Managers can be strange individuals, shaped by often ridiculous pressures but also prone to clinging stubbornly to systems and players long after the wisdom of crowds has delivered its damning verdict.
There is a case for making a bruising, bustling centre forward the focus of attack with a squad lacking goals and even for pairing him with the player bought to score those goals, but both of these experiments have crashed and burned in recent weeks – the big man has bustled to little purpose while the goalscorer has been pressed to do a job further back which he is incapable of practising and blunted his ability to be in the right place at the right time.
Turf Moor will surely prove to be the graveyard of Miller as anything other than an impact substitute, but managerial obduracy is not only possible, but quite likely.
Facing a very good side for the second week running – Burnley lack the quality of Derby in most areas other than the rather important front line, where they are better – most fans understood that the task was going to be difficult and that the home side’s promotion ambitions, built on relentless hard work and a touch of quality are genuine.
The less forgiving amongst us, however, are worried that the team can be beaten before they begin because the manager gives them a license to fail before a ball is kicked.
Chris Powell may feel that this is unfair; surely we understand the disadvantageously sloping playing field in this division? There is no doubt that lining up against a player, Andre Gray, who cost more than Town’s eleven combined, and a team newly minted from their Premier League relegation is daunting, but that is the job.
Town’s pedestrian first half performance – illuminated from time to time by the excellent Paterson – was made even more frustrating by the fact that they had decent spells of possession rendered meaningless by a lack of movement up front; if Miller has a strength it is to occupy central defenders to create space but it was as if half the team had a different game plan to the other half.
Burnley must have sensed this as all they had to do was maintain a disciplined shape and wait for the ponderous passing in front of them to fizzle out when one of the visitors tried to break the mould of moving the ball from one side of the pitch to the other but invariably, and desperately ironically, there was no moving target to hit in front of them.
When the home team attacked, it was with contrasting purpose to their opponents’ constipation.
The first meaningful thrust in to Town’s territory brought the first goal. Andre Gray twisted Lynch inside out before being brought down by the Welshman’s desperate lunge (though later viewing suggests what looked like a nailed on foul in real time was not entirely convincing on review) and dispatched the penalty past Steer.
Gray was a constant threat and fed our old nemesis Boyd to bring a good save from Steer after pretzeling Lynch again before latching on to a good ball from Vokes late in the half to give the hosts an ominous 2 goal lead.
Paterson, pretty much the only positive for Town in a dismal first half, created a chance for Miller soon after Burnley’s opener but, predictably, he shot wide and for all the slightly built forward’s probing the only reward was several, badly delivered corners. Tom Heaton, Burnley’s highly regarded custodian, nearly contrived to push the ball in to his own net from one of them but, otherwise, the visitors rarely troubled the defenders in front of him.
The booing cascading down from the away end as the half time whistle blew wasn’t harsh. Being 2 down through the efforts of the talented Gray wasn’t a cause for shame but self defeating tactics centred around a limited and failing big man up front was. Fans aren’t stupid and their verdict on the manager’s decisions were loud and clear – his team were not functioning, seemingly endless square passing was not entertaining and chances, let alone a goal looked as elusive as ever.
Being a manager, Powell made no half time changes which seemed positively obtuse in the circumstances and while Miller had a half decent effort early in the half which went wide, the team was crying out for change.
On the hour, and to the rather cruel but predictable cheers of the away fans, Miller was replaced by Wells, whose name had been sung repeatedly from midway through the first half – not, one suspects, out of any belief that he would break his dry spell but merely for relief from the increasingly ugly tactics engendered by his teammate.
A couple of crude challenges had halted Gray’s attempts to inflict further and fatal damage (Whitehead was booked for one of them and misses the Reading game) before the acclaimed substitution and Steer was called in to routine but well executed action to stop shots from Barton and Vokes.
Slowly, however, Town found a way of being more competitive and threatening with a foothold suddenly seeming possible.
Too much of the improved work was wasted by some terrible corners by the ever louche Carayol – he has talent but lacks anything approaching urgency – though one of them indirectly lead to a half chance for Bunn who could only steer his effort wide as the ball bounced up just a little too high for him.
Powell’s next substitution gave 20 minutes to Kyle Dempsey to show us what he can do; an opportunity he grasped with both hands with a cameo of great energy. To be fair to Powell, Dempsey has been ill recently and while early glimpses of the ex-Carlisle man were reasonably encouraging they were somewhat over shadowed by a propensity for errors exposing us defensively.
He made an immediate difference. While Burnley’s defenders easily had the measure of Carayol, they seemed panicked by Dempsey’s surges and ability to provide the missing link between the holding midfielders and the attack.
It was Paterson, however, who conjured Town’s best chance of the game with a fantastic ball to Wells. The striker did well to make good contact with a ball dropping over his shoulder but could only lift it over the bar. The chance served notice to the hitherto comfortable home team that they still had work to do to secure the points and, at last, the small flame of hope which had been building in a better, if far from perfect, second half gained some traction.
Shortly after his attempt, Wells turned and shot to bring a good save from Heaton and this was followed by a Hudson header (from one of Town’s unfeasibly large corner count) and a narrowly wide Paterson effort.
It was very late, but the energy and drive of Dempsey had inspired some belief in to the Town team and while they had to be wary of Burnley’s pace on the break and had to survive a massive scare from a corner which really should have settled the game once and for all, most of the last 20 minutes belonged to the visitors.
Huws, who performed much better than in recent outings, had a shot heading for the top corner well saved, and Cranie (again, a composed presence) may have done better with a header before another decisive run and low cross by Dempsey was turned in to his own net by Duff before it could reach Wells.
Town piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser which had looked barely likely for much of the game and the final chance fell to Bunn who fired over when a little composure could have brought an overall undeserved point.
The late rally was, it is to be hoped, a wake up call for the management team. It took Chris Powell 6 games before his patience with Tommy Smith ran out, only for it to be rewarded with consistently excellent performances from Cranie – we can only hope that his stubborn persistence with Miller (still seemingly benefitting from an effective performance at Charlton and some flat track bullying of a poor Bolton side) is finally over and he will put more emphasis on youth and craft.
Wells can be frustratingly inconsistent and wasteful, but playing behind Miller has only served to emphasise his faults and negate his redeeming, and quite important, ability to score goals. It is time to put some trust in him, play him in his preferred position and allow him to feed off the energy that Dempsey and Paterson showed they can supply.
It’s also time to turn what sound like excuses (thin, inexperienced squad up against expensively assembled teams) in to challenges. Powell only needed to look 10 yards to his right to see what can be achieved by a young, motivated and collegiate squad lead by a strong character who brooked no excuses.
In fact, Dyche was faced with similar problems with a team treading water in the division and almost waiting for the inevitable drop – they were amongst the favourites to go down and went up. Though somewhat trite (you can’t just replicate a success story), it is time for some positivity and bloody mindedness against the odds to come from Huddersfield Town. He may have stumbled on the foundations of that in the second half of the second half yesterday.