Gills blow more of a sick­ener than City thrash­ing

Burton Mail - - Sport - By JOSHUA MUR­RAY joshua.mur­[email protected]­plc.com @JoshuaMur­rayBM

NIGEL Clough had hoped Bur­ton Al­bion’s up­turn in League One form would not be im­pacted by their Carabao Cup thrash­ing at the hands of Manch­ester City in mid­week.

But the ques­tion now is not how can they re­spond to a 9-0 hum­bling at the hands of the out­stand­ing Premier League cham­pi­ons.

In­stead, Al­bion must bounce back from one of their most de­flat­ing de­feats of the sea­son, 3-2 at the hands of a Gilling­ham side who have now done the dou­ble over them.

How they kick on from here will be the truest test of the char­ac­ter in the Bur­ton squad and whether they are able to learn from the is­sues that have con­tin­u­ally held their hopes of a pro­mo­tion push back over the past six months.

The Brew­ers dom­i­nated Satur­day’s loss to the Gills.

They fin­ished the game with 62% of the pos­ses­sion, with 31 shots to the vis­i­tors’ seven and with Scott Fraser look­ing to make it two Bur­ton hat-tricks in a week, fol­low­ing on from Mar­cus Har­ness at Rochdale.

But Gilling­ham, on the back of an FA Cup third round win over Cardiff City, were ruth­less where Al­bion too of­ten lacked a killer in­stinct.

And while they were opened up at will early on, the vis­it­ing de­fence ul­ti­mately held firm when it mat­tered most. The same could not be said of the hosts.

One of the Brew­ers’ three changes came at the back, with Jake Bux­ton forced out by ill­ness.

So, too, Mar­cus Har­ness, with Ben Fox and Will Miller re­plac­ing them. Fox took the right-back role as John Bray­ford moved to cen­tre-half, while Stephen Quinn re­turned from a groin in­jury in place of Kieran Wal­lace.

Those switches pro­vided some fresh legs after the de­feat to City only three days ear­lier - but there did not look to be any play­ers strug­gling for in­ten­sity or tempo from the off.

Within three min­utes, Liam Boyce did well to loop a header back­wards and on to the an­gle of cross­bar and post.

Lu­cas Akins was the next to come close, steer­ing Reece Hutchin­son’s cut-back wide of the near post.

While fi­nal passes were lack­ing once Bur­ton got into the chan­nels, they re­peat­edly opened up the vis­i­tors through di­rect run­ning.

Fraser and Akins led that charge, slic­ing through a dis­jointed Gilling­ham mid­field.

From one mazy run, Akins saw a left-footed shot held by To­mas Holy. From an­other, he laid the ball back for Fox to curl an ef­fort to­wards the far post but Luke O’Neil scooped it off the line.

Bur­ton had amassed 11 shots by the 21st minute, with­out the vis­i­tors reg­is­ter­ing a sin­gle at­tempt on Bradley Collins’ goal.

But that counted for lit­tle when El­liott List picked up the ball in space on the half­way line.

The Gills for­ward still had plenty to do but he out­paced Bray­ford down the out­side, burst into the Bur­ton box and rolled a calm fin­ish be­tween Collins’ legs to open the scor­ing.

That goal rocked the hosts, even though they came close to an im­me­di­ate re­sponse when Fraser’s curl­ing free kick crashed off the out­side of Holy’s left-hand post.

List worked him­self room to force a near-post save from Collins, with Gilling­ham spurred on.

Things got worse for Bur­ton in a cru­cial pas­sage of play on the stroke of half-time.

Pos­ses­sion was cheaply given away on the edge of the Brew­ers’ box and Ben Turner brought down Re­gan Charles-Cook be­fore he could break into the box.

Turner was booked for the chal­lenge but Al­bion would be fur­ther pun­ished when O’Neil’s curl­ing at­tempt from the set-piece struck Quinn’s arm.

Ref­eree Peter Wright awarded the penalty and for­mer Brew­ers mid­fielder Cal­lum Reilly con­verted from the spot.

That goal meant Al­bion would have to come back from two goals down for the first time this sea­son if

they were to sal­vage some­thing from the game.

Their re­sponse at the start of the sec­ond half sug­gested they felt they could do just that.

After the match, Fraser said the Bur­ton play­ers spoke at half-time of go­ing on to win the game by a cou­ple of goals, so dom­i­nant had they felt be­fore the break.

And it was the ex-Dundee United mid­fielder who would fire his side back into con­tention.

Mo­ments after Akins was su­perbly de­nied by Holy from close range, Fraser re­ceived the ball from a cor­ner, nudged the ball around his marker and ar­rowed a low shot in off the far post.

That was in the 52nd minute. On the hour mark, Nigel Clough’s side were level.

This was a rare Bur­ton goal on the counter-at­tack. Boyce headed a loose ball into Fraser’s path in mid­field and the 23-year-old charged up­field be­fore feed­ing Miller to his left.

Miller held on to it long enough for Fraser to find some space in the Gills’ box be­fore rolling the ball into his path, where the dy­namic mid­fielder lashed a con­fi­dent fin­ish past Holy for his sixth goal of the cam­paign.

The on-field cel­e­bra­tions were short-lived, as Fraser urged his team-mates back to the half­way line. They sensed a game there for the tak­ing.

They got straight back on to the front foot but, cru­cially, Gilling­ham rode out the storm and Al­bion could not find a third goal while the mo­men­tum was with them.

David Tem­ple­ton re­placed Miller and new sign­ing Josh Clarke, on loan from Brent­ford, came on for his de­but at Fox’s ex­pense.

Clough elected to put Clarke on the right wing, with Akins, who had caused count­less prob­lems for Gilling­ham down that flank, mov­ing to right-back.

It was Tem­ple­ton who came close to a break­through, test­ing Holy down low. He could only parry the ef­fort and when Jamie Allen raced in to re­trieve the re­bound, he went down un­der pres­sure from Alex Lacey.

The Bur­ton bench were up as one, ap­peal­ing for a penalty, but noth­ing was given and, as play con­tin­ued and the vis­i­tors broke, it took a su­perb Collins save to deny List as he again burst past Bray­ford.

By the time six min­utes of stop­page time were shown on the fourth of­fi­cial’s board, it seemed that Bur­ton may only get one more chance.

There would in­deed be only one more open­ing - but it would go Gilling­ham’s way.

Hav­ing soaked up pe­ri­ods of the sec­ond half in the face of re­lent­less pres­sure, the vis­i­tors worked a move down the left flank for Bren­dan Han­lan, whose low cross was laid off by List into the path of sub­sti­tute Josh Rees, in space to guide a fin­ish past Collins for the win­ner.

Clough be­moaned the cost­li­ness of soft goals in his post-match in­ter­view and he says Bur­ton are work­ing to bring in a cen­tre-half this week.

The week ahead will be the Brew­ers’ first with­out a mid­week game for a month and the seven days be­fore the trip to take on Don­caster Rovers will be a cru­cial re­cov­ery pe­riod.

But after see­ing a four-game un­beaten run in the League draw to a gut-wrench­ing con­clu­sion, Al­bion’s psy­cho­log­i­cal re­sponse to a 12th loss of the cam­paign could be just as im­por­tant.

PIC­TURES: EPIC AC­TION IM­AGERY

Scott Fraser fires in a shot for Bur­ton Al­bion to make it 2-2 in the sec­ond half against Gilling­ham but the Brew­ers were un­able to go on to com­plete a come­back vic­tory. Below, Gills goal­keeper To­mas Holy can only watch on help­lessly as a low shot from Fraser (partly hid­den) sneaks through to make it 2-1.

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