JUSTIN Richards is all too aware that he and his fellow Burton Albion strikers will ultimately sink or swim this season on the number of goals they score — and knows they have to grasp every opportunity they get with both hands.
Richards was handed only his third start of the season in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Morecambe and, despite completing his first 90 minutes of the campaign, was left a little frustrated that he was unable to find the target in a game of few chances.
The Birmingham-born frontman, who turns 32 on Tuesday, said: “I’m delighted to have got 90 minutes in, you know, it’s good to be back playing and starting from the beginning.
“It’s just unfortunate I didn’t get many looks at goal, you know, but I’ll take it.”
Richards has scored just once so far this season — the joint fewest, along with Adi Yussuf, of the Brewers’ five strikers — but has had fewer opportunities in terms of minutes on the pitch than the majority of the others.
As well as his three starts, he has made seven substitute appearances, compared to Yussuf (three starts and eight substitute appearances), top scorer Calvin Zola (seven and one), Billy Kee (seven and four) and Matt Paterson (eight and three).
On the bench for the first two games of the season, Richards was impressive, alongside Kee, in the 6-2 Pirelli Stadium demolition of AFC Wimbledon on August 21.
He started again four days later, but Albion suffered a 1-0 defeat against Fleetwood Town at the Pirelli Stadium and, after the Brewers upset Leicester City 4-2 in the second round of the Capital One Cup with boss Gary Rowett employing a 4-5-1 formation with Zola up front, Richards found himself behind the big Congolese striker — as well as Paterson and Kee.
However, far from sulking, the striker has vowed to get his head down in his bid to win a place in Albion’s starting line-up.
He said: “That’s football isn’t it?
“At the end of the day, the manager’s got a job to do and the team to pick and, you know, he’s gonna pick a team that he feels can win that game.
“If I’m not in that team, obviously I’ve got to try and work hard to be in that team.
“All the strikers here have shown they’re capable of scoring goals, so it’s probably a good luxury for the manager to have.
“He knows that he can call on players and they’re gonna go out there and at least try and do the business for him.
“The manager picks the team and if those 11 players go out there and do the business then, obviously, they’re setting their claims down to keep the shirt.
“Like me today, I’m hoping that I’m in the 11 for the next game, so it’s just about trying to go out there whenever you get your opportunity and try and perform.”
Richards knows how important it is for strikers to find the net when they are given a chance, but hopes he did enough at the Globe Arena to retain his place when one of his former clubs — Bristol Rovers — visit the Pirelli Stadium tomorrow.
“We’ll see if I’ve done enough to be in the line-up again next week,” he said.
“I’m obviously disappointed not to get on the scoresheet, but it’s one of those.
“I was part of a team that’s kept a clean sheet and got a point up here so hopefully I will be.
“I guess I’d say I need a run in the side to get the match sharpness back but, as a striker, anything can fall to you in the box and then you score and you feel like you’re back then.
“It’s just about getting out there really, just being on the pitch, and obviously just trying to build some type of form and consistency.
“The only way you do that is if you’re playing. Every striker needs to be banging the goals in, so you’ve just got to keep going and hopefully you get those chances to play.”
Richards, who scored 12 goals in his first season at the club following his move from Albion’s League Two rivals Port Vale, also says the Brewers are giving him the best chance to be as sharp as possible for when he does get his chances.
He said: “You’ve got to look after yourself and stay sharp for when you do get the chance, but the set-up at the club’s good in regards to keeping players fit and doing the right stuff.
“You can’t ask for any more really, it’s all there for you to be ready to play when you do get the call.”
While Richards has not been as involved as he would have liked, he has been impressed with Albion’s start to the season — and the four points and two clean sheets they have picked up from two tough away games.
Speaking after the 0-0 draw at Morecambe, he said: “Yeah, it was a tough battle.
“It’s a hard place to come, especially after a really long week.
“I mean, obviously, having gone down to Southend and won down there, to then come up here on the Saturday — its been a long week — but I think it was a good point at the end of the day.
“We kept a clean sheet, they never really looked like scoring, so you can’t really grumble with that.
“If someone had offered us two clean sheets and four points from the two games at the start of the week then I think we probably would have taken it.
“Obviously, you wanna win every game that you turn up for, but at the end of the day we’ve kept a clean sheet and if we’d have nicked one, we would have won another game.
“There weren’t too many clear-cut chances, not at all.
“Morecambe are a good side, they’re good at home, they’ve always been there or thereabouts over the last few years, so it’s a hard place to come and pick up points.
“Having kept them to minimal chances, we’ve got to be happy with that.
“The manager is trying to build from a solid foundation and I think that’s stood us in good stead when we’re playing away from home.
“The first thing is to be hard to beat and then if we can build on that and nick three points then that’s what we’ll do.”