Dominating the ball continues not to suit Burton Albion after Lincoln City’s 2-1 victory at the Pirelli Stadium made it six League One games without a win for the Brewers.
Manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink maintains his team are being asked to adapt to a new way of playing and that it will take time. That is fair enough and the Dutchman earned the right for patience with what he did for the club last season but while a team is not winning, confidence becomes steadily eroded.
It is an uncomfortable fact that, in the Brewers’ three wins so far, their opponents have had more than 60 per cent of possession. It feels bizarre, too, to come away from a game lamenting that Burton have not played well when they have clocked up 27 goal attempts and the opposition’s goalkeeper has had a blinder but that is what happened.
Much of the play was disjointed, repeated long passes from the centre-halves were wasted and there was barely a feeling that Albion were on top, added to which they made simple mistakes to gift the visitors their goals. Injury-hit Lincoln were more potent and together when they had the ball and should have stretched their lead in the last minutes but for two scarcely believable misses.
There was welcome news pre-match with the return of Deji Oshilaja in midfield for the first time in seven games and teenage striker Daniel Jebbison was given his first start. Bryn Morris and Joe Powell also came into the starting line-up, while Tom O’Connor and Jacob Maddox, fit again, were both named on the bench. Perhaps it would have been too many changes for both of them to have started too.
But the alarm bells were ringing immediately when Lasse Sorensen’s cute pass sent Dan N’Lundulu clear through the Burton back line in the third minute. Conor Shaughnessy was at least able to force him wide before Ben Garratt smothered his attempted shot, not only parrying but holding the ball.
But Lincoln went ahead after 10 minutes as Harry Chapman, trying to do too much on the ball, was hustled out of it to allow Lewis Fiorini to run on goal. He reached the edge of the area and belted in a strong low shot to Garratt’s right.
Within a minute, Jebbison could have equalised. Lewis Montsma played a slack pass out of defence, which Powell picked up to play the young striker in down the inside left channel. His shot passed a foot wide of Josh Griffiths’ right-hand post.
The Brewers were alarmingly open, though, and three times within the first 15 minutes, Garratt had cut out dangerous low crosses from the right. A lovely pass from Fiorini, from left to right over the defence, found Hakeeb Adelakun charging in at the far post but he volleyed high and wide and it was a real let-off.
Burton got better for a time and John Brayford headed wide from a Powell cross before Shaughnessy, meeting a cross from Oshilaja after Lincoln failed to clear a corner, had a strong header saved by Griffiths. Again Lincoln went close, Anthony Scully’s cross from the left being scuffed against the outside of the post by N’Lundulu, who was proving a handful in his first start on loan from Southampton.
It had been a frustrating half for Hasselbaink’s men, one in which, oddly, Lincoln had not conceded a free kick. And the game turned further against Albion in the course of one dramatic minute.
Lucas Akins, not having one of his better days, won a corner on the right and when Shaughnessy flicked it on, Jebbison’s header was brilliantly parried at point-blank range by Griffiths. Within seconds, Regan Poole broke down the right for Lincoln. He got lucky with a ricochet into his path as he played a one-two but Michael Bostwick’s touch on his cross took the ball away from Brayford, who might have cleared, and into the path of Scully, who made it 2-0 in the 50th minute.
With a mountain to climb, the Brewers continued to press but still there were too many wasted passes. The first free kick for Burton came 64 minutes in but perhaps highlighted that Lincoln had had no need to resort to fouls. Burton’s tempo going forward improved when Maddox was introduced for Morris but Jonny Smith, on for Powell, smashed one shot out of the ground and hit a second which gave Griffiths a comfortable save.
Finally, they got a goal back in the 86th minute. Smith’s corner from the right bounced around, Tom Hamer hit a volley which Griffiths parried and Shaughnessy converted the rebound from close range.
As the Brewers threw everything at Lincoln, the Imps had two chances on the break. Cohen Bramall’s cross from the left found its way through a crowd of players to Scully, two yards out at the far post. The Lincoln winger was actually celebrating before looking back to see that he had contrived to hit the post with the simplest of finishes. Next, Scully played Remy Longden clear in space and, with only Garratt to beat, he trod on the ball and tripped himself up.
Even then, six minutes into stoppage time, Burton might have saved a point when Chapman curled a shot towards the top corner, only for Griffiths to pull off another fine save. The final whistle went in the midst of a goalmouth scramble from the resultant corner and Lincoln deserved the win. There is much hard work ahead yet for Hasselbaink to coax a more cohesive threat from his team.
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