As Blackpool were battling their way to a great 3-3 draw at Doncaster Rovers on Saturday (I’m sure I recall a similar result at the Keepmoat Stadium a few years ago), I was at Turf Moor to witness the Burnley v West Bromwich Albion game and also to see at first hand the ‘Tony Pulis’ style of play!
While not being particularly pleasing on the eye and completely at odds with the patient possession style adopted by many teams in the Premier League and around the world, it certainly is effective.
Football snobbery often overlooks the attention to detail that goes into the way Pulis and similar managers play their system.
A lot of statistics are used and they work out where the percentage of goals comes from, where they are conceded and they then adopt a style that achieves maximum impact in both boxes.
Burnley played nice attractive football in the first half but were repeatedly repelled by a well-drilled defence and midfield.
With the ball, WBA never gave away possession in dangerous areas, like the defence or midfield – this turnover of possession is where lots of goals are conceded.
The ball was hit direct to a fast winger or the striker. They in turn didn’t shoot from distance (low chance of scoring) and instead won throw-ins and corners that were a constant thorn in Burnley’s side.
Set-pieces can be the difference between success and failure in any division.
Predictably, Albion won the game on the counter-attack and now find themselves third in the Premier League.
I’m not sure Pep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger will be adopting this style soon, but for maximising results from the players at your disposal, then Tony Pulis is the reigning king. Even Jose Mourniho used all out direct football to good effect last season when he needed to win, with Manuel Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It all comes down to whether sticking to the principles of beautiful, patient football and believing you will prosper long term is the most important thing ... or getting points on the board.
That is certainly something that splits opinions among both fans and pundits alike.
When we first played in the Championship with Simon Grayson, we often resembled a Pulis team as we were under constant pressure and tried to hit teams quickly and directly on the counter-attack.
As we grew in stature and the playing squad improved, Ian Holloway introduced an attractive attacking style.
We would never have got promoted to the Premier League playing long ball but there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have stayed up initially if we had gone gung-ho in our attacking.
My visit to Burnley allowed me to reacquaint myself with a certain Matt Williams.
Matt is now general manager at the club, after a spell at Shrewsbury Town.
I remember when I first signed for Blackpool, I walked through the door at Bloomfield Road and was met by Matt, who had a brief discussion with my agent and then showed me to Simon Grayson’s office.
He then returned to take me for my medical. After somehow passing that, I returned to Grayson’s office and waited while Matt dealt with phone calls to my club (Hull City).
Once we had the go-ahead to sign, it was Matt who produced the paperwork.
That is just a brief snippet of what he used to do for Blackpool and also the reason he became practically irreplaceable.
Yes, losing Ian Holloway and key players like Keith Southern, David Vaughan and Charlie Adam contributed to the Seasiders’ subsequent downward spiral, but never underestimate what Matt did for the club.
Not long after I put pen to paper, Matt was back on at me for an interview for the match-day programme.
He literally did the job of 10 people.
It’s great to see that his hard work has been noticed and rewarded by his move to Burnley, where I’m sure he has a lot more support and a much bigger wage packet.