TALKING TACTICS: Derby will provide stern test

SCOUT Phil Smith looks to the home clash with Derby as Burnley try to maintain their superb form.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 20th January 2012, 3:00 pm

The Championship can be a cruel mistress. We began last Saturday three points off the top six, and, thanks to a late Reading winner by Adam Le Fondre, that is where we remain, despite our exploits in the North East.

Talking of our game against Middlesbrough, I am unsure how to call it. Burnley were worthy of maximum points, that cannot be argued, but how much can we read into the result? Had results been favourable, the Teessiders could have gone top with a victory, not that the 17,001 in attendance would have noticed, such was the divide in quality come the final whistle.

Were they poor or did we simply make them look like an average side? Poor handling from Connor Ripley certainly played a part in the second goal, whilst the first was comical in that it led to us taking the lead. That is not a slight on the routine, I have praised it previously in these pages, but an expression of utter bemusement as to how Tony Mowbray fell victim to it once again.

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Individual mistakes certainly proved costly, but to offer them as the reason for a most welcome three points would be criminal. There was nothing fortunate whatsoever about this victory, and, if anything, reaffirmed my belief that the squad is more than capable of achievement, regardless of any possible additions this month.

Team spirit is the greatest tool available to any manager, and once the squad start putting their bodies on the line for each other, take a step back and let them get on with business. The focus of Eddie appears to be on cementing the personnel we already have, rather than a clamour for new faces, so I would suggest that me and him are singing from the same hymn sheet.

On to tomorrow, and if the form book is to be believed, we can expect a stern examination of our credentials against a Derby County side in the midst of a purple patch. I will set myself up for a fall here, but despite their haul of 15 points from the last 18, I cannot see past a routine home victory.

Then again it needs to be, Turf Moor is currently not the fortress it once was. Home form will be the foundation to whatever success we look to achieve, and at the moment we are coming up short.

Given that Nigel Clough has a preference for 4-4-2, I suggest the possibility of 4-4-1-1. This allows ourselves an extra body in midfield, whilst keeping the same lines of play visible in 4-4-2. Trippier and Easton can overlap, without the threat of conceding a counter-attack, as a result of the two holding midfielders. Their deep line and lack of pressure invited previous opponents Coventry City to take the initiative, and thus the extra man centrally can facilitate ball retention.

James Bailey and Paul Green were wasteful in possession, and Marvin Bartley (pictured) would be the ideal candidate to pick up the pieces and wrestle the initiative.

I mean no disrespect by this, but Derby County are a poor defensive display away from being on the receiving end of an absolute hammering. Their recent rise up the table has been built on a solid back four, plus the form of goalkeeper Frank Fielding. Common sense dictates that this scenario cannot continue indefinitely. But for inadequate finishing, the Sky Blues would have put them to the sword.

Lukas Jutkiewicz came on against ourselves as a substitute in the North East, and I would state on record that had his move not occurred until this week, Coventry City would have bagged their first away maximum of the season at Pride Park.

Without him, I am afraid that they can now purchase a one-way ticket out of the division.

• Do you have a tactical poser for Phil? Send your questions to [email protected] and Phil will respond in a later edition.