Time to Take Stock
Last season, we won at Derby (before losing and playing poorly when we resumed at home to Middlesbrough); then we won at Millwall ahead of the November break before losing twice in four days upon our return to league action at home to Reading (0-1) and then at Barnsley (0-2).
So Eddie`s lament that we always seem to lose in the final match before a break was not strictly accurate. And at this stage of the season it might just be better to have a full fortnight to combat the inadequacies of the Brighton match, rather than gallivanting off into Moldovan or Serbian climes feeling all is well on Planet Claret.
Sadly the feeling that our squad was not shaped for the thick and fast opening to the season has been laid bare. Perhaps the decision-makers at Turf Moor have had time to muse upon the reasons why during this fortnight sojourn. My main gripe regards summer-long target Brian Stock and why he was only procured days rather than weeks of the pre-season remaining? The result of this piffling about has been a key player lacking match fitness and a zero contribution to the league campaign so far.
Eddie intimated that Stock will not play every match, but we`d like to see him play a few. The frustration at the present time is simply not knowing whether the ex-Doncaster man is the much required holding player so needed.
Against Plymouth he revealed a more combative nature than I expected but little command over the situation or the ball. He didn`t look too fit to be fair. Here`s hoping the extra break has seen him fully integrate in the squad`s workouts which Eddie has described as "intensive" in Thursday`s press conference and we see more of him between now and the next international break.
One holding player who did impress was Brighton`s Liam Bridcutt in our largely forgettable encounter last time out. A cut above anything in our midfield that day and so often in receipt of the ball without any obvious pressure on him. The chief reason for that was that the movement of the players ahead of him was so proactive there was always a simple option for the pass from that anchored position.
The crux of it was the position of the three attacking players in Brighton`s 4-3-3. Wide men LuaLua and Barnes were positioned much wider than we have deployed our equivalent players. As a result they stretched our full backs and moved in off the line intelligently, creating space and options for their central midfielders to probe. In turn, the livewire Craig Mackail-Smith gave an exceptional example of a front-running centre-forward; persistently making himself available for a lay-off and leading our new captain and fellow centre half a merry dance.
The only redeeming feature of the day was that despite one of the worst halves of football we`ve encountered under Howe; we were level at 1-1 with 20 minutes to go and could have retrieved something from the game if it hadn`t been for what Mackail-Smith later described as the best goal he`d ever scored.
Another positive is that Cameron Stewart, although totally ineffective during his debut, looks genuinely quick. My Hull City supporting friend let me know he was surprised and sorry to see him leave the KC, so that suggests a player of promise. The hope is that after two focused weeks on the training ground, the former Man United man and friend of Keiran Trippier, will be seen as a viable target of the ball from his new midfield colleagues, and if he can dart up and down the wing with the devilment of LuaLua then he could be a real asset.
I hope the passing fortnight has given Stock the chance to catch up to his necessary level of fitness to make his first league start in a Burnley shirt against Peterborough. Showing we can control the ebb and flow of the game against the league`s basement team is surely the very least we should expect to see on Saturday. Darren Ferguson`s Peterborough, yet another side that can label as 'bogey` down the years, actually played us off the park during the first half when they were here in February. They totally went for it and had numerous chances to extend their early lead.
Ferguson, a chip of the block in all but achievements, perhaps alluded to that in his press conference when he suggested that a bright start to the game from his team could see the Turf Moor crowd 'turn'. To combat this threat, we must ensure that our start to this one is seasoned with the right body language, bright movement and purpose; that`s all it needs to get the crowd on-side.
Thankfully, Martin Paterson stayed put during the break, rather than risking his fitness against Luxembourg. The message from Howe is that Pato is determined to stake his claim for his club first. Given our improved display when he came on against Brighton, I'd expect Howe to go with a 4-4-2 with Pato and Charlie Austin up top and a midfield of Stewart, McCann, Marney and Stock. This would give us the flexibility to also attack as a front three with Stewart and Pato supporting Austin.
A "performance is round the corner' according to the Burnley boss. Let's hope his team takes to the pitch prepared to get their season back on track.
Anything less than three points could have the league table looking stark indeed ahead of Wednesday's visit to Leicester.