“We have been dominating matches and creating chances, away from home,” said hit man and eight-goal striker, Iwelumo. Not winning them though, alas; whilst Scunthorpe below us in the table had managed to win five away from home.
But by the end of October the situation was simple. With a win ratio of just 5:14, Burnley could forget about promotion. Looking back, there were games that could and should have been won – but weren’t. Unfortunately, words like could and should have never won any club points and promotion.
Looking forward, a far better win ratio was needed if the future was to be Claret. By the end of the month, despite all the hype about playing good football, and deserving to win a greater number of games, Burnley had still not managed to win away, or string just two consecutive League wins together. Facts as bald as those continued to fuel the debate about the manager (dubbed Average Brian rather cruelly I thought).
The BBC Norwich preview did not make happy reading: ‘Norwich face a Burnley side that has won only one of its last six matches and are the only team in the Division not to beat a team in the top half of the table. The Clarets away form remains a concern for manager Brian Laws, they have drawn four consecutive away games and have won only once in 29 away matches stretching back to last season’.
Anyone who has read Director Brendan Flood’s book will remember that this is an ambitious guy very conscious of, and concerned by averageness and mediocrity; hence the eventual departure of Steve Cotterill, an event prompted very much by Flood’s concerns over results. One wonders therefore what his views were at the end of October about the results so far. Meanwhile Cotterill, having guided Notts County to promotion in 2009/10, was enjoying a spectacular renaissance at hard-up Portsmouth. It’s a funy owld game innit?
Players and fans mixed on the plane from Manchester Airport to Norwich. Supporter Tony Yates had the nice little story of how they’d told Martin Paterson they were going down to watch the game.
“So am I,” said Pato. He must have had a big surprise, therefore, to find that he was not spectating and kicking his heels on the bench, but was in the starting line-up. It must have been an even bigger surprise to score twice.
Not that it made for a happy day. After a first-half super show and a 2 – 0 lead, the second half was all Norwich, the lead was cut, Burnley back-pedalled, and the equaliser came in injury time with a handball that was ignored. If memory serves this made it 7 points conceded to last minute or injury time goals.
At the beginning of extra time Burnley were in 4th position, by full time it was down to 8th again, the 6th away draw of the season and just 5 wins from 15 games. “What’s the point,” supporters asked, “of losing just three games if you can’t win more of the others? This way mid-table mediocrity looms.”
Referee Kettle had manager Laws boiling with rage at the explanation that the ball had hit the Norwich player’s chest and not his arm. Replays showed clearly that Mr Kettle needs a visit to Specsavers. “There is no maybe about it. Crofts got the ball, and Gordon Bennett I saw the arm clearly stretched out and he has brought it back into his path and smashed it into the net.” All and sundry agreed it was a definite handball. Yet again a referee’s decision or lack of decision badly affected a result.
The messageboards and websites, however, were filled with disgruntled, grumbling fans asking why is it that this side cannot hang on to leads and see out the game; is it an entrenched mindset, is it a weak midfield, is it lack of fitness? Or are the players just not as good as we imagined them to be at the beginning of the season when we were filled with optimism and conviction that this was one of the best squads in the Division capable of immediate promotion? Topic after topic centred round manager Laws, the tactics, substitutions, and motivation. The more critical went right back to his first appointment as Coyle’s replacement. “Surely the Board must act soon,” the clamour increased. At that point steam billowed from the back of my computer.
It’s a funny owld game innit? On 90 minutes it’s 2 – 1 and Burnley fourth, listeners and spectators willing them to hang on, and what a great result. On 92 minutes it’s 2 – 2 and the airwaves were exploding with anger with the season slipping away.
“But get a grip,” a few were saying, “You fans are so fickle. The Norwich second goal should never have been allowed. Win the next two home games and we’re back in business again. Lose them and then you can moan.”
As the grumblers grumbled away, the fact remained that, poor as Burnley were in the second half, this was a clear, blatant, deliberate armball. It would have been infuriating enough during any part of the game, but to suffer a goal like this just seconds from the final whistle added hugely to the sense of exasperation. But whilst Laws commented: “You can’t blame the referee all the time;” Norwich manager Lambert was rather more down-to-earth. “I don’t give a damn whether it was handball.”
A trip across the Pennines on the Sunday to see Uncle Arthur: “Here’s a joke Dave,” he said almost the minute we walked in. “Paddy is carrying a wardrobe down the street and really struggling…. Why don’t you get some help says his mate… ah oi have he says… oi got Rooney insoid it carrying the clothes…”
Rooney at the moment is in the Nike Centre in Seattle getting back to fitness… which is possibly code for - getting his head straight. What a bizarre story it was, doubling his pay to £250k a week, then letting him swan off to Dubai for a week, and then packing him off to the USA.
