(Photo: Action Images via Reuters)
By Adam Virgo
WHEN Hull lost Sam Clucas to Swansea City, they clearly said ‘Right, who is the best Championship midfielder out there?’
The answer was Jackson Irvine. The 24-year-old Australian was inspirational for Burton Albion last season.
Player of the year. Top scorer. To bag ten goals from midfield is impressive at any level, let alone for a side at the wrong end of the Championship.
And let’s face it – those goals basically kept the Brewers up. Five of them were winners and another three secured draws. That’s 18 points.
But it’s more than just goals. Irvine can tackle, his energy and work-rate are excellent – I’ve watched him several times and he’s a very accomplished player. He’s also been at Celtic as a kid and tasted what it’s like to play for a big club.
He was showing every sign of repeating last year’s heroics and I imagine that’s all his suitors were waiting for. If the reported £2m fee is correct, it’s an absolute steal for a goalscoring midfielder – arguably the best signing of the window.
Nobody can deny that Irvine deserves this opportunity. He’s earned the chance to play with better players. It’s a fact of life that if you’re a struggling side with one outstanding player, you’ll have to wave goodbye one day.
For Burton, though, it’s a massive kick in the balls. I think he’s irreplaceable. That’s the brutal truth. Where are Burton going to find another Jackson Irvine? He came from Ross County, and wasn’t pulling up too many trees up there. He’d basically had one decent season, scored twice in 36 games.
Signing him was just another one of the many reasons why Nigel Cough should have been up there as manager of the year.
He was a gamble that came off. Now they’ve got to go and do that again. Yes, Nigel knows the market. He knows the lower leagues. And in fairness to Burton, it’s always been a well-oiled club. They’ve always signed astutely and the chairman, Ben Robinson, has always backed his managers to the fullest extent. He deserves a massive amount of credit.
But none of that changes how difficult it is to keep rolling a double six. Jamie Allen, the 22-year-old midfielder who arrived from Rochdale on deadline day, is a good player but an unknown quantity at this level.
So is Will Miller. The attacking midfielder, 21, scored once in three games on loan at the Pirelli last season and has now signed permanently from Spurs.
Will either get you ten goals? Will the strikers? You’ve got Luke Varney, Marvin Sordell, Lucas Akins. It’s difficult to see any of them racking up those kind of numbers.
That’s no slight on Burton. For them to be in the Championship at all is an incredible achievement.
But there’s no getting away from how much Irvine will be missed. They’ve got Leeds, Norwich, Fulham coming up. Those are tough, tough games and psychologically it’s tough to recover from a bad start.
That first season you come up, you’re running on adrenaline. It’s the second one that’s always hard. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear the sale of Irvine could make it just that bit too tough.