Dan Burn’s inept back pass to his goalkeeper gave Nottingham Forest a flying start at the City Ground. The home team centre forward Britt Assombalomba snuffled it up to give his side an early lead. It was the kind of error a Sunday League defender would be embarrassed by. Soon after the boos started to come from a small section of the away support when Burn touched the ball again. Thank goodness the jeering subsided and it did not rear its ugly head again.
A couple of weeks earlier a Latics fan, who had been to the pre-season games and had made a frustrating journey to watch his team play at Bristol said that Burn was “an accident waiting to happen”. Another went further by saying that he looked like a second Titus Bramble.
But is it fair to compare Burn with Bramble? Was the fan referring to the Titus Bramble who was famous for his high profile errors or the one who was Player of the Season for Steve Bruce’s Latics in the 2008-09 season?
Titus Bramble arrived at Wigan on a free transfer from Newcastle in the summer of 2007. Although he had made over 100 league appearances in his time at the north east club, he had become more well known for his errors than his considerable attributes as a Premier League central defender. Bramble had a superb physique with the requisite skills to be a top class defender. But it was his gaffes that had given him notoriety. Bruce was sticking his neck out by taking in the big Ipswich-born defender, but the manager himself had been a central defender. Could he and his coaching staff help Bramble become a more complete player?
It was not easy for Bruce or Bramble and the player continued to make those same kinds of errors in his early days at Wigan.
But Bruce maintained his belief in the player. The result was Bramble being voted both Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year near the end of the 2008-09 season. Bramble was to spend three years at Wigan, before following Bruce to Sunderland.
Dan Burn’s poorly hit back pass at Nottingham hardly places him in the category of Bramble. But Fulham fans will tell you he was prone to the odd howler and his pre-season performances for Latics were riddled with occasional errors that one would not expect from a player who has made more than 70 appearances in the Championship.
Having a very tall central defender can be a prerequisite for success in the Championship. At 6 ft 6 in Burn can dominate in the air. Tall defenders like Burn are not always strong in their distribution, an important feature in Gary Caldwell’s style of play, but Burn is capable of launching precise passes with a sweet left foot. Moreover he can be effective on the ground in making interceptions and breaking up play.
However, Burn needs to work on his heading of the ball. Being tall is not sufficient. He needs to work on developing more power and control of his headers. His arrival in the opposition penalty area should provoke concern for their defenders, but he remains unconvincing.
More than anything else he needs to work on his concentration.
When Bramble arrived at Wigan he was 24, the same age as Burn. Direct comparisons are futile. Their attributes and experience differ. But there are analogies.
Titus Bramble was a success at Wigan despite his precedents. His manager clearly believed in him and inspired him to give his best.
Like Bruce, Caldwell too is an ex- central defender. Can Caldwell help Burn cut out those errors, those moments of uncertainty which can blight his performances?
Dan Burn and Titus Bramble are different types of player from different eras. Moreover Bramble operated in the Premier League, not the Championship. But some parallels exist. Will Burn become one of the first names on Caldwell’s team sheet as was Bramble in the Bruce era?
Burn has the attributes to become a dominant central defender in the mould of Fulham legend Brede Hangeland. As such he could be invaluable to Latics. Although he can sometimes be uncertain in his play he has not committed the quantities of high profile errors that had plagued his predecessor Bramble’s early career. But can he win over the doubters in the Wigan support as Bramble did?
Caldwell was clearly unhappy with Fulham’s first goal at the weekend. With Jake Buxton’s suspension period over will he recall the ex-Derby player at Burn’s expense for the QPR game coming up on Saturday?
Or will he find a way to include both, giving Burn a vote of confidence?