SCOUT Phil Smith looks looks at ways for Burnley to overcome Brighton tomorrow.
A Scott McDonald goal at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, for Middlesbrough, condemned Brighton and Hove Albion to their seventh defeat of the campaign, equalling their total for the entire 10/11 League One season.
For those of you interested in the form book, both teams go into the clash at the AMEX Stadium with identical recent records, having enjoyed a winning streak of three prior to a solitary goal defeat at the weekend.
Recent games against Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough have seen the Seagulls register just two shots on target. As you would therefore expect, the pressure on goalkeeper Casper Ankergren is heightened as a result. Their firepower appears somewhat toothless at present, and thus the game could very well be decided by the smallest mistake. Poor handling from Ankergren on Saturday allowed McDonald to poke home, and this weakness is certainly an area which Burnley should look to exploit. Question marks are present with regards to communication, positional sense and aerial ability.
Burnley are likely to be faced with a 4-3-2-1 formation tomorrow afternoon. Against Middlesbrough this involved Mackail-Smith as the lone forward, with the “two” consisting of LuaLua and Noone. As we saw against West Ham United, a fortnight ago, I fully expect Duff and Edgar (pictured) to dominate proceedings in the air. A lack of service to Mackail-Smith will be evident, and, particularly during crossing opportunities, the Scottish international may find himself as the sole presence in the penalty area.
While I remain adamant that 4-4-2 was the wrong formation to adopt against Portsmouth last weekend, it must be noted that it is impossible to find a definitive solution to the formation and system of any given opposition. A shrewd manager will always hold a plan A, B, C or even D, in anticipation of his preferred method and philosophy being nullified. If we use the example of Mackail-Smith, we can see that for each answer provided, a new question is formulated.
Mackail-Smith will provide depth by making his runs between Duff and Edgar. The aim will be to create space for both Lua Lua and Noone, in order for a one on one situation to be present against Trippier and Mee.
I would assume that Eddie Howe is aware of this particular tactic, and would, as a result, instruct ourselves to hold a high defensive line. Should this be the case, one would expect Mackail-Smith to come short in an attempt to draw Duff and Edgar out of position. With Lua Lua and Noone providing width, a forward run from a central midfielder could be used to open the defence.
If Duff and Edgar make a conscious effort not to follow Mackail-Smith, then he will be able to turn and assess his options. He can choose whether to play the ball behind Trippier and Mee, for Lua Lua and Noone to attack, or play to his central midfielder, and thus retain possession of the football.
The 4-3-2-1 formation is far from perfect, however. As previously mentioned, when play is switched towards the wide players of Brighton and Hove Albion, Mackail-Smith is likely to be isolated in the penalty area. If, for example, Noone is in possession of the football, it is of vital importance that Lua Lua joins Mackail-Smith in the penalty area. Similarly, a central midfielder must become available for any knock downs which may come his way. Failure to follow that instruction can lead to an ineffective offensive transition. Given the lack of genuine goal-scoring opportunities created in December, one may suggest that this is currently the case for our opponent tomorrow afternoon.
A clean sheet and three points would be the perfect stocking filler in our last fixture before Christmas!