View From the Press Box: Harrogate Town's decision to re-deploy Warren Burrell proves a masterstroke

Harrogate Advertiser sports editor Rhys Howell has his say on the latest goings-on at Harrogate Town.

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 11:21 am
Warren Burrell in action for Harrogate Town against Sutton United earlier this season. Picture: Matt Kirkham

So effective was he in the holding midfield role, French international Claude Makelele ended up with a position named after him.

The ex-Chelsea and Real Madrid man may have gone largely unnoticed on many occasions, overshadowed by more high-profile Galactico team-mates, however he was that good at what he did that he left a legacy behind.

Quite literally playing the ‘Makelele role’ as a deep-lying midfielder in front of Jose Mourinho’s back-four, he was key to that Blues side’s success from 2004/05 onwards.

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Operating as a defensive midfielder is probably one of the less glamorous jobs within a football team and many players excel in that position without their contribution being anywhere near as obvious those scoring and creating goals at one end of the pitch or directly preventing them at the other.

When readers consider Harrogate Town’s recent run of good form and some of their stand-out results, I imagine that it will be the goals of Mark Beck at Halifax (thrice) or Brendan Kiernan against Yeovil and Ebbsfleet that spring to mind.

Goals, of course, win games. But I think that there has been more to Simon Weaver’s team’s improved recent form than the obvious factors.

For me, Warren Burrell’s inclusion in the team as a holding midfielder has been huge.

Now, my reference to Makelele is not because I am trying to compare the two and suggest that the versatile Burrell is the National League’s equivalent of the French star.

They’re both quite different players, and Makelele usually operated in a central-midfield three (under Mourinho), rather as part of a two in the 4-4-2 that Town currently employ.

What I am trying to highlight is the significance of someone functioning effectively in the position just in front of the back-four.

To keep with the Chelsea 2004/05 theme, Mourinho utilising Makelele in such a way transformed that side from also-rans to title-winners.

Burrell being moved from centre-half and back into the engine room has coincided with Town morphing from a team that looked destined for a relegation scrap to one who are now just a single victory away from a play-off spot.

Burrell played his first game in midfield for years at home to Chorley in early September.

Town won 2-0 and have only lost one of the nine matches that followed, winning five and keeping four clean-sheets.

They were of course beaten 4-2 at Torquay with Burrell deployed as a defensive midfielder, however they were winning 2-1 and playing well until Jon Stead was controversially sent off.

When it was 11 versus 11, Weaver’s team looked on course for another positive result.

Burrell has added a little bit more physical presence to the Town midfield and, perhaps due to the fact that he’s played almost exclusively as a defender for the past couple of years, he brings an invaluable layer of protection, screening his defence to great effect.

I have praised centre-backs Connor Hall and Will Smith for their excellence in recent weeks. They've shone both individually and as a pair, but I have no doubt that they have benefited from the presence of Burrell just in front of them.

Credit must go to Weaver, because the decision to shift the 29-year-old has definitely been key to his side’s upturn in fortunes.

It can be no coincidence. One defeat in 10 with him in that position, statistics that are hard to argue with.