Football League Round-Up: Bury bosses enjoy winning start

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 22 January 2018, 09:49

In the latest Football League round-up Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) defends Derby's Tom Lawrence, applauds Michael Flynn's in-form Newport, and reflects on a shock win for Bury

In defence of Tom Lawrence

The most pleasing aspect for Derby County, in their 0-0 draw with Bristol City on Friday night, was their defensive performance. Richard Keogh and Curtis Davies dominated the diminutive Bobby Reid in the first half and while they were temporarily pushed back when Famara Diedhou came on, they gave nothing away.

The level of quality Derby showed in the final third is more open to debate, even if the post-match storylines could be different had a penalty been given for Aden Flint’s alleged foul on substitute Cameron Jerome.

Wide man Tom Lawrence, who had a fierce near-post shot well-saved, came in for criticism. There were suggestions that he ran into traffic on occasions and needs to add intelligence to his game. There may be some truth in that, yet cutting inside from the left didn’t do him any harm last season at Ipswich, where he scored plenty of belters.

He can sometimes be on the periphery of the game and then, as soon as space opens up in central areas, he’ll score a great goal or maybe put in a quality ball for a teammate. Lawrence has always been a player that does his best work in the final third, once the structural battles in the middle third have been won.

Derby’s problem was that they didn’t always win their battles in that middle third to open Bristol City up and therefore give players like Lawrence the space they needed.

George Thorne and Tom Huddlestone are not the most mobile of players and while the latter played some nice passes from deep, neither broke into forward areas. Like Thorne, left-back Craig Forsyth is just returning from injury while Andre Wisdom isn’t the most adventurous right-back in the world.

Thorne, Huddlestone, Forsyth and Wisdom had less than 30 touches between them in the final third and very rarely broke into those advanced areas.

The defensive discipline of that six-man defensive block contributed to the clean sheet, but also to Derby’s failure to score, with none of them having the initiative to make decoy runs to create space for the attacking quartet.

That, dare we say, is something that Will Hughes, a player Derby sold in the summer, would have offered in abundance.

Lawrence certainly wasn’t at his best on Friday night, but the setup behind him meant the responsibilities placed on him were greater than they should have been.

Congratulations 2-1 and all at Newport

Newport County’s Friday night victory over Crawley Town means they have won their last four games – all by the scoreline of 2-1.

Fans will be hoping that trend continues for the remainder of the month, which sees them face Morecambe on the Tuesday before a glamorous FA Cup hosting of Tottenham Hotspur next weekend.

If they are to beat Mauricio Pochettino’s men, or give themselves a money-spinning Wembley replay, the second half performance at Rodney Parade may not be too different to the one against Crawley.

The visitors halved the deficit shortly after the break to set up a nerve-wracking second period, during which the strength of centre-backs Ben White and Mickey Demetriou came to the fore. The latter had scored the penalty to complete a dominant first half, during which the visitor’s bar was hit twice prior to the opener from Frank Nouble.

The latter has been in outstanding form: he had a fine game against Leeds in the Third Round of the cup and looks as proficient at scoring goals as he is creating them from wide right. The same can be said of the left-sided Robbie Wilmott, who set up the opener in the win over Exeter, before driving the winner inside the near-post from range.

That match also saw midfielders Matty Dolan and Joss Labadie taken off after feeling tight hamstrings; neither made the match-day squad against Crawley, but that gave an opportunity to new signing Josh Sheehan, who returns to add extra creativity from central areas.

Good times are ahead for Newport, who are establishing themselves as a serious play-off proposition.

Trouble brewing for Burton

A 6-0 defeat at Fulham on Saturday saw Burton Albion slip to the bottom of the Championship table. While on paper the gap to safety is only one point, it is difficult to see them ending up with more points than three other teams – for various reasons.

Firstly, the budget is an obvious hindrance: it is very difficult for a club that has historically been rooted in the lower echelons of English football to compete in a division that features the likes of John Terry and Ruben Neves.

