Up to ninth in League One, boss Steve Cotterill left the pitch after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Burton high-fiving young supporters and smiling ear-to-ear.
Cotterill had spent most of the 107 minutes it took to see off the bottom-of-the-table Brewers (including an agonising 14 added at the end of the second half) pacing nervously in and around his technical area.
Perfect the performance certainly wasn’t but it didn’t need to be and 10 matches into the campaign the manager knows his team, though still very much a work in progress, have built themselves a solid foundation for the weeks and months ahead.
They’ll have to improve to stick around the top half of the division but there is enough evidence to suggest that is possible, with the early form of Christian Saydee in particular giving supporters cause for optimism.
The on-loan Bournemouth striker needed just 12 minutes to net his second goal in as many games. Substitute Ryan Bowman then got the winner after Victor Adeboyejo had brought the struggling Brewers level just past the mark, on a day when Town’s forwards answered Cotterill’s pre-match call to arms by delivering their most clinical display to date. By the final whistle, the stat line for a team who too had previously paid the price this season for failing to take their chances read: Two shots on target, two goals.
It was their team-mate at the other end who ensured the efforts did not go to waste. Burton boss Dino Maamria might have taken things a bit too far when he described Marko Marosi’s display as the best he’d ever seen by a goalkeeper in the EFL, yet it was arguably the Slovakian’s finest since arriving in Shropshire 15 months ago.
It was undoubtedly the bravest. Early in the second half, Marosi cut his hand and dislocated a finger when diving low to his right to push Deji Oshilaja’s drive round the post. Back-up Harry Burgoyne spent five minutes warming-up as Marosi was tended to by the medical staff, yet the No.1 stayed on and with the clock ticking down, denied Burton a share of the spoils with a superb reflex stop at close range which left Sam Winnall shaking his head in disbelief. He was not the only visiting forward to wear a look of incredulity on an afternoon when Marosi almost always seemed to have the answers.
The one time he didn’t, George Nurse did, the full-back arriving at the far post to nod Sam Hughes’ header off the line. Even when Town’s defences eventually were breached, there was an element of misfortune. Marosi proved equal to Oshijala’s drive but the ball flew off his hand into the advancing Adeboyejo who rather unwittingly deflected it over the line at close range.
Burton were more than worthy of parity if not more at that point but Cotterill’s decision to switch from a back four to a three brought not only Bowman’s winner, just four minutes after being thrown into the fray, but a far sturdier structure to his team. Winnall’s big chance aside, Burton did not seriously test Marosi for the rest of the game, while Town carried a far greater threat themselves in a far more even contest.
Until then Saydee’s 13th minute goal had been in sharp contrast to the rest of the game. Burton supporters sat behind the goal must have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief when he brought Tom Bayliss’ flick-on under control before drilling a low right-footed finish beyond visiting keeper Ben Garratt and into the far corner.
Saydee failed to score in 18 appearances with the Brewers last season but promises to be a strong recruit for Town. While Cotterill clearly had tongue in cheek when claiming he would not be impressed until the striker has scored 20 goals in as many games, for the season that number could yet prove a realistic target.
With Bowman, Rob Street and Rekeil Pyke providing further options up front and Marosi between the sticks, there is a solid spine to this Town team, helped further by the craft and industry of Bayliss and Luke Leahy in midfield and the experience of Chey Dunkley in defence. Marosi aside, the latter was Town’s most impressive performer, marshalling a backline shorn of Tom Flanagan by winning several big, early aerial battles to set the tone for a gritty team display.
Burton did not play like a team propping up the rest of the division and could count themselves unfortunate. But such is the way so often in League One and there have already been occasions this season when Town have not got everything they probably deserved.
To this point things have gone in their favour more than not and with the season nearly a quarter of the way through, they are doing enough to keep you interested.