“I will have to look into the chairman’s eyes and say please,” smiled Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink after Burton Albion’s 1-1 draw with Cheltenham Town on Friday night. It was a somewhat rueful response to the inevitable question at the end of his after-match press conference about what might happen between then and today, transfer deadline day.
The Burton manager has a match to think about, a meeting at home to MK Dons tonight in the Papa John’s Trophy group stages (7pm). It is a competition which only begins to assume great significance if you happen to get out of the group stage and close in on a possible Wembley appearance – the Football League Trophy, whoever is sponsoring it, has yet to grab the attention of any but the most diehard supporters. The attendance tonight is unlikely to threaten four figures.
Much as Hasselbaink wants to win every game he is involved with, occupying his mind more pressingly today will be how he might manage to supplement his injury-hit squad before the window closes a couple of hours after the game. Will he leave the dugout to assistant Dino Maamria and be in an office on his phone while the game is played? I think that unlikely but heaven forbid that the Brewers should pick up any more injuries in this game.
They have had a catalogue of ill-luck so far that, surely, by the law of averages, has to start to turn soon. Had Hasselbaink been dealing with one, two, even three injuries at this point, he might be looking at the end of the transfer window in a slightly more relaxed way. From somewhere, however, he will hope to conjure a striker and an attacking midfielder or “number 10”, while he is also now short in terms of defensive midfielders.
We are not party to the budget Hasselbaink is working to, nor should we be, and we know that chairman Ben Robinson has, as usual, worked a small miracle to give Hasselbaink the chance to build a competitive squad. But the Brewers have not, yet, been able to off-load the two senior players the manager has deemed surplus to requirements, goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara and forward Josh Parker, and that may well be stretching the figures at the moment.
The bad luck has stretched not just to the number of players injured but the fact that most of them are in the two specific areas of the field: up front and defensive midfield.
It started in pre-season, when summer signing Louis Moult went down in a challenge near the dugouts near the end of the game against Leicester City and emerged with damaged ankle ligaments which are keeping him out for around five months. After 38 minutes of the next of the big friendlies, against Newcastle United, Moult’s fellow striker Kane Hemmings came off with a hamstring injury. The opening day League One win away to Shrewsbury Town was marred by an injury at a similar time to on-loan forward Jacob Maddox, who had looked lively and keen. It is a foot injury and also looks likely to stretch to months rather than weeks.
That was three forwards out in three games but now came the turn of the midfielders. Deji Oshilaja had looked every inch the midfield strong man the Brewers had hoped he would be until he came off after 51 minutes of the Carabao Cup tie against Oxford United. He left the ground on crutches and was still using them at the next game, although Hasselbaink says the injury is not as serious as first thought.
It was a blessed relief when Burton came through the next game not only with an exciting 2-1 win over Ipswich Town but, for the first time in the season, without an extra injury and again, in the 1-0 win over Sunderland, although by now, in the background, we had realised midfielder Bryn Morris had not featured since the Shrewsbury game and it turned out he was battling to recover from a “dead leg.”
On to Cambridge United and Tom O’Connor, another who had looked excellent in midfield, initially alongside Oshilaja, then Michael Mancienne, pulled his hamstring stretching for a ball inside the first 10 minutes. On Friday night, only seven minutes had gone when Mancienne did the same against Cheltenham.
That brought the tally to seven, three forwards and four midfielders. Throw in the fact that, by now, Terry Taylor and Michael Bostwick were now isolating after a positive Covid test and that Ciaran Gilligan has yet to be involved as he shakes off a pre-season hip injury and the Brewers ended Friday night’s game with 10 regular first-team squad members out of action.
That they have remained competitive in these circumstances is another of Hasselbaink’s small miracles. Yes, the last two games, yielding only one point against two promoted sides, have been a touch disappointing but the overall picture is still 10 points from five games and that, maintained, has you on 92, three more than Hull City won the title with last season. It is indeed a time for keeping things in perspective and we can only wonder what the tally would have been with the squad even close to fully fit.
It will be a busy day, today, though, for sure, and yesterday will have been, behind the scenes. Now let’s see if Hasselbaink can – again – pull a rabbit from the hat.
* And what are the chances of that rabbit being Sheffield United striker Daniel Jebbison? I don’t believe the possible loan deal is dead in the water. Hasselbaink is interested, as evidenced by the fact that he says he cannot comment on the situation, rather than simply saying it’s not on.
If the rumours that the Blades want a ridiculous loan fee for him are true and they stick to that, then Burton are not in the hunt. If they decide that they will act in the player’s interests – and of course, potentially, ultimately their own – then it is still possible. Among the many pieces of speculation, the Star newspaper in Sheffield suggests that Jebbison himself prefers the idea of learning from a master striker at this stage of his career. He would also get game time at Burton that may not be so forthcoming elsewhere. With Everton rumoured to be interested in buying Jebbison outright, could a sale by the Blades and then an instant loan from the player’s new club happen? Deals like that are not uncommon. We will know soon enough.
All of our Burton Albion news can be found here: www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/all-about/burton-albion and here: https://www.staffordshire-live.co.uk/sport/