’ to come later, this is fairly critical we take three points today. As Gillingham have proved, other teams will eventually pick up points and if we’re not careful we could run out of games to pull it around soon.
The fans have been absolutely fantastic this season backing both Stephen Robinson and now Derek Adams. A large crowd is expected at The Mazuma with 1,591 tickets given out for Community Day and I’ve no doubt the home crowd will be behind the players again. It really is down to the players now to show the desire to put their bodies on the line and do all that’s required to grab the three points. How much do they want League One status for Morecambe next season?
I’d like to say a thank you to Ed and David for their contributions. Hopefully, their side can be equally helpful today to get us an essential win!
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