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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Trouble Brewing

Nobes on the perils of inactivity as bizarre circumstances see Burton Albion drop into the League Two relegation zone.

Paul Peschisolido's Burton will be playing catch-up for the remainder of the season

It sounds like the kind of mystery usually reserved for Jonathan Creek. Six points above the drop zone after 21 games, how can Burton Albion now find themselves a point adrift of safety just one match later?

Of course, it's a conundrum which can be explained without the aid of the fictional magician's assistant - while opponents have been playing, Albion haven't.

The Brewers sit second bottom of the entire Football League having collected 25 points from their 22 matches. However, they possess as many as seven games in hand over most of their League Two opponents.

That includes the side immediately above them, Barnet, whose weekend draw at Northampton dropped the Staffordshire outfit into the relegation zone for the first time in their history.

It has given the bottom of League Two an almost farcical look to it, with bottom club Stockport having played eight more games than Burton. Indeed, should the Brewers actually win all of their games in hand, they would move above Gillingham in 6th place.

Of course, the likelihood of that actually occurring is slim, but if the league table doesn't lie after 46 games, than it is certainly painting an inaccurate picture at the beginning of February.

True, Burton have found life a little tougher in their second season in the 92, particularly struggling for form on the road, including a 3-0 defeat to Shrewsbury in their last outing.

It led to Peschisolido firing a warning that, games in hand or not, Albion may well find themselves in a relegation battle that nobody could have envisaged.

After his relatively comfortable introduction to management last term, it promises to be a big challenge for the Canadian in his embryonic career.

However, it is hard not to feel sympathetic with him for the seemingly false position Burton are in though.

Part of it can be explained by their historic run to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, where they saw off Championship side Middlesbrough 2-1 at the Pirelli Stadium in going the furthest they've ever been in the competition.

Their Cup odyssey came to an end at the hands of Burnley last month, however, it also saw them lose out on two Saturdays that, otherwise, would have featured league fixtures.

The wintry weather over the past couple of months saw games against Torquay, Accrington, Northampton, Stevenage and Bradford called off.

The tragic death of Macclesfield midfielder, Richard Butcher, also saw their game against Albion postponed in respect.

Finally, Saturday's game at Gigg Lane against Bury was called off because of a waterlogged pitch, ensuring the Brewers have played just four league games in eight weeks.

Hero against Middlesbrough, Burton will have to do without Shaun Harrad's goals

A quick glance at their remaining schedule is enough to send a shiver down the spine of everyone at the club - as well as praying that no more games fall victim to the weather.

Burton are due to play nine matches in March and a further eight in April as they desperately try and squeeze in their remaining 24 games over the last 13 weeks of the campaign - starting this Friday against League Two leaders Chesterfield.

It means plenty of Tuesday evening kick offs and, for the fans, long midweek trips to the likes of Devon and Buckinghamshire as they follow their club's fight against the drop.

Such a schedule would test even Premier League teams, but for a club with limited resources, Burton's squad will be stretched to the maximum as they seek to make it three years in the Football League on the spin.

They were also dealt a blow by the January sale of top scorer Shaun Harrad, whose 13 goals this term had been crucial. His move to Northampton leaves the boss needing to replace a reliable source of goals.

While it's easy to feel sorry for Burton though, they cannot afford to do the same themselves. For a combination of reasons they lie in the relegation zone and must now prove that, when actually given the chance to play, they are better than their current position.

Peschisolido has, rightly, pointed to his team's vastly superior goal difference, currently -1, compared to the sides around him. However, it is the points column which will be the most telling.

There is also an argument to be made that, when towards the bottom, it is always preferable to have points on the board than games in hand. Having matches to play is no consolation when you're not in any kind of form to make use of them.

Indeed, Burton's scenario is reminiscent of the situation Shrewsbury Town found themselves in the 2002/3 campaign. Kevin Ratcliffe's side had similarly done well in the FA Cup and also progressed to the LDV Vans Trophy regional final.

At the beginning of March, Salop sat seven points clear of the bottom two with 15 games remaining. However, as sides below them began to win matches, Town's congested run-in began to take its toll.

Nine defeats in ten games saw them relegated before the final day of the season - and they ended the campaign bottom of the table eight points off safety.

Their games in hand had counted for nothing and they had lost a relegation battle brought about due to their own inactivity in the league - albeit helped by a woeful defensive record.

It must provide the warning for Burton and Peschisolido ahead of their frenetic run-in to the season.

The side from the Pirelli must get the wheels back on their season quickly, and ensure that, come May, the current table was simply an illusion, something else Mr Creek knows all about.

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