Doncaster arrived with two former Burnley players, Wayne Thomas (two glorious chances to score from corners) and John Oster (was he on the pitch?). Neither impressed nor made a real mark at Burnley, Thomas largely because of constant injuries and the endearing habit of being sent off. It was a return too for manager O Driscoll, he who was in the last two for the Burnley job after Owen Coyle departed, and allegedly more or less talked himself out of the job.
On a bitterly cold night, the sort that sends folk to bed with a hot water bottle or a good woman; and on a day when BFC announced pre tax profits of over £14million, and supporters added to that the £7.5million from Steven Fletcher and the £16million parachute payment; Burnley huffed and puffed and struggled to get just a single point from a neat and tidy Doncaster team with probably less than half the Burnley wage bill.
The tone and pattern was set in the first five minutes. Inside the first minute, Elliot clean through, one on one with the goalkeeper, he must score, not a defender in sight, no he didn’t; the tame shot taken too soon and Sullivan saved. Five minutes and an absolutely clear, blatant, stonewall penalty denied when Wayne Thomas handled in the box. Score from either of those and Burnley would have had their tails up. The crowd incensed, the jeers raining down, the referee unmoved. Who says referees don’t change games? When he did award a penalty to Burnley later, Eagles failed to score and you knew it was just one of those nights. It was one of those nights when Fox let his winger race away, come to think it might have been Oster, cross the ball, and totally against the run of play Doncaster scored.
Burnley did eventually scramble a second-half equaliser through Cork, but inbetween wasted a dozen good chances; 17 shots and only six on target, two or three of them the sort that should have been buried, with Sullivan in the Doncaster goal constantly in action – or wasting time with no intervention from the referee. It was one of those nights when Fox was stretchered off and Paterson for good measure taken off at halftime with a thigh injury. The ambling Iwelumo came on, but it’s difficult to see exactly what this guy offers if he doesn’t score. The hoofball began immediately.
And being a glass half-full sort of bloke it was obvious that all this was going to happen when it took us a ghastly 2 hours to do the stop start journey from Leeds; and then to our horror the cook at the Kettledrum was off and there was no scampi and chips for Mrs T and no Kettledrum chicken in a rich creamy sauce with chunky chips for yours truly. For the first time ever (believe it or not) we drove down to the Park View Chippy and fine dined on pie, chips, peas and gravy out of a splendid plastic box. In the old days it were out o’ newspaper, but these days Elth and Safety ‘ave stopped all that. But by gum it were reet gradely.
If only the same could be said for the game. The comments afterwards coming down the stairs, about both team and Manager Laws, were predictable, rich and varied, but one stood out a mile from an old bloke who must have been 80 if he was a day:
“Top two my arse.”
Others were: “Another nothing result. This is a side that has lost all belief. By the end of the game it was gone. Where was the pressure and spirit after the equaliser? What was Elliot doing at left back when Fox went off? That’s just 8 wins from 34 games for Brian Laws. Can you think of any player who had a good game… maybe Grant who made two or three decent saves? Just one win since the end of September.“
The comment about ‘belief’ was spot on. “It’s not in the stands, not on the pitch or on the bench. Something has to change.” The fabled Coyle positivity was well and truly gone. One wondered how much belief was still there in the boardroom after the game. Only when their belief changes significantly, will something happen.
My pal Joe was over from Ormskirk, a diehard since the seventies, though he can’t get to all games. He looked at me at the end of the game with incredulity. “Dave what was all that about? We’re going nooooowhere.”
As well as the £14million pre tax profit news, the other news was all about new director John B. We were informed that he wanted to make Burnley more globally known. Well, to do that, they have to start winning matches; they need to be either top two or damned close; they need to be high profile and have just a touch of glamour and appeal. They need to be in the news. They need to be in the Prem. After the Doncaster display it was hard to see any of that in prospect.
The drive home was as wearisome as you might expect, made worse by the interminable drone of Steve Claridge until we switched him off; the only consolation being this journey didn’t take two hours – oh and the gourmet pie and chips from the Park View Chippy that saved the night. I have dined all over the world… from Bognor Regis to Fabulous Filey… and the Park View has passed the five-star test.
Wednesday morning November 10th: QPR still top, Crystal Palace bottom; Derby the in-form team relentlessly moving up; Burnley 9th and the mood of supporters restless and dissatisfied. Coyle’s Bolton dare I say it 8th in the Prem after a stunning win over Tottenham at the weekend, and Cotterill seems reborn.