The Championship table made depressing reading as the dismal away record continued and Burnley slid down to 10th. How much more of this will be allowed to continue, was the question asked? Once Coventry went ahead it was almost a foregone conclusion what the result would be with Burnley creating minimal opportunities, although one or two good chances were fashioned. How much longer will Brian Laws be here, was the next question; the query raised regularly since his first appointment less than a year earlier. But if he were to be dismissed, just who was available, of substance, to replace him?
“Something dramatic needs to change,” said the commentary team. They were referring to the away form. “Something dramatic needs to change at management level,” said many supporters. Facebook, all the messageboards and Burnley forums just about unanimously hummed with frustration. “This is not a winning manager,” was one apposite comment. One by one, even the most fair-minded people; and those who had tried to take a neutral, objective stance were now just about coming round to that same conclusion, after the dismal defeat.
No supporter would claim that Burnley had a God-given right to a top-two position, or to be a Premiership side, but the general opinion was clear – that from being a clear favourite for promotion, at Coventry this was now a mediocre mid-table side with depressingly little sign of improving. Laws’ decisions were questioned and his substitutions jeered. A negative fans’ mood and mindset even before the players have set foot on the pitch most certainly does nothing for the players or the performance and the football world knows that once the fans have turned against a manager, his time is limited – if there is a Board that is prepared to take note. A smaller number advocated patience, pointing to the low number of games lost, and the number of games where only bad luck had prevented the win.
Where fans were also divided was in what sort of result they wanted in the next game, a home fixture against Derby. A win would presumably gain Laws yet another reprieve and might even scrape Burnley back into the top six. In truth they were still only one point outside the top six, a position that several other ‘bigger’ clubs might well be pleased with. On the other hand, a defeat might well prompt the Board to act and change the manager with a new man (but who?) having the time to turn things round.
But ‘real fans’ it was argued would NEVER want Burnley to lose. A fluent performance and convincing win was badly needed
On the same day the Chief Exec Paul Fletcher was on Talksport. He said something that had fans absolutely incredulous: What our fans like to see, more than anything, are players that work hard. Players that get paid well but the most important thing they’ve got to do is put a shift in.Now if they do that our fans aren’t really too bothered whether we win or lose.”
Following and alongside the Laws debate, the CE’s comments were also in the firing line. It was impossible to find one supporter that approved or understood his remarks. They were in fact unanimous in their amazement that anyone could say that fans were not too bothered about winning or losing. One short response stood out: “YES WE BLOODY ARE.”
The build-up to the Derby game: there was good news and bad news. A new loan player from Man City arrived, Guidetti, someone few people had ever heard of. Paterson was still injured and Eagles was now a doubt with the back injury that had plagued him for several weeks. The back end of November saw arctic conditions sweep down over the country whilst Britain agreed to send £8billion to prop up the Irish economy. Students rioted on the streets of most large cities. And with all this as the background, Cameron plodded on with his silly plans to measure the well-being of the nation. Oh and on the telly the News said that possibly up to 140,000 Council jobs would go in the next 12 months.
On the plus side there was £5 off a shopping bill at LIDL and everywhere you went there was half price champagne on offer; presumably to celebrate when you lost your job, or your council house or your benefits were stopped. The First Test began in Brisbane. England struggled. Eyebrows were raised too at the news that Cort was now loaned to Preston North End. Fans remembered that big money had been coughed up for him back in January, as the answer to Burnley’s defensive problems. Now he was surplus to requirements. Brian Laws said there were tough decisions to make. For those who went to the very low-key (no fireworks, no surprise questions) Meet Brian Laws Evening, the toughest decision was whether to have one plate of pie and peas or two.
The Derby game was on SKY with a teatime kick-off. Your correspondent had to make do with watching it on telly. On a bitter day when icicles hung from the end of my nose, the street in Leeds where we live was a sloping, ice-bound, skating rink all day. The grit bin that we had at the end of the road was nicked ages ago. Grit in Leeds is scarcer than Burnley away wins. Attempts to get up the slope to the main road at 2.30 were aborted before the spinning car tyres disintegrated. The neighbours heard language that made their eyes pop out. I can only imagine it would have been warmer sitting inside the fridge, than at Turf Moor. Out of mothballs I’d unearthed the huge overcoat I got from Camden Market, the coat famously compared (the last time I took it to Burnley) with an old WW1 horse blanket. It went back under the stairs (we keep a horse under there as well). But trust me the coat will appear on December 11th.
Anyway there was some slight consolation seeing Arsenal demolish Villa 4 – 2 and then seeing the Bolton v Blackpool scores coming in. Just when Bolton fans thought it safe to dream of Europe along come Blackpool to spoil the party. As the month ended you couldn’t open a newspaper or click on a footie website without someone singing Coyle’s praises.
The pundit for the game was our very own Steve Cotterill. How different he was to the downhearted, gloomy bloke he was when he left. He waxed lyrical about the club and the welcome he had received. How proud he was, he said, to have been Burnley manager and to have had such great times. I had a lump in my throat. You could see and hear the pleasure in his face and voice. If the guy who left Burnley was a poor shadow of himself, this one was bright and vibrant and delighted to be back.
Laws rang the changes. In came Bikey, Marney and Wallace, out went Alexander and Duff. Eagles, Cox and Paterson all injured. We should be there we said; just not the same watching on TV is it. For the first half we sat and squirmed and grizzled at how mediocre it was. Plenty of possession, but no penetration, no pzazz, nothing to write home about, and when Derby contrived to score with their first shot which was, of course, deflected in off Carlisle’s foot, no other way would they have scored; you thought oh gawd this will be another of those typical Burnley results settled by a freak goal.
The second half was so much better. Be patient, said Manager Laws at half-time to the troops and get it wide. From where we sat in front of a warm fire, there was no discernible unrest from the crowd. Iwelumo missed a glorious headed chance. Wallace smacked the bar. Burnley put plenty of passes together. Maybe there was a possible penalty. Derby were dire, doing nothing but getting bodies behind the ball, rarely venturing into the Burnley final third. It looked like they would hang on and sneak away with an undeserved win and all the points. Would the unrest surface at the final whistle?
NO: Wallace was brought down about 25 yards out. He and Mears stood by the ball but it was Mears who took it. There’s this thing called the immutable law of the ex. It is simply this – any former player will score against his old club. It is the 11th Commandment but Moses never had time to carve it onto the last piece of stone. Mears smote it. In it went like a missile. He’s been practising this for years. He has been trying it for the last two years at Burnley and always missing. This was the day it went in with just 9 minutes to go.
Laws had made a canny tactical move as well. Off went Marney and on came Alexander so that Cork could move further forward. The patience and the smart tactical move then paid off. There was one more goal to come. A string of passes ended with the ball at Elliott’s feet, wide right. He beat his man, he dinked it over, and there at the near post was Cork soaring high to glance the ball beautifully into the far corner. 2 – 1 and thoroughly deserved. Derby had their second attempt on goal, a header that went wide; a third was beaten away by Grant. Had they won it would have been a travesty. Burnley might have been very average in the first half, but in the second they earned their win bonus – and who knows - maybe saved Laws’ job. Surely there could be no grumbles with the manager after this win, until we lose again. Wallace started. Iwelumo was struggling so he took him off. Cork was moved further up the pitch – and he obligingly scored. His instructions were followed – the win came.
Saturday November 27th: QPR top, Preston bottom; Man U 7 Blackburn 1 and Burnley back in the top 6. Not a bad day after all Mr Cameron. We might have been 40 miles away and mad as hell because the street was frozen up and we missed it, but the cheers echoed round the parlour and way down the still-frozen road.