LEE Bell has hailed the team spirit at Burton Albion this season as the best he has experienced in his 10-year career.
The 29-year-old midfielder has been an integral part of the Brewers’ success this season after moving to the Pirelli Stadium in the summer following his release by Crewe Alexandra.
Bell scored one goal and set up the other as Albion beat fellow promotion rivals Southend United at the Pirelli Stadium on Saturday — a result which lifted his team into the League Two play-off places going into 2013 - and afterwards praised the togetherness of his team-mates.
He said: “The spirit’s top class.
“The boys are really together — I’ve never been anywhere before where the boys socialise together so much, they’re round each other’s houses at night and all that.
“They’re a really good bunch of lads.”
That team spirit has come to the fore in the last seven days following the disappointing 3-2 defeat at bottom club Barnet.
They responded with a 3-2 home victory over fellow high-flyers Rochdale and then triumphed 2-0 on Saturday against a Shrimpers side who went into the game on a 14-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Said Bell: “It’s been a good festive period up to now — good results and decent performances — so yeah, it kicks us on for the game on New Year’s Day.
“We were really disappointed with the result at Barnet but, you know, just because they’re down there doesn’t mean we should be getting anything — I think they went on to beat Gillingham afterwards.
“Every team’s capable of that in this league, it’s just good character again how we’ve bounced back with two good results.
“We have generally managed to bounce back from defeats this season.
“That’s what the manager’s on about. Even when you win, that’s gone, when you lose, that’s gone, it’s on to the next game.
“We’re trying to get that mentality of wanting to win football matches and wanting to achieve something.”
Bell played a significant role in the Brewers going 2-0 up in the opening 36 minutes on Saturday.
With 16 minutes gone, the former Macclesfield Town midfielder whipped in a terrific near-post cross from the right which was slid home by top scorer Calvin Zola.
Then, 20 minutes later, he let fly himself from outside the penalty area, with his strike beating Shrimpers keeper Paul Smith after taking a deflection off left-back Chris Barker.
There was no doubt in Bell’s mind that it was his goal, however.
“Yeah, I’m definitely claiming the goal — it was on target and that’ll do. That’s all that matters isn’t it?
“It was nice to have a hand in both of the goals, but whoever scores or whatever, it’s just important that we win games.
“Being two-nil up early on gives you a lot of confidence but sometimes it can be like it was against Rochdale — it’s the hardest thing in the world trying to defend a two-goal lead.
“I thought today we were good, we were decent, we handled their long balls into the box.
“You know, they’re a good team, they’re gonna be right up there at the end of the season, so it’s a good benchmark for us at the minute.
“You saw against Rochdale, when we’re at it we have too much energy for teams.
“Today was exactly the same. It was up to us to take the game to them and I thought we did that quite well.”
Bell is relishing his role as the holding midfielder in boss Gary Rowett’s team — a role he performed during his time at Crewe and Macclesfield — and says playing in a winning team makes it easier.
“The role I’m playing is similar to the roles I had at Crewe and Macclesfield,” he said.
“You know, I’ve never been a box-to-box player — I get up there now and again — but when you’re playing, you’re enjoying it, it’s the same for every footballer.
“I still think I could do better at times.
“I think it just suits me, it allows the other players to express themselves and go forward, but it’s just enjoyable when you’re playing, and especially in a winning team, everything’s a little bit easier.”
With the Brewers going into the new year perfectly poised to mount a serious promotion challenge, there is one thing Bell is hoping they can improve on — their away form.
Albion have picked up just three wins from their 12 games on the road in League Two this season — and have scored only nine goals.
Bell feels away points could be crucial come the end of the season and is looking for results to improve.
He said: “One of the things we’ve got to look to improve is our away form.
“We’ve got to be better away from home, even if that’s not playing too well.
“Especially against Chesterfield (a 1-1 draw), you look at the game from their point of view and they would say they perhaps deserved to win. From our point of view, we deserved a point out of the game because of how we defended.
“There’s two sides to every football match — you’ve got the attacking, but you’ve got to be able to defend.
“If we can defend a little bit better away from home I’m sure we’ll pick up some results.
“One or two points you can pick up when sometimes you’ve been losing the games will help towards the end of the season, but it’s one game to the next, we don’t look at away games, we look to the next one and we look to get something out of the game.”