They have a combination of veterans who offer leadership but are perhaps past their sell-by date, as well as slightly younger players who are honest enough but physically and technically limited at this level. With such meagre resources, of course it was going to be a challenge to attract players of the required standard.

The flip side though is that the teams that do perform well against the odds have shown cavalier belief in themselves and have had managers that demand the highest possible standards. Take Millwall for example: they have a low budget (granted a tad bigger than Burton's) yet countless promotion-contenders dread going to The Den, because Neil Harris makes sure that every team that goes there will be in for a battle.

By contrast, Nigel Clough’s approach to adversity has bordered on self-preservation. He has effectively said that Burton don’t belong in the Championship, that their very existence in the division is a miracle. After the thrashing at Craven Cottage, his comments suggested sympathy for the players rather than anger.

While the 51-year-old’s outlook on the club’s situation might not be entirely unreasonable, it will not inspire his players to perform above the sum of their parts.

Bury win at last

The song ‘At Last’ by Etta James would best summarize the emotions of Bury’s hardy away fans after their 2-1 win at Oxford on Saturday.

The sorry Shakers were heading for another defeat at the Kassam Stadium when James Henry notched just before half-time, but a shock resurgence in the final 10-minutes saw them snatch victory.

Harry Bunn grabbed the winner to secure a first three-points since November, but only after George Miller had struck the equalizer to end an even more remarkable run. Until the 19-year-old’s leveller, Bury had gone 835 minutes of League One football – or 14 hours – without scoring a single goal.

In 14 hours incidentally, you could have flown to New York and back or watched all five Die Hard films in succession and then see the first one again.

Such a terrible run is even more surprising when we consider the squad they have. Look through the list and there is players who have played at Championship level, who have impressed in League One and have bags of experience under their belts.

The hope though is that they will be boosted by a run of games for ball-winner Stephen Dawson, who has returned from a long-term injury. Target man James Hanson arrives with pedigree, as do centre-back Peter Clarke and goalkeeper Connor Ripley, Oldham’s two stand-out players last term. On paper, they have a squad that should be nowhere near the relegation zone, which makes one wonder how significant that turnaround at Oxford could be.

Bury and caretaker boss Ryan Lowe should be under no illusions that survival remains a massive ask. While gaps like 11 points have been bridged in League Two in recent years by Hartlepool and Newport but it’s much harder to do that in League One, where four teams go down rather than two.

Maximum points from their next three home games, against three of the bottom eight, are a must if they are to stand a chance. The likelihood is that the gap remains too big but then, hope springs eternal.

Positive Vibes at Brentford

We discussed last week how free-scoring Fulham have emerged out of nowhere to become a serious top six proposition – the same can be said for their West London neighbours.

Lasse Vibe’s late strike gave Brentford a 1-0 triumph at Reading, their fifth victory in six league games, which left them just three points shy of the play-off places, having been stuck in the relegation zone back in September.

The progress they have made would seem quite eye-catching, considering they had been in the relegation zone in September and in the bottom half for much of the season so far.

However, this current form is not a surprise. The more disappointing results have not been down to a lack of quality or attacking cohesion – they have shown both traits consistently - but more inexperience when it comes to managing games.

The fact that the Bees’ last three victories have been to nil would suggest that they are finally learning that lesson. Chris Mepham has shown beyond his years and is forming a fine centre-back pairing with Andreas Bjelland, which could remain in place until the end of the season if injuries are avoided.

Kamohelo Mokotjo is becoming an increasingly strong influence on the team and as well as his physical qualities, he spots some excellent passes too. The same can be said of Ryan Woods, who Brentford fans are desperate to see remain at Griffin Park this January with Bournemouth a reportedly interested party.

We know about the capability Dean Smith’s side have in the final third. Vibe and Ollie Watkins are having excellent seasons while the likes of Florian Jozefzoon, Romaine Sawyers and Neal Maupay all look fit to take centre-stage at any moment. Now, Brentford have the extra ingredients to ensure that the work done by those forwards does not go to waste.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
16th February
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