Burton season going so well – but better form on the road is still the target
SEVENTH in League Two, generally looking much better-equipped to last the course than in previous seasons, hard to beat and with a team spirit second to none.
You would think there was not much to moan about for Burton Albion, for manager Gary Rowett and for the Brewers' supporters.
And yet, after a third successive away defeat on Saturday at Northampton Town, the subject of Burton's form on the road is the one that won't go away.
Supporters believe Rowett is being too cautious away from home, playing 4-5-1 more often than not, getting his side to slow the game down and targeting a draw rather than going all out for a win.
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Rowett's counter-argument is that, when he has tried to be more positive, playing 4-4-2 and trying to take the game to the home side, Burton have come unstuck.
He says that the Brewers' best away results have come playing 4-5-1.
The problem is that a study of the statistics does not prove that either view is entirely correct. The fact is that Burton have both won and lost playing 4-5-1 and 4-4-2.
What is inescapable is that they have not settled into consistent form away from home in any formation.
They are second in the "home" table, only having been knocked off the top of it by Northampton in Saturday's game.
They are fifth from bottom in the away table, three places above Northampton, which only goes to show that they are not the only club with the problem.
Let's look at what happened in Burton's three away League wins.
The first was, surely, their most accomplished away performance in League Two this season, the 1-0 win at Rochdale in September.
The Brewers played 4-4-2, with Matt Paterson alongside Calvin Zola and the pair showed a promising understanding.
After 52 minutes, Zola cushioned a fine diagonal ball from Jack Dyer into Paterson's path for a superb finish to clinch the game.
At Southend United, in October, it was 4-4-2 again but the Brewers were dismal. They still won 1-0, when Jacques Maghoma curled in a stoppage-time free kick.
At Plymouth Argyle in November, Burton won 2-1 after switching from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 when they fell behind.
And yet the goals came from centre-half Nathan Stanton, his first for the club, after a corner and midfielder Robbie Weir.
It simply isn't a conclusive argument to say that 4-4-2 has brought the best away results.
Rowett often points out that when Burton have played 4-4-2 away from home they have lost, as they did by 3-0 at Wycombe Wanderers, 4-1 at Gillingham, 1-0 at Cheltenham Town and 3-2 at Barnet.
But they played 4-5-1 in losing 3-0 to Exeter City and now to Northampton.
Watching every week, I, along with many others, find it frustrating to see a talented Burton side trying to bottle up an away game and sneak a goal, especially straight after seeing them fly at opponents at the Pirelli Stadium.
Yet I can see where Rowett is coming from. He is playing percentages.
If Burton keep winning home games, picking up a few points on the road will keep them in the play-off frame – they just need to start finding those few.
"We've to keep going and do something about it away from home," said Rowett, exasperated but still defending his tactics after the Northampton game.
"You wouldn't want to look back at the end of the season and say our away form has cost us.
"At the moment, it's not, because we are winning our home games.
"But we are giving ourselves pressure in those home games at the moment.
"I want to win every game – I'm aware it's something we need to improve on."